Andre Ward just might be enough to drive a fighter to drink.
For much of the past two years, the “Son of God” has occupied the mind, body and spirit of what was the world's best light heavyweight, before being derailed by a most unholy intervention. Saturday night at The Theater inside of Madison Square Garden on HBO (facing a dangerous Vyacheslav Shabranskyy, 10PM ET/7PT), Sergey Kovalev looks to exorcise the ghost of Ward while reintroducing a dragon in Gotham.
On June 17 at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, the culmination of years spent developing habits reminiscent of a rockstar, left Kovalev (30-2-1, 26KOs) without an entourage or any semblance of a tour bus to be confused with a bandwagon.
It was as empty as his now titleless body, which consisted of a frame more drained than chiseled. Gone was the “Krusher”, a fighter who'd seemed to exit T-Mobile Arena down the stretch against Ward in their initial November 2016 classic. I thought Kovalev did enough to win, as did much of the media and a large portion of the public.
Perhaps with this in mind, he thought all it would take to defeat Ward was “Sergey Kovalev”. To Hell with Krusher. Either John David Jackson, his now deposed trainer, wasn't able to convey that it takes special desire to beat a special fighter, or, he simply didn't want to.
At the tony LeParker Meridian in Manhattan, the first stop on a three city promotion for Ward V Kovalev II, tension ruled. The absence of Jackson contributed to a cloudy grey sky in the room, exacerbated by RocNation and Team Ward's reveal of intelligence, as Team Kovalev had the look of an office breached.
Defiant and confident that he'd avenge victory, an already fit Ward sneered at a bloated Kovalev while speaking of his ‘bad habits. It's difficult to imagine Kovalev having “a better camp than the first one” as Jackson would tell me during fight week's Media Day in Vegas with eyes that proved to be deceptive.
When a jockey is no longer fit to ride a prized horse, the race to futility begins. Fighting on instinct for much of the first few rounds while more than holding his own, a cornerless Kovalev was circled and squared by Ward in the 8th round.
I asked Jackson about what went wrong immediately after the fight, this time his answer didn't surprise me. “We were doing alright– he just got lucky,” sprayed Jackson, in a tone dripping with more to it. World class fights never come down to happenstance. Today, it is now commonplace for Jackson to sit behind the driver's seat of a bus, while mashing the gas as Kovalev lays on the asphalt with a six pack of beer.
Luck is just a loser's excuse for a winner's position. Kovalev may owe supernatural fate to having survived a near fatal car accident in Russia over the summer, but his stellar conditioning on display for this fight week was well in the making.
I first got a look at Kovalev post Ward at the Gennady Golovkin V Canelo Alvarez superfight on September 16 in Las Vegas, while seated next to PR purveyor Gayle Falkenthal. Sergey looked to be not only in good spirits, but he looked… Reborn. Gone is the gaunt grey skin of a depressed drinker. Unlike a foreign agent prepared to register as such and fight like someone we cannot trust.
Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev is back.