Prior to Sergey Kovalev’s historic and life-changing defeat of boxing legend Bernard Hopkins on Nov. 8 in Atlantic City (where he added the 175-pound IBF and WBA belts to his WBO belt) he was basically living on a dollar and a dream.
Sergey (26-0-1, 23 KOs) decided to go pro in 2008 with the guidance and family and financial support of manager Egis Kilmas. Together they formed an inseparable bond and embarked on an underground, action-packed journey that came to light when “Killer” Kovalev made his entrance to a national boxing audience in January 2013 with a third-round TKO of Gabriel Campillo on NBCSN's "Fight Night."
When he defeated Nathan Cleverly by fourth-round TKO that August, Kovalev became the first Russian-born fighter to hold the WBO light heavyweight belt since its 1988 inception.
So many accomplishments and all well-earned. What’s next for Team Kovalev ?
How about Canadian Jean Pascal (29-2-1, 17) who held the WBC light heavyweight title in 2009-10 and will be meeting the undefeated Russian champ on March 14 at the Bell Centre in Montreal for the whole ball of wax.
Pascal, who will be fighting in his backyard, has acknowledged the formidable task of facing Kovalev by comparing the upcoming HBO fight to Rocky IV and proclaiming himself a "black Balboa." He was also happy that he could "provide a big payday for Kovalev."
Speaking of good money, Kovalev’s strength and conditioning coach Quan Paxton, who predicted Kovalev’s dominating win and hipped me to the game about boxing’s next great champion, gave me some insight into Team Kovalev’s methodology and mind state entering this fight as a champion –the hunted.
Gambler: It’s almost a given that Sergey knocks out Pascal like he has 23 of his last 27 opponents. Pascal doesn’t have the technical finesse and defensive acumen of Hopkins, so he should be even more hittable. What’s after this Pascal fight?
Coach Q: We want Adonis Stevenson. Sergey wants that fourth belt. He retired Hopkins but he also wants to unify the IBF, WBA and WBC belts in his division and match what Hopkins accomplished as a middleweight in 2001 and failed to do when he lost his light heavyweight belts to Sergey , who is also the WBO champ. Stevenson has that WBC belt and he doesn’t want no parts of Sergey. Why not toss in that Ring Magazine belt Stevenson has too? Until we have those belts, we stay motivated. We still train like w’ere broke. We approach it like we have nothing.
Stevenson is trying to take the fight with WBC super middleweight champion Sakio Bika (32-6-3, 21 Kos) on April 4th at
Gambler: Could Kovalev become a victim of his newfound fame and the fact that he hasn’t fought more than two rounds since Jan. 2014? He’s living high on the hog now. Is a letdown against Pascal possible?
Coach Q: We don’t sleep on anybody. Pascal is a legit contender. He’s strong and dangerous and he swings a lot of wide shots and has herky-jerky, unorthodox flow. W’ere definitely not underestimating him even if Hopkins did dominate him a while back.
Gambler: Could Kovalev become a victim of his newfound fame and the fact that he hasn’t fought more than two rounds since Jan. 2014? He’s living high on the hog now.
Coach Q: Of course immediately after the fight Sergey had some fun and reaped the celebrity and financial benefits of being a champion, but once we booked the training up in Big Bear, he was locked in. In the last fight his motivation was money, notoriety and defeating a legend on his way to rising to the top of the light heavyweight division. His main motivation now that he is on top is his son. His little son helps him stay hungry despite the success and work harder because Sergey doesn’t want to be known as a loser to his son. And obviously, we just gotta' work harder to stay on top. We’ve been keeping him balanced and focused.
Gambler: Talk about Training Camp.
Coach Q: We were up at Big Bear again, but this time deeper in the mountains and up in the hills even more. I lost another 10 pounds myself. I just pushed and pushed and pushed Sergey. Some days he probably hated me, but we have a job to do and he understands that. Last camp our main focus was stamina, because we knew Hopkins was a chiseled vet and able to go the distance, which he did despite being dominated by Sergey throughout the fight. (Sergey landed almost triple the number of punches as Hopkins through the first three rounds, knocking Hopkins down one minute into the first round with a flush right hand, withstanding Hopkins desperation blows and cruising to victory in the later rounds winning a unanimous decision 120-106 and 120-107 and 120-107)
This camp I focused on speed. Speed kills and Sergey has proved he has power and I told you before the Hopkins fight that dudes slept on his technical boxing skills. Now his speed is upgraded for a younger, quicker opponent. I’m a big Muhammad Ali fan and he always got to his opponent first with the punch If you get there first, you are most effective.
Gambler: Switching gears for a minute, who wins the long-awaited Pretty Boy Floyd vs. Pac Man romp on May 2nd.
Coach Q: I think Floyd is gonna catch Manny with the same left hook he battered Ricky Hatton with. He will use the straight right hand too. Those are Mayweather's best two punches...that's how you beat a southpaw. Manny will be forced to use his jab like he never has before. Most important thing is we know about Floyd's defense and he's almost impossible to hit, but I could never bet my money on a fighter who drops his hands that much and likes to jump at boxers with his hands down. That might have worked for many boxers, but not against Floyd."
It’s just me, Sergey and his trainer and my mentor John David Jackson and that’s how I like it. Usually, first me and John get up and run at 8am and then Sergey will run at 8:30 every day. I’m one of those trainers that likes to let my boxers see me do the workout as well. W’ere looking for buckets of sweat and hunger. Remember, I’m from the “D.” I’m hands on with mine.
Expect Sergey to “put hands” on Pascal on March 14 and continue smashing contenders and building his impressive boxing resume.