The highly anticipated collision of styles between unbeaten boxers Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev arrives at the City of Lights on Saturday night.
A fender bender would almost certainly mean Ward, 32, has successfully dictated the pace of the fight using what many see as a skills gap in his favor. Ward, the former super middleweight world champion moving up in weight, is the artist, the master technical fighter who effectively defends with the speed and quickness of a whippet.
A total crash probably means Kovalev, the unified champion who holds title belts in the WBA, IBF, and WBO 175-pound light heavyweight divisions, will be the winner, using his punching power and punch volume to batter his rival in surrender.
The 33-year-old Russian prefers to slug it out as if settling a card game in the alley behind a Moscow tavern.
Kovalev (30-0-1, 26 KOs) and Ward (30-0, 15 KOs) will meet Saturday at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. The fight is being televised by HBO pay-per-view, whose broadcast starts at 8 p.m.
Kovalev, who has won eight title defenses since winning the WBO championship by beating Nathan Cleverly in August 2013, is a fan favorite because of his brawling, pit bull style.
To many, Kovalev, who won’t enjoy any real size advantage, is considered the underdog to the former U.S. Olympic gold medalist.
That’s not a problem to Kovalev, who knows all about being an underdog. He was one his entire life while growing up in poverty in Kopeysk.
Kovalev spoke by phone recently, with his work-in-progress English as rugged at times as he is in the ring. He means what he says.
Many believe your only chance to win is your power, to trap Ward and stand pounding on him. What do you think of that assessment and others who say Ward is the more talented?
“I don’t care what he has. I’m going to come to the ring and kick his ... I have to be ready for anything, whether it’s boxing or fighting. Let’s go fight. I must be ready for everything.”
Your full concentration is obviously on this fight, but much talk has been made of a bout with WBC champion Adonis Stevenson. Is that a fight that will happen?
“He’s dead to me. I didn’t hear anything about him. I already forgot about him. If he will want to fight me, I’m ready. But I tried call him to fight, to make this fight. I’m already tired of it. Around me a lot of great boxers, like my fight against Andre Ward.”
Do you ever think of your boxing “legacy?”
“I’ll let others think about that. I don’t think about that. Legacy or no legacy, I don’t care. I just do my job. The most important thing for me is to win fights.”
How did your upbringing in poverty make you the fighter you are today?
“When I was young, if there were eggs in the fridge I was very happy. I cannot explain how I grew up.”
What kind of culture shock was it to move to America?
“Everything is different in America, people, weather, even the roads. Asphalt on the roads is different. Everything is different here. I’ve never been in the ocean except in America. Here, I got a lot of opportunities to show who I am, and what I came to do for myself. I believe always in myself and here I got my dreams. This is a great country. Great opportunities for life.”
You attended Canelo Alvarez’s fight against Liam Smith at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. Could you imagine ever fighting here?
“I’ll be very happy if someday if I can fight there in the future. It was unbelievable. I’m not Mexican and I’m not American … can I bring a lot of fans like that? I don’t know. Maybe in the future, I hope. If God blesses me, I’m ready to fight anywhere. I’d be very happy if 50,000 boxing fans wanted to watch me fight live.”
What other sports do you follow as a fan?
“I follow the World Championships of hockey because I used to be a hockey player. I loved the sport. Sometimes soccer, but only Europe or world championship. Not Champions League.”
The Dallas Cowboys are 8-1. Do you follow American football?
“I don’t understand the game. I don’t know these rules. For me, it’s a very boring game because a lot of stops, like every 30 seconds … stop, stop, stop. I don’t like it. I like a lot of motion, like action.”
Sergey Kovalev vs. Andre Ward
(Unified light heavyweight title fight)
Saturday, T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas
TV: HBO pay-per-view (undercard starting at 8 p.m.)