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Reflections on Kovalev-Ward: Part One

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WARD-KOVALEV REFLECTIONS

WARD-KOVALEV REFLECTIONS by Thomas Hauser — 2016 has been a disappointing year for boxing fans. Few of the fights that we wanted to see actually happened. Instead, we saw Canelo Alvarez running away from Gennady Golovkin; Tyson Fury taking a knee; the decline of Premier Boxing Champions; and the ruination of boxing in New York. The sport was hungry for a big fight that would showcase the best fighting the best. Within that framework, the November 19 match-up between Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev loomed as the most important fight of the year.

Ward had a storied amateur career. He started boxing at age nine with Virgil Hunter as his trainer and lost his first bout. He fought 124 more times as an amateur and lost only four of those fights.

“I remember vividly the last time I lost a fight and the emotions I felt before and after,” Andre recently told this writer. “I was thirteen, almost fourteen years old and fighting a guy from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, named John Revish in the finals of the National Silver Gloves. I knew he was good. I knew he was a puncher. And I allowed myself to be beaten before the fight started. Fear plays a large role in boxing. It’s how you use the fear that counts. Fear can motivate you. But if it goes to the dark side, you can be paralyzed by fear. That’s what happened to me in that fight, and I promised myself I’d never let it happen again.”

Ward won a gold medal in the 178-pound division at the 2004 Athens Olympics and is the only American male to have gold-medaled in boxing since 1996. The high point of his professional career to date has been an undefeated run in Showtime’s 168-pound “Super-Six” tournament that saw him vanquish Mikkel Kessler, Arthur Abraham, and Carl Froch. Andre emerged from the tournament as a hot property. Gracious, well-spoken, 27 years old, he was grouped with Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao at the top of most pound-for-pound lists. Nine months later, he knocked out Chad Dawson. Dawson was dead at the weight, but it was still a pretty good win.

Then things soured. Promotional problems, nagging injuries, and a disinclination to go in tough led Ward to four fights in four years against less than stellar opposition (Edwin Rodriguez, Paul Smith, Sullivan Barrera, and Alexander Brand). Three of those four bouts went the distance. And Roc Nation Sports (Andre’s new promoter) was unable to build the Ward brand to the extent that it wanted to.

Kovelev, now 33, was born in the factory town of Kopeysk, Russia. By his own admission, he participated in more than a few street robberies when he was young. At age eleven, he walked into a boxing gym for the first time.

“When I was in the amateurs,” Kovalev says, “I never thought that someday I would turn pro. For me, professional boxing was crazy, I thought pro boxing was just beating the whole brain out of your head. It’s very dangerous. In the amateurs, it was enough with injuries and some hard fights. I felt like I would never be able to do twelve rounds. My wife pushed me to turn pro. [A friend of Kovalev’s current manager, Egis Klimas] found me in Russia and met with me in Moscow and we started to talk about professional boxing. I started to think about it, but it was a maybe. Finally, I made my decision after the 2008 Russian championships, when I won the final fight and the victory was given to my opponent.”

Kovalev began his pro career in the United States in 2009 under the tutelage of trainer Don Turner. He now lives in Florida and, like Ward, entered the ring on November 19 undefeated as a pro. Sergey was also the reigning IBF, WBA, and WBO 175-pound champion and widely regarded as the best light-heavyweight in the world. John David Jackson is his current trainer, but Turner is still in the corner on fight night.

One of the remarkable things about Kovalev is his growing fluency in English.

“Sergey couldn’t speak English when he came to America,” Ellen Haley (director of publicity for Main Events) says. “It’s remarkable how much he has learned. If we say something he doesn’t understand, he’ll ask what it means and repeat it with us several times.”

As for boxing, John David Jackson observes, “Sergey’s biggest advantage is his punching power. Power like his is God-given. You either have it or you don’t, and he has it. His second biggest advantage is he’s a better boxer than most people give him credit for. Sergey is a very good boxer. He’s a very good technician. He knows how to box. He has better boxing skills than people realize.”

Kovalev doesn’t just knock people down; he hurts them.

“You never know when and how life will punch you,” Sergey says.

Virtually all fighters come from hard origins. When they start boxing, they substitute one kind of hard life for another. Like Kovalev, Andre Ward personifies that truth.

Ward was born in San Francisco to a black mother and white father. Both of his parents were addicts. His father’s curse was heroin; his mother’s, cocaine. Andre’s mother was largely absent during his childhood. Frank Ward tried to be a good father and provide for his two sons. But several stints in rehab spoke to the trouble he had staying clean.

Virgil Hunter took Andre and his brother in to live with his own family when Andre was twelve. Frank Ward died when Andre was sixteen. After that, Andre, by his own admission, went through a period of drinking and hanging out with the wrong crowd. With Hunter’s help, he got back on track and qualified for the 2004 Olympics.

Looking back on it all, Ward says, “I got my values from my dad. He had his demons, but he died clean and sober. He’s been gone for over a decade now. If I could have him back for a day, I’d tell him how much I miss him and love him. I’d tell him about where I am in my career; the gold medal and everything that’s happened since then. And I’d want him to see my family.”

Religion and boxing have given Ward’s life structure.

“My relationship with God is my foundation,” he states. “It’s the reason I’m able to be a good husband, a good father, and a good friend.”

Ward and his wife, Tiffany, live in a gated-community in Oakland with their four children (three sons and a daughter). Virgil Hunter looks at Andre’s life today and observes, “Andre knows who he is. He knows what he wants. And he has made enough money now to be okay with his past.”

Brin-Jonathan Butler in an article for Undefeated described the experience of meeting Ward for the first time: “There’s charm in his smile and warm handshake. But something changes when you feel the first chill from the cool breeze of his intelligence and power of observation. He has the poised glance of a masterfully composed croupier, giving away nothing while reflexively sizing up and processing all available data.”

Ward is articulate and thoughtful. There’s a dignity and pride about him that are sometimes mistaken for arrogance. He’s guarded and protects himself at all times. One gets the impression that, in all public situations, whether it’s in or out of the ring, Andre’s first instinct is to do a risk-reward calculation. Whatever situation he’s in, he wants to be control. He also takes great care in how he presents himself to the world.

“I don’t do a lot of interviews.,” Ward acknowledges. “I love speaking to the media if someone is really interested in listening. But too often, someone comes in. They already have a point of view, and all they want is to take a few quotes out of everything I say that they can use to validate the way they’ve already decided they want to portray me.”

Here, it should be noted that, after a long one-on-one interview with Andre several weeks ago, I compared my notes with some of the quotes in Butler’s article. In many instances, the wording was virtually identical. To repeat: Ward takes great care in how he presents himself to the world.

“I don’t want my story to be reduced to just another cliché; rags to riches, kid from the ghetto, and all that.” Ward told Butler. “I know I’m very guarded. How do you think I survived? Guarded is what got me by. But I want people to know what I’ve come through and overcome because maybe that can inspire somebody.”

Among other personal thoughts Ward has shared are:

*         “I know what it is to be bi-racial, when both sides don’t accept you and you have that confusion of not feeling accepted. You’re left asking, ‘Who am I?’”

*         “I’m aware of some of the things that people say about me. I’m boring. I don’t have a personality. I don’t do this; I don’t do that. I don’t engulf myself in it anymore the way I used to. I’m more secure now in who I am.”

*         “They always say you change after you get famous. They don’t tell you that, really, it’s everyone else around you that changes.”

*         “I’m not chasing fame. I’m fine with going places and no one knowing who I am.”

“I don’t know Andre Ward,” Hall-of-Fame matchmaker Bruce Trampler says. “Without knowing much about his promotional situation, I don’t like the way he left Dan Goossen [Andre’s previous promoter]. But in addition to his being a very good fighter, there’s one other thing that impressed me about him. I was in Reno in 2010 for a Top Rank card to celebrate the one hundredth anniversary of Jack Johnson against Jim Jeffries. It was the day of the fight. I was in a hamburger place called Johnny Rocket’s that was in the hotel. Ward was there with his wife and children, sitting about twenty feet away from me. I didn’t know him on a personal level and I didn’t want to intrude on his time with his family, so I didn’t go over to say hello. But I did watch him. And I was very impressed by the way he interacted with his family and the way he treated people who came over to him to say hello. I said to myself, ‘This guy has class. He’s a nice guy.’”

Ward is a consummate professional. He always comes prepared to fight. At the kick-off press conference for Kovalev-Ward, he told the media, “You don’t prepare for these moments in eight to ten weeks. I’ve been preparing for this moment since I was a kid. You guys only see us once or twice a year. Imagine what’s going on when you’re not around.”

The fact that Ward won an Olympic gold medal at 178-pounds, dropped down to 168 pounds when he turned pro, and stayed in the super-middleweight division until 2015 shows considerable discipline on his part. As for his ring craftsmanship, Hamilton Nolan writes, “Watching him for a round or two does not always reveal the depth of his talent. His speed is not blinding and his power is not overwhelming. His greatest gift is decision-making. At any given moment, he is always making the right choice. This starts as almost imperceptible and, over the course of a fight, adds up to domination. Every tiny mistake an opponent makes pulls Ward closer to victory. To an even greater degree than Mayweather, Ward is the thinking man’s champ.”

“I find a way to win,” Ward states. “That’s what I specialize in. I find a way. Half the battle is getting in the ring. Either you’re courageous or crazy to do it, but I get there.” Then he adds, “A fighter needs a mean streak. I wouldn’t want to be in the sport without one. I have a heart. I don’t want my opponent to be hurt badly. But during the fight, I’m not thinking about it.”

Ward’s hero is Roy Jones. “Roy is something special to me,” Andre says.

Suppose Ward got in the ring, and Roy Jones in his prime was in the opposite corner?

“That’s a tough one,” Andre answers. “Roy is the guy. He’ll always be the guy in my mind. Part of it would be the mental part of fighting someone I’ve always looked up to. Like all fighters – all athletes, really – I have a switch. I’d have to turn the switch like Larry Holmes did with Ali and say, ‘We’re not friends right now. It’s not teacher and student. I’m your equal.’ And once I did that; Roy was such a great fighter. He’s a guy I’d really have problems with. I’d go with a heavy dose of fundamentals. From time to time, I’d try to show him a bit of himself; lead left hooks and things like that. But mostly fundamentals.”

Boxing has taken a toll on Ward over the years.

“You don’t feel most of the punches,” he says. “They’re just reminders. But I really don’t like to get hit. I feel violated every time I get hit. And 125 amateur fights, thirty professional fights, all that training. I’ve taken a lot of punishment. You might not see it. I might not be lying on the canvas, unconscious. But my wife sees me when I have trouble getting out of bed and I’m in pain for days after a fight.”

“Andre doesn’t want to be great,” HBO blow-by-blow commentator Jim Lampley says. “He wants to be perfect.”

 

*

Kovalev-Ward shaped up as the biggest ring challenge either man had faced to date. It was a toss-up fight between two elite boxers. And unlike a situation where an aging champion is challenged by a considerably younger opponent, age wouldn’t be a factor. Kovalev is only ten months older than Ward.

 

 

There was a hint of controversy at the September 6 kick-off press conference in New York.

“When I see Andre Ward [in the hotel] this morning,” Kovalev advised the media, “I say ‘hi.’ He didn’t even say ‘hi.’ Nothing. F*** him.”

“We’re getting ready to fight,” Ward responded. “We’re not friends. We’re not buddies. We passed in the hallway. I gave him a head nod. I don’t know what he was looking for. If he’s using that to motivate himself, that’s cool.”

Kovalev-Ward was Andre’s first fight in Las Vegas. Sergey had fought there twice before but never in a major bout. It was the first pay-per-view fight for either man. And it was a legacy fight for both of them.

The contest also had huge implications for Roc Nation Sports (Ward’s promoter) and Main Events (which promotes Kovalev).

Boxing has been a money-losing venture for Roc Nation Sports. Its flagship fighters (Ward and Miguel Cotto) have huge contractual guarantees. And after two years, the rest of its boxing program has yet to develop. The sweet science has been a cash drain for Roc Nation founder, rap impressario Shawn Carter a/k/a Jay Z. But he can afford it.

Main Events, by contrast, is a boxing promotional company that has to make ends meet based on its revenue flow from the sweet science. At present, its primary revenue stream is generated by Kovalev.

Kovalev-Ward never rose in magnitude as an event to the level of its merit as a fight. The November 8 presidential election dominated the pre-fight news, and the Chicago Cubs’ World Series triumph all but eliminated boxing from the sports media. Boxing still suffers from the fan resentment that followed the May, 5, 2015, encounter between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. Pacquiao’s November 5 fight against Jesse Vargas siphoned off some pay-per-view dollars that might otherwise have gone to Kovalev-Ward. UFC’s November 12 card at Madison Square Garden (which marked the return of MMA to New York) was another distraction. During fight week, there was more talk in the general sports media about the possibility of Floyd Mayweather versus Conor McGregor and Mayweather-Pacquiao II than there was about Kovalev-Ward.

Kovalev’s partisans noted that it had been a long time since Ward went in tough. Moreover, Andre’s primary opponents in the “Super-Six” tournament – Carl Froch, Mikkel Kessler, and Arthur Abraham – were good fighters but not great ones. Kovalev would have been heavily favored to beat any of them. Sergey’s November 2014 victory over Bernard Hopkins was also seen as a factor. The mental pressure, mind games, and tactical measures that went into fighting Hopkins were expected serve Kovalev well against Ward.

“The same thing that happened to Hopkins will happen to Ward,” John David Jackson said.

Jackson also said the following:

*         “A lot of so-called experts say that Ward is the smarter fight. Ward is smart at what he does, but a lot of what he does is not fighting. It’s surviving and making his opponent frustrated with the tactics that he uses. Sergey can fight against any style. He’s very intelligent in the ring. He knows how to solve other fighters’ defensive mechanisms.”

*         “Ward is crafty and patient. But you can’t be that patient and crafty when you got a guy who has bombs in both hands. You don’t have time to dictate the pace of the fight and jab here and hold there when you have a guy coming at you with power in both hands. He’s not going to be able to do all of the things that he wants to do. This fight here, he has to fight. Then he’s rolling the dice. If Ward engages, he’ll make himself vulnerable and leave himself open to counter-punches.”

*         “Sergey is a pure all-around fighter. He can fight you if it comes down to it. But on the flip side, Sergey is a very intelligent boxer. He doesn’t come into the ring trying to be a one punch knockout artist. He looks to break down his opponents systematically. He does want a knockout, but he’s learned how to build up to the knockout. He knows how to cut the ring off and break guys down to the body.”

*         “If Sergey hits him flush, Ward will go down like a ton of bricks. If Ward tries to prove that he has power, that would work to our advantage because it means he’ll have to stand there and try to engage with Sergey. Ward has a handgun; he’s a fighting against a tank; and the tank is smart.”

“You can be a technician. Don Turner added. “You can be this; you can be that. But when you get hit by Kovalev, everything changes.”

Could Kovalev win a decision against Ward?

“The judges gave Sergey every round against Hopkins,” Turner said.

But those who thought Ward would win voiced equal confidence. Good defense beats good offense in most sports. Andre had risen to the occasion at the Olympics and the Super-Six tournament. Bart Barry spoke for many of his sportswriting brethren when he opined, “Ward has approximately twice Kovalev’s craft and can effectively fight while moving in three times as many directions as Kovalev, who does incredibly well while moving forward and moving forward.”

Kovalev’s signature wins had been against Hopkins (a tough out, but 49 years old at the time) and Jean Pascal (who’d lost to both Hopkins and Carl Froch).

“I’m not Bernard Hopkins,” Ward declared. “And no disrespect to Bernard, I’m not 49 years old, almost 50, which is what Bernard was when he fought Kovalev.”

“One way to beat Kovalev is to get off first,” Virgil Hunter said. “Hit him just hard enough to keep him off balance and force Sergey to reset. Bernard Hopkins knew that. But at age 49, he couldn’t do it.“

“Andre hits hard enough to get Kovalev’s attention,” Hunter continued. “And his punches are sharp enough to cut. If Andre gets Kovalev’s attention early, if Kovalev says to himself, ‘This guy hits harder than I thought,’ it changes the flow of the fight. Can Andre knock Kovalev out with one shot? No. But he can hit Kovalev often enough and hard enough to knock him out.”

Ward also had his say on the matter:

*         “I don’t have a style. I’m formless. I’m unpredictable. People can’t put their finger on my style. I can’t put my finger on my style. My greatest asset is my mind and the fact that people underestimate me. They look at me and say, ‘He’s good; he can box.’ But I’m more than that. I do what I have to do to win. I am what I need to be.”

*         “Kovalev is not just a big puncher. He’s a boxer. He’s a thinker. He understands range, positioning, and things like that. He comes from a good boxing background. He’s technically sound. He can do multiple things in the ring. We’re not ignorant of that. There’s a lot more to him than just being a big puncher. But most European fighters like range. They aren’t trained to fight on the inside. Obviously, that’s something we’ll try to take advantage of. It’s all about execution.”

*         “At the end of the day, many people make the same mistake with me. They call me a great boxer or a great neutralizer, but there’s so much more going on with me than that. If I was just about defense and neutralizing, then a lot of these big punchers would walk through me. And there’s a reason they don’t.”

*         “However Kovalev wants to bring it, we’ve got our game plan. It’s about making constant adjustments, the ebbs and flows. You got to find ways to make adjustments to get the job done in those big moments. That’s what’s going to separate the guy who gets his hand raised at the end of the fight from the guy who doesn’t.”

Lennox Lewis visited the media center at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas one day before Kovalev-Ward and reminisced about being at ringside with Andre in Montreal for the second Kovalev-Pascal fight.

“Andre was there to check out Kovalev,” Lennox recalled. “And after a few rounds, he told me, ‘I’ve seen what I have to see. He doesn’t know enough.’”

That said; both sides understood that the outcome of Kovalev-Ward was very much in doubt.

Sergey Kovalev: “This fight is a huge test for me. He’s a great boxer. He’s a great champion. He’s undefeated. This fight is fifty-fifty who will win. Underdog, favorite; it does not matter.”

Andre Ward: “Sergey is good. To be honest with you, I expected Kovalev-Hopkins to be more competitive than it was. But I’ve been in these situations before. So has Kovalev. He’s got to get it done. I’ve got to get it done.”

John David Jackson: “Ward is a very smart fighter. He has been able to be evasive and avoid the big shots. He does that very well. He suffocates his opponents so they can’t punch. He is able to deflect a lot of your strengths while exposing a lot of your weaknesses. There’s been a lot of talk on both sides. Come Saturday, that’s all over with and it will be about who’s the best man in the ring.”

Virgil Hunter: “We’re in with a dangerous fighter. We know that. I want the best Andre Ward and the best Sergey Kovalev in the ring on fight night. Then we’ll see who’s the better fighter.”

Just prior to each fighter weighing in at the division limit of 175 pounds, Don Turner was asked, “What’s going to happen in this fight?”

“Who knows?” Turner answered.

Part Two of “Reflections on Kovalev-Ward” will be posted on The Sweet Science tomorrow.

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel.

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His most recent book – A Hard World: An Inside Look at Another Year in Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism.

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The BWAA Shames Veteran Referee Laurence Cole and Two Nebraska Judges

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In an unprecedented development, the Boxing Writers Association of America has started a “watch list” to lift the curtain on ring officials who have “screwed up.” Veteran Texas referee Laurence Cole and Nebraska judges Mike Contreras and Jeff Sinnett have the unwelcome distinction of being the first “honorees.”

“Boxing is a sport where judges and referees are rarely held accountable for poor performances that unfairly change the course of a fighter’s career and, in some instances, endanger lives,” says the BWAA in a preamble to the new feature. Hence the watch list, which is designed to “call attention to ‘egregious’ errors in scoring by judges and unacceptable conduct by referees.”

Contreras and Sinnett, residents of Omaha, were singled out for their scorecards in the match between lightweights Thomas Mattice and Zhora Hamazaryan, an eight round contest staged at the WinnaVegas Casino in Sloan, Iowa on July 20. They both scored the fight 76-75 for Mattice, enabling the Ohio fighter to keep his undefeated record intact via a split decision.

Although Mattice vs. Hamazaryan was a supporting bout, it aired live on ShoBox. Analyst Steve Farhood, who was been with ShoBox since the inception of the series in 2001, called it one of the worst decisions he had ever seen. Lead announcer Barry Tompkins went further, calling it the worst decision he has seen in his 40 years of covering the sport.

Laurence Cole (pictured alongside his father) was singled out for his behavior as the third man in the ring for the fight between Regis Prograis and Juan Jose Velasco at the Lakefront Arena in New Orleans on July 14. The bout was televised live on ESPN.

In his rationale for calling out Cole, BWAA prexy Joseph Santoliquito leaned heavily on Thomas Hauser’s critique of Cole’s performance in The Sweet Science. “Velasco fought courageously and as well as he could,” noted Hauser. “But at the end of round seven he was a thoroughly beaten fighter.”

His chief second bullied him into coming out for another round. Forty-five seconds into round eight, after being knocked down for a third time, Velasco spit out his mouthpiece and indicated to Cole that he was finished. But Cole insisted that the match continue and then, after another knockdown that he ruled a slip, let it continue for another 35 seconds before Velasco’s corner mercifully threw in the towel.

Controversy has dogged Laurence Cole for well over a decade.

Cole was the third man in the ring for the Nov. 25, 2006 bout in Hildalgo, Texas, between Juan Manuel Marquez and Jimrex Jaca. In the fifth round, Marquez sustained a cut on his forehead from an accidental head butt. In round eight, another accidental head butt widened and deepened the gash. As Marquez was being examined by the ring doctor, Cole informed Marquez that he was ahead on the scorecards, volunteering this information while holding his hand over his HBO wireless mike. The inference was that Marquez was free to quit right then without tarnishing his record. (Marquez elected to continue and stopped Jaca in the next round.)

This was improper. For this indiscretion, Cole was prohibited from working a significant fight in Texas for the next six months.

More recently, Cole worked the 2014 fight between Vasyl Lomachenko and Orlando Salido at the San Antonio Alamodome. During the fight, Salido made a mockery of the Queensberry rules for which he received no point deductions and only one warning. Cole’s performance, said Matt McGrain, was “astonishingly bad,” an opinion echoed by many other boxing writers. And one could site numerous other incidents where Cole’s performance came under scrutiny.

Laurence Cole is the son of Richard “Dickie” Cole. The elder Cole, now 87 years old, served 21 years as head of the Texas Department of Combat Sports Regulation before stepping down on April 30, 2014. At various times during his tenure, Dickie Cole held high executive posts with the World Boxing Council and North American Boxing Federation. He was the first and only inductee into the inaugural class of the Texas Boxing Hall of Fame, an organization founded by El Paso promoter Lester Bedford in 2015.

From an administrative standpoint, boxing in Texas during the reign of Dickie Cole was frequently described in terms befitting a banana republic. Whenever there was a big fight in the Lone Star State, his son was the favorite to draw the coveted refereeing assignment.

Boxing is a sideline for Laurence Cole who runs an independent insurance agency in Dallas. By law in Texas (and in most other states), a boxing promoter must purchase insurance to cover medical costs in the event that one or more of the fighters on his show is seriously injured. Cole’s agency is purportedly in the top two nationally in writing these policies. Make of that what you will.

Complaints of ineptitude, says the WBAA, will be evaluated by a “rotating committee of select BWAA members and respected boxing experts.” In subsequent years, says the press release, the watch list will be published quarterly in the months of April, August, and December (must be the new math).

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel

 

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The Avila Perspective, Chapter 8: Competing Cards in N.Y. and L.A.

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Rival boxing shows compete this Saturday as light heavyweight world titlists are featured in New Jersey while former world champion welterweights and middleweights tangle in New York.

A mere 150 miles separate the two fight cards staged in Uniondale, N.Y. and Atlantic City.

But there’s no mercy inside the boxing ring and certainly no mercy between boxing promotions. While Main Events stages WBO light heavyweight titlist Sergey Kovalev and WBA light heavyweight titlist Dmitry Bivol in separate bouts, DiBella Entertainment stacks former champs Andre Berto against Devon Alexander in a welterweight clash.

Take your pick.

Russia’s Kovalev (32-2-1, 28 KOs) has lost some luster and hopes to reboot his popularity with a win against Canada’s Eleider Alvarez (23-0, 11 KOs). But he will be directly competing against WBA champ Bivol (13-0, 11 KOs), also of Russia, who defends against Isaac Chilemba (25-5-2) of South Africa.

HBO will televise both light heavyweight title fights.

Bivol, 27, has slowly, almost glacier-like slow, picked up fans along the way by training in Southern California. The quiet unassuming fighter with a conservative style and cobra-like quickness appeals to the fans.

“I do not think that now I am the best light heavyweight, but I am now one of the best. One of four guys,” said Bivol during a press conference call. “But I hope in not the far future, we will know who is the best.”

That, of course, would mean a date with Kovalev should both fighters win on Saturday. Nothing is certain.

Kovalev, now 35, has lost some of that fear factor aura since losing back-to-back fights to now retired Andre Ward. Though he’s cracked two opponents in succession by knockout, many are pointing to the potential showdown with Bivol as the moment of truth.

“Most likely this fight is gonna happen since both Sergey and I are HBO boxers and as long as that’s what the people want, most likely the fight will happen,” said Bivol. “Me and Sergey will make sure to give this fight to the people.”

It’s time for the build-up and it starts on Saturday Aug. 4, on HBO.

“That’s certainly a goal of Sergey’s and he’s made it very clear to me that that’s what he wants to do,” said promoter Kathy Duva, CEO of Main Events. “He wants to do unification fights if he is successful with Eleider Alvarez. That’s what he wants to do next; he’s been very clear about that.”

DiBella

Five former world champions stack the fight card at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York.

Former welterweight world champs Andre Berto (31-5, 24 KOs) and Devon Alexander (27-4-1, 14 KOs) lead the charge in a 12-round clash. FOX will televise the main event and others at 4 p.m. PT/7 p.m. ET.

Berto, 34, has been fighting once a year so it’s difficult to determine if age has crept into his reflexes. When he knocked out Victor Ortiz in a rematch two years ago Berto looked sharp and dangerous. But against Shawn Porter a year ago, the crispness seemed gone and he quickly lost by knockout.

Alexander, 31, has the advantage of being a southpaw. But he always seems to do the minimum when he fights. Last February he slowed down and allowed Victor Ortiz to steal the fight. All the commotion by the announcers was for naught. Defense does not win fights, it allows you to win fights. The lack of offense in the latter rounds cost Alexander a win in a match that entered the books as a majority draw.

It’s a curious matchup of former world champions.

Peter “Kid Chocolate” Quillin (33-1-1, 23 KOs) the former WBO middleweight titlist meets J’Leon Love (24-1-1, 13 KOs) in a super middleweight bout set for 10 rounds. It’s another intriguing fight especially between two fighters with great personalities.

Quillin, 35, was ambushed by Daniel Jacobs in the first round a year ago in losing the title. Was it bad luck, age or both? As a fighter the Brooklyn-based prizefighter has a ton of followers who like him as a person. Few are as classy as Quillin.

Love, 30, has long been a mainstay in Las Vegas and since his amateur days his abilities have been touted. Throughout the years Love has shown that charm and friendliness can go a long ways, even in the bitter wars of prizefighting. But the time has come to see if he belongs in the prizefighting world. Quillin will present an immense challenge for Love.

A number of other interesting fights are slated to take place among former world champions including Sergey Lipinets who lost the super lightweight title to Mikey Garcia this past winter. There’s also Luis Collazo in a welterweight match.

One world title fight does take place on the card.

Female WBA super middleweight titlist Alicia Napoleon (9-1) makes the first defense of her title against Scotland’s Hannah Rankin (5-1). It’s a 10 round bout and the first time Napoleon defends the title since winning it last March against Germany’s Femke Hermans. Ironically, Hermans now has the WBO super middleweight title after defeating former champ Nikki Adler by decision this past May.

L.A. Congestion

Next week the city of Angels will be packed with three fight cards in four days.

First, on Wednesday Aug. 8, 360 Promotions stages Abraham Lopez (9-1-1, 3 KOs) versus Gloferson Ortizo (12-0-1, 6 KOs) in the main event at the Avalon Theater in Hollywood, Calif. This is Filipino fighter Ortizo’s ninth fight this year. You read that correctly.

All of Ortizo’s fights have taken place across the border in Tijuana. The 32-year-old now returns to California against another Californian in Lopez. He’ll be looking for his fourth consecutive knockout, but Lopez, 22, has not lost a fight since his pro debut. Inactivity might come into play for Lopez who hasn’t stepped in the boxing ring in over a year.

New York’s Brian Ceballo (3-0) returns in a six round welterweight bout against local fighter Tavorus Teague (5-20-4). Ceballo, who is promoted by 360 Promotions, looked good in his last appearance. The amateurish punches seen in his first two bouts were gone by his third pro fight. His opponent Teague has ability and can give problems if Ceballo takes his foot off the pedal.

One of Gennady “GGG” Golovkin’s training partners Ali Akhmedov (11-0, 8 KOs) makes his California debut when he meets Jorge Escalante (9-1-1, 6 KOs) in a light heavyweight match.

Female super lightweight Elvina White (2-0) is also slated to compete. The entire fight card will be streamed at www.360promotions.us and on the 360 Promotions page on Facebook. First bell rings at 6:15 p.m.

Belasco Theater in downtown L.A. is the site of Golden Boy Promotions fight card on Friday Aug. 10. A pair of young prospects will be severely tested.

San Diego’s Genaro Gamez (8-0, 5 KOs) meets Filipino fighter Recky Dulay (10-3, 7 KOs) for the vacant NABF super featherweight title. For Dulay it’s always kill or be killed. Five of his last fights have ended in knockout wins or losses.

Gamez, 23, seems to thrive under pressure and broke down two veterans in back-to-back fights at Fantasy Springs Casino. Now he returns to the Belasco, a venue where he has struggled in the past. But this time he’s the main event.

Another being severely tested will be Emilio Sanchez (15-1, 10 KOs) facing veteran Christopher Martin (30-10-3, 10 KOs) who is capable of beating anyone.

Sanchez, 24, lost by knockout in his last fight this past March. He’s talented and fearless and one mistake cost him his first loss as a pro. He’s not getting a break against Martin, a cagey fighter who has upset many young rising prospects in the past. Martin also has experience against world champions. It’s an extremely tough matchup for Sanchez.

The fight card will be televised by Estrella TV beginning at 6 p.m.

World Title Fight

On Saturday, boxing returns to the Avalon Theater in Hollywood.

The main event is a good one as Puerto Rico’s Jesus Rojas (26-1-2, 19 KOs) defends the WBA featherweight world title against Southern California’s Jojo Diaz (26-1) in a 12 round clash. It’s power versus speed.

Rojas, 31, is one tough customer. When he took the interim title against Claudia Marrero last year he chased down the speedy southpaw Dominican and blasted him out in the seventh round. Several months earlier he obliterated another Golden Boy prospect, Abraham Lopez (not the same Abraham Lopez that is fighting on the 360 Promotions card), in eight rounds. Now he has the title and defends against the speedy southpaw Diaz.

Diaz, 25, just recently lost a bid for the WBC featherweight title against Gary Russell Jr. Though he lost by decision three months ago, that fight might be easy in comparison to this challenge against Rojas.

The former Olympian won’t be able to take a breath against the Puerto Rican slugger who is about as rough as they come.

Two more undefeated Golden Boy prospects get a chance to eliminate each other when Philadelphia’s Damon Allen (15-0-1) meets East L.A.’s Jonathan Navarro (14-0, 7 KOs) in a super lightweight fight set for 10 rounds.

Phillie versus East LA is like fire versus fire in the boxing ring. Boxers originating from those two hard-bitten areas usually have go-for-broke styles that result in pure action. Allen versus Navarro should not disappoint.

Allen, 25, is not a hard puncher but he’s aggressive and like most Philadelphia fighters, he’s not afraid to mix it up.

Navarro, 21, lives in East L.A. but trains in Riverside under Robert Garcia. He’s slowly finding his timing and will be facing the fastest fighter since his pro debut in 2015.

Others featured on the card will be Hector Tanajara, Aaron McKenna and Ferdinand Kerobyan.

The card will be streamed on the Golden Boy Fight Night page on Facebook beginning at 6 p.m.

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What’s Next for Manny Pacquiao?

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Manny Pacquiao isn’t quite ready to retire, and more big-money fights against high-level competition seem to be on the 39-year-old’s way.

“I feel like I’m a 27-year-old,” Pacquiao told GMAnetwork.com’s Jamil Santos last week. “Expect more fights to come.”

Pacquiao (60-7-2, 39 KOs) looked exceptionally sharp in his seventh-round knockout win over former junior welterweight titleholder Lucas Matthysse on July 15 at Axiata Arena in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It was Pacquiao’s best performance in at least four years, netting Pacquiao a secondary world title at welterweight along with a slew of renewed public interest in the boxing superstar’s career.

But what comes next for the only fighter in the history of boxing to capture world titles in eight different weight classes? TSS takes a detailed look at the potential opponents for one of the sport’s most celebrated stars.

Cream of the Crop

Pacquiao looked good enough against Matthysse to suggest he’d make a viable candidate to face either Terence Crawford or Vasyl Lomachenko next. Crawford is ranked No. 2 on the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board’s pound-for-pound list while Lomachenko slots at No. 1.

While Pacquiao is no longer under contract with longtime promoter Bob Arum at Top Rank, most industry insiders expect he will continue working with Arum’s team in some capacity so long as his career keeps moving forward. Pacquiao started his own promotional venture, MP Promotions, to co-promote the Matthysse bout with Oscar De La Hoya, but Top Rank was still involved in the fight which is why the bout ended up streaming on ESPN+.

Top Rank’s two hottest commodities at the present are Ring Magazine and WBA lightweight champ Lomachenko and welterweight titlist Crawford. Both are highly-regarded, multi-division world titleholders in the primes of their careers who are universally considered the top fighters in boxing.

Lomachenko and Crawford would each present a unique set of problems for Pacquiao stylistically. Of the two, Pacquiao probably matches up best with Lomachenko at this point in his career. Crawford (33-0, 24 KOs) is much larger and heavier than both Pacquiao and Lomachenko, and unless Pacquiao just really wants to test himself against someone incredibly dangerous, it’d probably be best for Team Pacquiao to avoid fighting Crawford at all costs. Crawford would be a heavy favorite against Pacquiao and most boxing insiders don’t believe this version of Pacquiao could compete with Crawford.

Lomachenko (11-1, 9 KOs) is naturally smaller than Pacquiao and has never fought above 135 pounds. If Pacquiao could lure Lomachenko to 140 pounds or above, he’d find himself in a winnable fight against a top-notch opponent. Lomachenko would probably be the slight favorite based on age alone but Pacquiao’s power and athleticism would give him a realistic chance to pull the upset.

Other Notable Possibilities

Former junior welterweight titleholder Amir Khan has long been angling for a bout against Pacquiao. Khan faces Samuel Vargas on Sept. 8 in another comeback bout against lower level competition. Khan (32-4, 20 KOs) bravely moved up to middleweight to fight Canelo Alvarez in 2016 but was knocked out in the sixth round. He left the sport for a spell but returned to boxing in February as a welterweight with a sensational first round knockout win over Phil Lo Greco. A win over Vargas puts Khan in good position to secure a bout with Pacquiao, and the fight is a reasonable move by both camps. Pacquiao would probably be the heavy favorite, but Khan’s speed and long reach give him a decent chance to pull the upset.

Former welterweight titleholder Jeff Horn won a controversial decision over Pacquiao last year in Australia. The bout grabbed huge ratings for ESPN and there have been many debates since it happened as to which fighter truly deserved the nod from the judges. Horn (18-1-1, 12 KOs) doesn’t possess elite level talent, but he’s huge compared to Pacquiao and fights with such ferocity that the two can’t help but make an aesthetically pleasing fight together. Pacquiao would be the heavy favorite to defeat Horn if the two fight again.

Pacquiao vs. PBC fighters?

Boxing’s current political climate and the ongoing battle of promoters and television networks for the hearts and minds of boxing fans usually leaves many compelling fights between top level stars off the table. Fighters promoted by Top Rank and Golden Boy are almost never able to secure bouts with fighters signed to Al Haymon to appear under the Premier Boxing Champions banner and vice versa. But Pacquiao’s free agent status opens up new and interesting possibilities for the fighter to pursue noteworthy PBC fighters.

There had been lots of chatter about Pacquiao facing Mikey Garcia next. Garcia (39-0, 30 KOs) has been decimating competition at both lightweight and junior welterweight. Garcia is considered by most experts to be one of the top 10 pound-for-pound fighters in the sport. He’s the TBRB junior welterweight champion and a unified lightweight titleholder (WBC, IBF). While Garcia is hoping to land a big money bout against IBF welterweight titleholder Errol Spence, most boxing experts believe the jump up to 147 pounds would be too much for the diminutive Garcia who began his career at featherweight. A better welterweight target for Garcia would be Pacquiao who also began his career in a much lower weight class.

Spence (24-0, 21 KOs) is probably the best of the PBC welterweights. He’s considered by many to be on par with Crawford at 147 so it would be an incredibly dangerous bout for Pacquiao to go after at this point in his career. But Spence is aggressive and fights in a style that Pacquiao traditionally matches up very well against. Spence would be the favorite based on size, age and skill.

Slightly less dangerous to Pacquiao would be facing the winner of the Sept. 8 battle between Danny Garcia and Shawn Porter. Garcia (34-1, 20 KOs) and Porter (28-2-1, 17 KOs) are fighting for the vacant WBC welterweight title and the possibility of capturing another world title in his career could sway Pacquiao to seek out the winner. Pacquiao could find himself a slight favorite or underdog depending on which of the two fighters he would face, but both would be winnable fights.

The WBA welterweight champion is Keith Thurman. Thurman (28-0, 22 KOs) is a good boxer with tremendous power but Pacquiao’s speed and athleticism would probably give him the leg up in that potential matchup. Thurman hasn’t fought in over 16 months though and recent pictures suggest he’s not in fighting shape at the moment, so the likelihood of a Pacquiao vs. Thurman fight is pretty much nil.

Some fans want Pacquiao to face Adrien Broner. Broner (33-3-1, 24 KOs) is a solid contender at 147 but probably doesn’t have the skill to seriously compete with Pacquiao. Pacquiao would be a significant favorite and would likely stop Broner if the two were able to meet in a boxing ring.

Mayweather-Pacquiao 2?

Pacquiao lost a unanimous decision to Floyd Mayweather Jr. in 2015, but the circumstances surrounding the fight, and the fact it was the biggest box office bash in the history of the sport, have led many to suspect the two fighters would meet again in a rematch.

Yes, Mayweather (50-0, 27 KOs) is retired, but he’s unretired several times in his career for big money fights including last year’s crossover megafight with UFC star Conor McGregor. While it seems unlikely to happen, Mayweather-Pacquiao 2 would still be a huge worldwide event worth millions of dollars to both fighters so those following the sport can never say never to the idea of it happening again.

While Mayweather is 41, he’d still get the nod as the betting favorite should he fight Pacquiao again based on what happened in the first fight as well as his stylistic advantage over Pacquiao.

Pacquiao vs. McGregor?

McGregor’s bout against Mayweather last year was such a financial success and the MMA star made so much more money in the boxing ring than he did as a UFC fighter that the idea of him returning to the sport to face Pacquiao isn’t as far-fetched as one might think.

Pacquiao vs. McGregor would be an easy sell to the general public. According to CompuBox, McGregor landed more punches against Mayweather than did Pacquiao, and the general consensus is that Mayweather-McGregor was more fun to watch than Mayweather-Pacquiao.

The size difference between the two would lead to an easy promotion. McGregor is a junior middleweight and Pacquiao has only competed at the weight once back in 2010. Despite all that, Pacquiao would be a significant favorite to defeat McGregor and rightly so. He’s too fast and too good a boxer, and his aggressive style would likely lead to a stoppage win.

Pacquiao’s Top Targets

Pacquiao’s top targets should be Mayweather, McGregor and Lomachenko. Pacquiao would stand to make the most money facing either Mayweather or McGregor. Pacquiao’s reportedly injured shoulder heading into 2015 bout left many wondering how the fight might be different had the Filipino gone into things at his best, and Mayweather’s age might play more of a factor in the second fight than it did in the first. A Pacquiao-McGregor fight would be a worldwide spectacle, one Pacquiao would be heavily favored to win. Besides, it’d be interesting to see if Pacquiao could stop McGregor sooner than historical rival Mayweather. Finally, Lomachenko might be trying to climb up weight classes too fast, and Pacquiao would certainly be fit to test the validity of that theory. It’d be one of the biggest fights in boxing and a win for Pacquiao would be another huge feather in the cap of one of boxing’s true historically great champions.

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