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Rebuilding Krusher Kovalev

(Originally Published

Once upon a time, the boxing media fawned over Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev and eagerly lapped up the promotion-friendly narrative with which the Russian had been doused. They sidestepped instance after instance of alleged racist behavior to tell the easier, lazier story of him being scary….oh so scary.

“He’s scowling…I don’t want to make him mad at me…tee, hee, hee…he’s so scary.”

Kovalev media days became acceptable places for comfortable, middle aged men to swoon at rough trade in public. And the stories they told reflected the manly giddiness they felt. Kovalev was the Lennon to Gennady Golovkin’s McCartney in a Soviet Bloc boxing Beatles dynamic; He was the pouty, dangerous rocker to Golovkin’s smiley, dreamy crooner. It was a swell time to be Krusher.

And then Andre Ward came along.

Ward exposed Kovalev as utterly human in their first encounter and then peeled back another layer in their rematch, showing the fearsome Russian to be less than the aura built up around him.

To be fair, Ward is a stellar fighter, more than able to break down most opposition and Kovalev is/was better than most “offensive beasts,” who are usually one-dimensional freaks of nature.

Kovalev, at his best, is a surprisingly relaxed, fluid fighter with a great jab and a tremendous sense of ring space. There’s was a sense of casualness about his destructive abilities that made him extra dangerous. Kovalev’s power was steady and ready. There was no explosive burst of energy to warn of a mighty attack, there was just forward movement and then lights out.

But, still, there was a lot Kovalev had in common with other mighty beasts who terrified foes and made boxing writers tingle in their nether regions.

The bully mindset ruled Kovalev’s psyche and, by accounts of even his own (now former) trainer John David Jackson, he didn’t respond well to being pushed to his limits by Ward. Like bullies do, Kovalev lashed out at those around him and passed off blame for a poor performance and unanimous decision loss on everyone but himself. After the second loss to Ward (an eighth round TKO), Kovalev pitched a bigger fit while still sidestepping all personal responsibility.

And if the personality profile fits, Kovalev as the de-pantsed schoolyard bully will not have an easy time adjusting to a new pecking order in that schoolyard.

Historically, the boxing world is full of offensive beasts who, once tamed, never quite recover their destructive powers. With the aura of awful invincibility gone, opponents don’t enter the ring half-knocked out by opening bell and the one-time monster, himself, is just a bit slower, a bit more tentative or thoughtful about letting his hands go. There’s also the harsh reality that a once-slain monster and his team will usually have less control over who they fight the next time they enter the ring and, therefore, will not have full control over selecting the “right” types of opponents anymore.

In the case of Kovalev, specifically, he IS being set up with a good comeback opponent by HBO on November 25 as Vyacheslav Shabranskyy is neither particularly skilled nor durable. And to help matters further, the WBO has decided to make this bout for the light heavyweight title left vacant following Ward’s recent retirement.

Barring some sort of totally unthinkable occurrence, Kovalev will leave the ring that evening with the WBO belt, a decisive victory, and the gift of some distance between his present tense and back-to-back losses.

The 175 lb. class is no longer top heavy with talent, but it is now, perhaps, an overall deeper division than in 2013-2014 when Kovalev, Adonis Stevenson, and Bernard Hopkins ruled the light heavy world. Sitting atop a 2017 post-Andre Ward division, by default, is a 40-year-old Adonis Stevenson, whose skills have atrophied greatly from years of soft-touch WBC title defenses. Below Stevenson, though, is a mix of technicians, stylists, and heavy-handed battlers such as Badou Jack, Sullivan Barrera, Eleider Alvarez, Artur Beterbiev, Joe Smith Jr., Marcus Browne, and Dmitry Bivol who will stand between Kovalev and a return to the top.

Things don’t look good for Sergey Kovalev at the moment, regardless of what he does in his upcoming bout. Efforts to rebuild the “Krusher” will have to revolve around shrewd matchmaking and a hope that the Russian can heal his bruised psyche. The WBO and HBO will likely aid Kovalev greatly in lobbing a few softballs his way, but without the ability to say that so and so is afraid of him, fan patience will run thin if he doesn’t face a real challenge soon.

A full comeback CAN happen, but it’s not likely.

Only in fairy tales and in cheesy monster movies do slain beasts rise to terrorize the world once again.

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