To hear it from John David Jackson, the trainer of former unified light heavyweight titleholder Sergey Kovalev, all is well in their training camp despite what he called “mind games” being played by Andre Ward’s camp.
In November, Ward, the former unified super middleweight world champion, won a highly controversial unanimous decision — 114-113 on all three scorecards — and three 175-pound title belts in a crowd-pleasing fight against Kovalev.
Where: Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas
When: Saturday, June 17
TV: HBO PPV, 9 p.m. ET/PT
Light heavyweights: Andre Ward (31-0, 15 KOs) vs. Sergey Kovalev (30-1-1, 26 KOs), rematch, 12 rounds, for Ward’s unified world title
Junior featherweights: Guillermo Rigondeaux (17-0, 11 KOs) vs. Moises Flores (25-0, 17 KOs), 12 rounds, for Rigondeaux’s world title
Light heavyweights: Dmitry Bivol (10-0, 8 KOs) vs. Cedric Agnew (29-2, 15 KOs), 10 rounds
Middleweights: Luis Arias (17-0, 8 KOs) vs. Arif Magomedov (18-1, 11 KOs), 10 rounds
Kovalev immediately exercised his contractual right to a rematch and two of boxing’s elite pound-for-pound fighters will meet again on June 17 (HBO PPV, 9 p.m. ET) at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas.
James Prince, Ward’s manager, and Josh Dubin, his attorney, recently told Boxingscene.com that Jackson had called them to inquire about the prospect of leaving Kovalev in order to work with Ward’s head trainer Virgil Hunter on preparing Ward (31-0, 15 KOs), 33, of Oakland, California, for the rematch.
Jackson said that he had indeed spoken to Prince and Dubin but that they called him seeking his services, not the other way around.
Jackson said he told Kovalev about what happened and that training camp moved on, business as usual.
“We talked about it,” Jackson said, addressing the situation this week on a teleconference with boxing reporters. “Here is what Ward’s team is going to try to do — they tried to disrupt our team because, at this stage, they know that’s all they really can do. If they want to be honest about it, they can say we really didn’t win the first fight, but we got the decision. OK, that’s part of boxing. Our side has to accept that. But now to try to play mind games and try to make different maneuvers to offset our camp, you can’t do that. Our camp is strong.”
Jackson said the incident has brought him and Kovalev closer.
“Actually, what they did … I’m glad they did it,” Jackson said. “It made us even stronger and become closer, and we’re working a whole lot better. So I need to thank them for doing the things that they thought were going to offset our camp. It made camp better for us. So I appreciate it.
“And for them to say that I reached out to them, come on. Seriously? If you want to say that, fine, I have no problem with that. Come June 17, all the things that Sergey wants and he does to have back his belts, he’s going to get that. He’s going to do what needs to be done, and that’s fight inside the ring, not talk, to be the champion and to fight.”
Kovalev, who has been with Jackson for years, brushed off the notion that his trainer tried to run out on him in order to work with his rival. He said he believes Prince and Dubin were just trying to disrupt their training camp.
“My point of view of this one is I don’t think John is as dumb as they’re trying to say,” said Kovalev, who knocked Ward down in the second round of their previous fight. “I don’t think John is dumb to go to [the] other side where there is no guarantee they’re going to take him or not. And most likely, they contacted John and they were trying to get some kind of strategy or some kind of secrets of my preparation for the fight, and when they got the answer, no, then they decided to raise a flag … well, that John is trying to get into their side. This is the point that I see.
“If it will come out in the beginning, where John reached [out to] them and tried to get his attention, then he will be like a spy, you know? But as far as now, I think we’re just stronger, and we’re one team, and we’re going forward.”
As the fight grows closer, Kovalev (30-1-1, 26 KOs), 34, a Russia native fighting out of Los Angeles, said he was not thinking about a supposed dirty trick from the Ward camp. He is only focused on getting the belts back.
“[Ward] is a fake champion because he didn’t deserve those belts. [He won by a] wrong decision,” Kovalev said. “When they first announced the winner, I could not believe it — it felt like I was in a bad dream. I believe that I won the fight. But as much as I would like to change what happened, I know that I cannot do this.
“I have come to accept this is what happened, and I am now even more determined to do everything in my power to make sure I do not leave the decision in the hands of the judges. Last time the judges gave him a gift of my belts. I cannot rely on the judges to get it right the second time. I am going to get my belts back. I have to make sure to either knock him out or win in a very convincing way.”