NEW YORK — Unified light heavyweight world titleholder Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev shared a stage at a New York City news conference on Monday and mostly played nice. But they had already been jabbing at each other behind the scenes.
In separate Q&A sessions prior to the news conference, both Ward and Kovalev took some shots while looking ahead to their June 17 rematch in Las Vegas.
That title belonged to Kovalev until last November, when Ward beat him via a highly controversial unanimous decision — 114-113 on all three scorecards — in a fight many observers thought Kovalev had won.
The former champ, speaking via a translator, didn’t hesitate to answer when asked if he dislikes Ward personally.
After weeks of haggling, a deal has been reached for Andre Ward to defend his light heavyweight title against Sergey Kovalev in June.
“I did lose respect for him, with how he acts,” Kovalev said. “I feel like he’s walking with a crown on his head. He thinks he’s something. Yeah, I don’t like him. There’s no reason to like him.”
Ward wasn’t wearing a crown Monday, but he does own an undefeated record (31-0, 15 KOs) and an Olympic gold medal, in addition to the world titles. He declined to go into full mud-slinging mode when discussing his opponent.
“I could say a lot of things about him, I could throw a lot against the wall and see if it sticks,” Ward said. “[But] I have a track record. This isn’t my first rodeo. I’m not getting caught up in that.
“You gotta see me June 17th. Let’s simplify it: You gotta see me June 17th. You got what you asked for. And like I told him, leave the excuses at home this time.”
Kovalev (30-1-1, 26 KOs) clearly believes he won the first fight and offered an explanation for why he couldn’t finish Ward off after knocking him down in the second round back in November: fatigue as the battle wore on.
“I overrated Ward in the first fight. I think I overtrained,” Kovalev said. “I did way too much — I thought that’s the fight of my life, and I overtrained myself for that fight. And now I know what I need to do to beat him.”
Ward — ranked second on ESPN’s pound-for-pound list — sounded confident about his victory the first time around and that another one is forthcoming.
“Obviously, the first fight was close, but I don’t feel like I’m out here to prove anything to anybody,” Ward said. “I feel like what’s gonna happen is gonna be academic.
“Of course he’s gonna make adjustments, he’s going to try to be better than he was the first time. And obviously my goal is to do it in a more definitive fashion. But like I’ve been saying since the fight happened, there’s nothing in me that’s questioning myself, ‘Did you win?’ It was a close fight that I won. There’s no robbery.”
When the actual news conference got underway, the two boxers generally held their fire while their promoters and management teams traded blows about the outcome of the first fight. But Kovalev did voice a concern, which he had also mentioned to reporters earlier, that Ward might still pull out of the fight by claiming to be hurt.
“The only thing I hope is that a week or two before the fight, Andre Ward does not get injured and he has enough balls to come out and fight me on that date, June 17th,” Kovalev said.
Ward scoffed at that suggestion.
“Nobody in this room can point to a fighter that I’ve run from, nobody can point to a fight where I turned [away], not one time. That’s not in my track record,” Ward said. “There’s nothing scary about this man.
“You realize we just fought 12 rounds four months ago? Everybody wants to highlight the knockdown — that’s probably one of the most beautiful moments of my career. Did you guys see the other 10 rounds? Nobody’s talking about that.
“I’ve learned more about this man in the last four months than I ever could in a 12-round fight,” Ward said. “You learn a lot about a man when adversity hits. And I’m not saying he can’t have an opinion, but the way he’s going about it, I just sit back and I just watch and I take notes.
“There’s some weakness, there’s some holes there, and we’re gonna tap into that on June 17th.”
There will be plenty more talking about this rematch — including two more news conferences later this week, in Oakland and Los Angeles. And there will probably be more shots fired via social media, too.