By Keith Idec
NEW YORK – Bernard Hopkins was right.
Kathy Duva joked during a press conference Wednesday at Madison Square Garden that she couldn’t believe she was admitting that publicly. But Sergey Kovalev’s promoter is sure Hopkins had it right in the immediate aftermath of his lopsided loss to Kovalev.
When Hopkins pulled Kovalev close to him following their fight three years ago in Atlantic City, the legend from Philadelphia told the Russian knockout artist that he would remain a light heavyweight champion unless he lost focus and basically beat himself.
Andre Ward would argue that he had plenty to do with knocking off Kovalev a year ago in Las Vegas. Kovalev and his handlers are convinced, though, that the former champion’s failure to remain committed to training was instrumental in losing back-to-back bouts with Ward.
“It’s easy when you’re champion, and everybody wants to be your friend, to lose sight of what got you there,” Duva told BoxingScene.com. “I can’t tell you how many fighters have done it. And again, I was standing next to Sergey when Bernard Hopkins pulled him aside, just before we started the press conference after the fight that they had with each other, when it was over. And Bernard pulled him in and said, ‘You’re gonna be champion as long as you wanna be. The day you lose focus, you will beat yourself.’ And I think that’s what happened.”
A rejuvenated Kovalev (30-2-1, 26 KOs) will return to the ring Saturday night in The Theater at Madison Square Garden. The 34-year-old contender will try to prove against Ukraine’s Vyacheslav Shabranskyy (19-1, 16 KOs) that he has regained his championship form following his eighth-round, technical-knockout defeat to Ward (32-0, 16 KOs) in their light heavyweight championship rematch June 17 in Las Vegas.
Duva and Kovalev contend low blows by Ward were responsible for a premature stoppage, but they’ve also acknowledged that Kovalev’s training habits weren’t what they were when he was a contender and earlier in his championship reign.
“We didn’t believe it then,” Duva said. “We didn’t wanna believe it, we didn’t wanna see it, whatever it was. He was still winning. As [manager] Egis [Klimas] pointed out, you know, how do you tell the guy he’s doing something wrong when he’s still winning? But you know what? You can’t make a person do something. They have to want to. And he decided he wants to. And whatever it was that drove him to that decision, thank God. And no matter what any of us say, really, none of this matters until Saturday night, and he gets in the ring and proves it.”
The Kovalev-Shabranskyy bout will headline HBO’s “World Championship Boxing” tripleheader Saturday night. It’ll include another light heavyweight battle between contenders Sullivan Barrera (20-1, 14 KOs) and Felix Valera (15-1, 13 KOs).
The telecast will start at 10 p.m. ET, when former 130-pound champions Jason Sosa (20-2-4, 15 KOs) and Yuriorkis Gamboa (27-2, 17 KOs) will square off in a 10-round bout.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.