Former light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev's return to the ring could be worrisome.
The 39-year-old has not fought since a Nov. 2019 knockout loss to Canelo Alvarez. The following years and months have not been so kind to him either.
An announced fight against Sullivan Barrera was scrapped due to COVID-19 in 2020, and another fight against Bektemir Melikuziev in 2021 was canceled after “Krusher” tested positive for synthetic testosterone.
Kovalev's circuitous path to the squared circle culminates Saturday when he makes his cruiserweight debut against Tervel Pulev at The Forum in Los Angeles in a Triller pay-per-view event.
Kovalev (34-4-1, 29 KOs) admits the near 2 ½ year layoff could prove to be problematic.
“Of course [I am worried about ring rust]. When you don't fight for a long time, you lose boxing skills and fighting skills,” Kovalev told BoxingScene.com in an interview. “When I started sparring sessions [for this training camp], the first two weeks I couldn't touch my sparring opponents. I was very heavy, like 210 pounds. But then my boxing skills came back, and everything is fine.”
Kovalev said he plans on weighing between 187 to 190 for his fight against Pulev.
When asked if he will ever embark on a crusade at bridgerweight or heavyweight should he accomplish his goal of winning another title in a new weight class, Kovalev said: "I'm small even for cruiserweight."
Tasked with getting Kovalev up to speed is Hall of Fame fighter turned trainer Buddy McGirt.
“We're still working together. I am happy. Everything is going well and to plan with Buddy McGirt. It's amazing to fight,” said Kovalev. “Buddy was a very smart boxer and right now he is a very smart coach. It doesn't always turn out that way, for a good boxer to be a good coach. I learn a lot working with him. He's controlled my training process and gives me the kind of advice I need to be in the best shape for a fight. He doesn't overload or overtrain me. He stops me on time.”
Having gone 4-4 in his fights dating back to 2017 – with three of those losses being knockouts – Kovalev is in the twilight of his career.
He admits that his motivation to keep going as a near-40-year-old is to further his legacy as a champion once again, inspire his children, and earn money so that his family can have a more comfortable living.
“The hardest part of training now is being separated from my family,” said Kovalev. “At 29, I didn't have a family. But now, I have two kids and a wife, thanks to God. It's the most difficult part of my career right now.”
Manouk Akopyan is a sports journalist, writer and broadcast reporter. He’s also a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and MMA Journalists Association. He can be reached on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube at @ManoukAkopyan, via email at manouk[dot]akopyan[at]gmail.com or on www.ManoukAkopyan.com.