Mini-blogs on Kovalev, Mayweather-Pacquiao and Premier Boxing Champions
Bloggers gonna blog. I think that’s a saying. If not, it might should be. Anyway, here’s a smattering of thoughts on Sergey Kovalev, Mayweather-Pacquiao and Al Hayon’s Premier Boxing Champions.
Don’t Ask Sergey Kovalev About Mayweather-Pacquiao
The running debate in boxing today is who is scarier: undefeated middleweight monster Gennady Golovkin or light heavyweight destroyer Sergey Kovalev. I’ve spoken with both men a handful of times, the latter in person at least twice.
While I wouldn’t want to step in the ring (or a dark alley) against either man, I have to say that Kovalev just seems the scarier fighter to me. I have several reasons, but I’ll hit the important ones at a high level here.
First, Kovalev just seems meaner. That’s not to say he’s not polite to fans and media. He is. Or even that he’s actually mean. Maybe he’s not. But there’s something I see beneath his menacing eyes that tells me he’d rather be bashing skulls with his fists than doing mundane things like smiling and talking to people.
Second, he’s the one fighter I’ve met in person (and I’ve met plenty) who while I was interviewing him, I felt the distinct impression that he absolutely hated my guts. No matter how much he smiled and nodded or how many nice the things he said to me, I always came away from the encounter thinking that the whole time my gums are flapping at him that he’s pondering in his mind what my blood looks like.
None of these things may be true, mind you. It’s just the vibe I get.
But probably the best interview I ever had was Kovalev, and it was precisely because he was so surly with me during it that it made for some really good copy. Already not the type to enjoy chatting with media people (especially those of us who aren’t big-timers like Dan Rafael or Chris Mannix), Kovalev was in the midst of losing the necessary amount of weight required to make his 175-pound contract limit for his bout against Blake Caparello.
“How are you today,” I asked to open the call.
“Hungry,” he scowled back at me.
That set the tone for the rest of the interview. He was hungry and angry and I got the sense he really didn’t like doing interviews so his answers were short and his voice was gruff. All the while, of course, I could see in my mind images of him chopping light heavyweights down as if his arms were axes.
He was much more chipper when I talked to him last week. Maybe the birth of his son has softened the big lug up a bit. Maybe he’s grown accustomed to the media junket all HBO boxing stars are put through. Maybe he’s grown to like me. At least that’s what I thought until I closed the call by asking him the obligatory Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao question.
A long silence followed. His manager, Egis Klimas (who I get the same kind of vibe from by the way), proceeded to translate it for Kovalev in case he had trouble picking it up himself. The only words I understood among the hodgepodge of what I assume to be Russian are “Pacquiao” and “Mayweather.”
“Um…,” Kovalev says, emitting a long sigh in the process.
“I don’t like to do predictions,” Kovalev finally says to me. I can only imagine what might be going through his mind as he proceeds with the rest of his answer. He’s talking Mayweather-Pacquiao, but I keep thinking he’s wondering what my spine would feel like in his hand.
“The fight is one the boxing world has waited for…I think it will be a war of mind: who is smarter will win.”
There is another long period of silence, and then we both begin to speak, talking over each other. Obviously, if two people begin speaking at the same time and one of them is Sergey Kovalev, the other is, by default, interrupting.
“Do you think it will be a good fight?” I clumsily ask over whatever it was he was about to say.
Silence. Then more translation.
“Yes. I think it will be interesting fight. Who wins? I don’t know. I’m not going to say who will win.”
Fair enough, Sergey.
You Can Ask Jean Pascal and Bryant Jennings About Mayweather-Pacquiao (But I Already Did)
I also talked to Kovalev’s March 14 opponent, Jean Pascal, and undefeated heavyweight Bryant Jennings, who faces world champ Wladimir Klitschko on April 25. Both of them see close Mayweather wins over Pacquiao.
“Five years ago, I would have said Mayweather easily,” said Pascal. “But now, time is starting to catch up to Floyd. The fight will be much closer than it was five years ago, but I have no choice but to go with Floyd because Floyd is the man right now.”
“It seems to me like it. It’s not because of one fight that age is starting to catch up. If we see it again versus Pacquiao, we’ll know for sure. But in his last fight, he wasn’t moving the way he used to move. People are starting to say that but who knows? We’ll see on May 2.”
Still, Pascal likes Pacquiao to give Mayweather a stern test.
“Definitely, Pacquiao can give him his toughest test because Pacquiao is strong. Pacquiao is fast. I think right now this is the biggest fight for Floyd and the biggest fight for the sport.”
Jennings had similar thoughts.
“I think Mayweather is going to win,” said Jennings. “Skill for skill, I think Mayweather will win. But there are some things I’ve seen in Mayweather’s last fight that Pacquiao might be able to capitalize on. But Floyd was going through a lot of things in his last fight. I’m hoping he learned his lesson. All that stuff can play a part. A lot of things probably got to him that he probably learned now that he shouldn’t have let get to him.”
Jennings also believes Pacquiao will give Mayweather a good fight.
“He probably can. It’s going to be a great fight. I’m pretty hyped about it. I’m a Mayweather fan, but I’m also a Pacquiao fan. He followed me back on Instagram so…”
We had a good laugh about the last bit.
A Note on Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions
My Twitter timeline was almost universal in praise of Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions. The inaugural show kicked off Saturday night on NBC. Boxing needs more skeptics. Here’s why.
First, people seem to be buying into PBC for two main reasons. First, they want to see boxing on network television. That’s best for everyone. It means more free shows for fans and better job security and growth potential for the boxing media. Second, the PBC has gone out of its way to promote itself as a change for the sport, something both boxing fans and media have long pined for. The status quo is not ideal.
Here’s criticism on both.
First, for PBC to be successful, it needs to draw sponsors. As of now, all Haymon has done is bought airtime on NBC and other networks to promote his fighters. So what’s happened so far is Haymon has set a precedent where networks might now expect promoters to pay them to put boxing on TV. Let’s say sponsors never come and PBC has to fold up shop in a year. Will boxing ever find its way onto network television again? Both Main Events and Golden Boy Promotions have had fights air on network television in recent years. If Haymon fails, will it ever happen again? Is the risk worth the potential reward?
Second, PBC is seen by some as a breath of fresh air, a change for the sport of boxing. But is it? Haymon has been in boxing longer than I’ve been a boxing writer. His involvement in the sport has been good for his fighters but potentially less so for the overall health of boxing. Many fights that could have and should have been made over the years did not come to fruition because (at least in part) Haymon did not want the bouts to happen. He’s shown a consistent inability to make the fights most fans most want to see. Leo Santa Cruz is a perfect example of a Haymon fighter who has not faced anything but cupcake opposition since bursting onto the scene as a fan favorite two years ago.
The simplest way to put it is this: Haymon isn’t really a breath of fresh air, and the innovations of PBC seem more veneer at this point than actual substance. Yes, they’ve rid boxing of fighter entourages during ring walks and the fetishism of title belts. Yes, they paid off NBC so fights can be on network television. Yes, they hired a bunch of celebrities to call the action. And do not get me wrong, all of it could turn into something really good for boxing.
But until further notice, the PBC is still run by the same people who gave us one of the more disappointing years of Showtime fights in recent memory. They’re the same people who let Danny Garcia butcher lightweight Rod Salka in a farce of boxing contest. They’re the same entity that Freddie Roach claims is currently paying off potential sparring partners for Manny Pacquiao so the Haymon fighter, Floyd Mayweather, has as large an advantage as possible when the two meet on May 2 (even though someone claiming to be “The Best Ever” shouldn’t need such silly shenanigans).
The final point is this: The only way PBC is truly successful in changing the sport as a whole will be by destroying and rebuilding it. If boxing is to make all the right fights, the ones fight fans want, then PBC must become the only game in town. That means other promoters go away or become so small that they don’t really matter and PBC becomes boxing’s version of UFC. That might not be a bad thing. But it might not be good either. And it hasn’t happened yet. All the PBC is at present is a sparkly new enterprise, one that could become the future of boxing or ruin it altogether by creating yet another faction in this already fractured sport.
Criticism of such an exploit isn’t just fair and valid right now. It’s absolutely necessary.