As patient and calculating as Sergey Kovalev is inside the ring, when it comes to career moves, he is anything but.
The Russian light heavyweight has been a professional for three years, but will challenge THE RING’s No. 3-rated contender Gabriel Campillo this Saturday in the main event of NBC Sports Net Fight Night.
A pair of 2012 wins over Darnell Boone and Lionell Thompson don’t stand out as rites of passage to a bout with one of the division’s best, but in Kovalev’s mind, now is as good a time as any.
“I’ve been a professional for three years, I’ve had over 300 amateur fights – when, if not now? Why waste the time? If you cannot fight today, you cannot fight tomorrow,” Kovalev (19-0-1, 17 knockouts) told RingTV.com through an interpreter.
Certainly, Kovalev’s professional resume isn’t indicative of his immense ability. He amassed an amateur record of 193-22, and it typically took stalwarts such as Matvey Korobov and recent Hennessy Sports signee Artur Beterbiyev to defeat him at big tournaments.
As a pro, he’s been looked at by every major promoter, but selling a Russian light heavyweight was a tough task for manager Egis Klimas.
“I’d been talking to many promoters about him, fighting on different promoters’ cards, but nobody gave me a good opportunity,” said Klimas. “(They said) the light heavyweight division is not exciting, not too many fighters, not a very interesting division. That’s why. Everybody agrees he’s a good fighter, everybody likes him.”
Klimas entered discussions with Main Events, and Kovalev was slated headline their Sept. 21 NBC Sports telecast against Campillo before the Spanish lefty suffered a back injury. His charge fought on the card anyway and demolished Lionell Thompson, prompting the promotional outfit to ink him days later.
According to Main Events head Kathy Duva, Kovalev wasn’t interested in any victory laps or honeymoon period following the union.
“One of the things that really struck is that right after we made the deal and we got the contracts signed, I got an email from Sergey saying when can I fight for the championship? How soon? Not how many tune-ups can I get before I get to the championship or how many easy fights can I get, it was just tell me how fast I can do this,” said Duva.
Though he won’t be fighting for a world title on Saturday night, he’s facing a man who has a real good case to be wearing two of them right now.
Campillo (21-4-1, 8 KOs) lost a decision to IBF titleholder Tavoris Cloud last February in what was described as anywhere from “controversial” to a “disgusting robbery” within the media. Two years earlier, the same scenario took place in Las Vegas, when Campillo lost his WBA light heavyweight title to Beibut Shumenov in what appeared to be a dominant performance for the champion. Instead, the decision was given to the challenger, with one scorecard awarding him nine rounds.
“Campillo is the best fighter in the world at light heavyweight. I think he should be champion after the last fight. I think he won against Tavoris Cloud, but the judges’ decision wasn’t right,” said Kovalev, 30, Chelyabinsk, Russia.
The decisions were described as ‘tragic’ by some, but Kovalev has experienced real tragedy in his career.
In December of 2011, he fought fellow countyman Roman Simakov in a highly anticipated domestic clash. From the early going, Kovalev was dominant, scoring a knockdown in the sixth round, and finally stopping his opponent in the seventh. Though Simakov got up following the stoppage, he soon lost consciousness, and was rushed to local hospital where he died three days later.
“We didn’t go back in the ring for a long time after that. In the beginning, it was a very hard for him. He went back to Russia so he could be among his friends and his family,” said Klimas.
Kovalev went on to dedicate his next fight to Simakov, and has slowly come to grips with what transpired. He is of the belief that it wasn’t simply his punches that caused the demise, but that other factors must have played a part as well.
“Every time I sign a contract, I put my life on the line. Anything could happen,” said Kovalev, who now lives and trains in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.
Perhaps his desire to climb to the top so quickly is driven by his knowledge of how suddenly the ascent can end.
Photo / Main Events
Follow Corey Erdman on Twitter @corey_erdman