The descent of Sergey Kovalev


SERGEY KOVALEV was once deemed the most dangerous man in boxing. Back then, when at the peak of his destructive powers, such a tag was a compliment. His ability to break his opponents with skill and menace left many seasoned observers predicting greatness for the Russian.

Though never quite invincible – nobody ever is, let’s face it – the crucial thing for him and his persona was that he believed he was. He was fearless, or at least acted that way. Recognition of fear creates boundaries; boundaries that keep us in check, boundaries that Kovalev chose to ignore. And it worked to a point.

Like many boxers whose reputations are built on destroying all-comers and in turn getting their own way, it was difficult for him when he realised, after losing two bouts to Andre Ward, that he was human after all.

The descent was perhaps always inevitable. He’s since been accused of racism, of assaulting a woman and her dog, of kissing a woman on a plane who didn’t want to be kissed, of driving under the influence and, at the end of last year, of streaming the DAZN broadcast of Canelo Alvarez vs Callum Smith for free on Instagram a month before he was due to fight on that channel.

The DAZN transgression was not exactly on a par with the rest. Even so, it was more evidence of a mind that was making bad decision after bad decision. Those lapses in judgement have been getting more frequent since he lost that controversial decision to Ward in 2016. Unbeaten in 31 bouts before that reverse, he’s 4-3 since. His rap sheet got longer as he took more punches to the head. A coincidence? Maybe, but it’s not an uncommon theme.

One can make an argument that Kovalev needed psychiatric help instead of being encouraged to don his boxing gloves and beat people up. Our sport is superb at cultivating a villainous image but less effective at dealing with the consequences of that villainy when it spills over into real life.

Should Kovalev have been allowed inside the ring at a time when he was being accused of hitting women outside of it? Whatever one’s opinion on that, it’s certainly hard to name another high-profile industry that would be so forgiving of such woeful behaviour.

Regardless, sympathy for Kovalev is now thin on the ground.

Last week, the Russian – still a cult hero in the eyes of some – failed a VADA test after synthetic testosterone was discovered in his system ahead of a scheduled comeback bout with Uzbek prospect, Bektemir Melikuziev. He claims innocence, of course.

Some will say Kovalev deserves the right to defend himself. Others won’t be so keen to hear his excuses. A positive test, which can tarnish an entire career, will do more harm in the eyes of boxing fans than any of his previous crimes.

Will this be the end for him? Probably not. Even at 37 and facing a suspension, it’s still easy to envision the door being left ajar where certain promoters will wait to peddle what’s left of his reputation.

The wider question, irrespective of his innocence or guilt, should be whether the sport can really afford to carry people who muddy its reputation so frequently. In 2021, as boxing strives to make the right noises in its battle to be heard, there’s no place for men as dangerous and damaging as Sergey Kovalev.

  • ONE hopes that boxing returns to Britain in February as planned. The sport showed last year that is capable of operating in exceptionally difficult circumstances; the bubbles worked and positive tests, at least when compared to other sports, were rare.

    Matchroom have put together an enticing schedule and Queensberry, now that Frank Warren is returning to health after contracting coronavirus, are also set to announce some quality matchups with the pick-em clash between Jamel Herring-Carl Frampton set for February 27. We wish Frank a full and speedy recovery.

    Credit to everyone involved in keeping the sport’s flag flying in the face of this horrible pandemic.



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