It had all the makings of a "Rocky IV" reboot – American vs. Russian, copious amounts of talking smack. Bay Area product Andre Ward even has a previous "Rocky" link, when he appeared in the film franchise’s "Creed" two years ago.
Monday at Midtown Manhattan’s Le Parker Meridien Hotel, Ward and Sergey (Krusher) Kovalev began a weeks-long publicity tour to hype their June 17 rematch, but it was Kovalev who detonated first. It wasn’t a "I will break you" soundbite in the vein of Ivan Drago, but Kovalev didn’t mince words when discussing his opponent.
"I feel like (Ward) is walking with a crown on his head. I don’t like him. There’s no reason to like him," Kovalev said through a translator. "I just saw him (Sunday) in the (hotel) lobby. Every time he looks at me, I just really want to punch him in the head."
Ward, the unified light heavyweight world champion with a 31-0 (15 KOs) undefeated record, won his first match against Kovalev in November at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, but not without drama and histrionics. Kovalev knocked Ward down in the second round, but the judges ruled in Ward’s favor, 114-113, after the 12-round bout. Ward briefly considered retiring after the victory, but his Roc Nation team huddled with the fighter and he agreed to a rematch, which will be an HBO Pay-Per-View event at the Mandalay Bay in Sin City. Not that Ward thinks he has anything to prove.
"It’s more about the excitement for the fans and the boxing community. I don’t feel like I’m out here to prove anything to anybody. There’s no robbery. There’s nothing in me that’s questioning myself. It was a close fight that I won," Ward, 33, said of the November bout. "I’ve always wanted to be in a rematch. I just fought this man for 12 rounds. There’s nothing scary about him. He knocked me down in the second round. I didn’t go into survival mode. I don’t feel like the Krusher responded the way that many thought he was going to respond."
The 6-0, 34-year-old Kovalev admitted Monday that he "over-trained" for the November match against Ward, and that he was fatigued late in the bout after scoring the second-round knockdown. But since the loss, Kovalev said he’s been "enjoying life" and he added that come June, he will author a different outcome — that is, if Ward doesn’t bow out prior to the match.
"I will be happy when it actually happens. A week or two weeks before the fight, (Ward) might say that he has an injury," said Kovalev. "Because he’s scared. He can retire any time he wants, but then he has to live with the circumstances of the fight. If he thinks he is a real champion, then have a rematch and see who is who."
Ward, for his part, said he would eschew the social media jabs that Kovalev has ramped up on Twitter, and that the score will be settled in the boxing ring.
"I respect (Kovalev) as a champion. He’s the real deal. Once a champion, always a champion. But the way he’s going about (taunting), I just sit back and I watch," said Ward. "There’s some weakness there, some holes there, and we’re going to tap into that June 17."