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Sergey Kovalev and Social Media: It Is Sort of Weird, Right?

Sergey Kovalev is not an easy character to describe. You might want to put him a category to describe him simply, but it would be an injustice. One thing is for sure is that he is the perfect foil to Andre Ward as he is similar yet different in many ways. They’re both prone to winning bouts, but different in terms of mannerisms to win the fight as Kovalev opts for brutal and violent KOs as Ward looks to outthink his opponents and break them down to the body.

That being said everyone who writes about boxing essentially says all of that. A few weeks ago, Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev came to Ward’s hometown of Oakland, CA for the second day of a three day press tour. The mood was as to be expected – TENSE. Neither fighter likes the other and it is now clear.

That being said my biggest takeaway from the Kovalev side had nothing to do with the actions or words he said in a private Q&A, but of his actions leading into the fight. Before I begin this next part, I have to offer a preface. Lately, I have been reading about magic, not really about the craft, but more about magicians from a time before the internet.

One of the most compelling stories I have found was of a watchmaker who stumbled upon magic by buying books based around magic thinking they were books about making and manufacturing watches. He would then create a clock above his house that would never stop working and seemingly was magical. The truth was that the device was powered by the doors in his house which created a pulley system that made it everlasting.

That being said we often do not want the truth since the truth is tangible and benign. It is much more fun to believe in childish glee and innocence.

In the lead-up to the second Andre Ward fight, Sergey Kovalev has become a popular Instagram commentator, leaving comments on local Bay Area fighters social media pages. He even went so far as to post a photo with a fellow boxer, who he may or may not know fights, claiming he is an Andre Ward fan, who actually prefers Sergey Kovalev. Beyond all that, Kovalev commented on a gym picture I took as well, it just seems so strange – a pay-per-view fighter would be that astute.

I want to believe that it is Kovalev, the cunning and clever fighter and cerebral assassin targeting and stalking Bay Area and Northern California fighters since that would be fascinating and showcase an obsession with Andre Ward after his loss. The problem is I feel more like Fox Mulder from The X-Files then I do a person living in reality when I think this way as that logic makes me feel more in the vein of “I want to believe” rather then “I believe this to be fact.”

The reason I am dismissive of Kovalev being a stealth sleuth combing through Instagram to find posts is that it is very easily for this to be allocated to a robot for a small fee. For example, you can pay roughly ten dollars a month to have your Instagram account like and comment on strangers photos to build your following (the logic being a famous person is interacting with me so, let me follow them). The way such programs work are that they search certain hashtags like say #Boxing and furthermore they can search a certain region like say, the Bay Area.

Much like most of things if you think of it that way, it seems less romantic and quite somber, but that still doesn’t explain the Mike Russell photograph.

Mike Russell Situation

For those who don’t know who Mike Russell is, he is a cruiserweight based out of Santa Rosa training out of the Double Punches Boxing Gym. Russell only has one pro fight to his name with the bout ending about as soon as it started seconds into the first round as stopped Ignacio Zambrano. Prior to that, Russell had nearly 100 amateur fights and is hoping to become a fighter that doesn’t need a preface for an article in the future.

Russell though found himself in the middle of a bit of social media controversy as Sergey Kovalev posted a photo of him at the Oracle Arena. The photo and caption are included below, but the sentiment essentially is that Andre Ward fans are actually more impressed with Sergey Kovalev.

As I stated before I had the unique opportunity to meet with Kovalev and ask him about this. Kovalev, who didn’t want to speak English since he felt unable to truly express himself with the richness of native language, gave a classic no answer.

Kovalev hurried through an answer that seemed longwinded and after his manager Egis Klimas transcribed it, it felt as though any of the information I wanted from the story was gone. It was basically the same response as Instagram post with the only new detail being that the two were seated next two each other.

Most people are interested in the fight, but the fight is the fight, it’ll happen and everyone else is talking about that, I was still interested about Kovalev’s semi-obsessive voyage on all things Andre Ward on the internet.

So I called Mike Russell, the young boxer who was thrown in the middle of this.

Russell explained that the whole experience was odd and that he “…didn’t even have that picture on his phone.” For Russell, it was strange since he took a photo with Sergey Kovalev since he had seen him on television and looked up to him and his fighting style. Russell furthered that for one reason or another he couldn’t find the picture and never saw it again, the first time he saw since that night was on Sergey Kovalev’s Instagram, which was strange, since Kovalev is really famous and also fighting the most famous current Bay Area boxer.

“It was odd since I hadn’t seen the photo since that night and I was scrolling through my [Instagram] feed and I saw myself and Kovalev, I kept going and then I had to do a double take since I couldn’t believe it.” said Russell.

As expected, Russell posted positive remarks and support for Andre Ward within minutes of the post to show support for his fellow Bay Area native, but what strikes me as so odd, is how’d Sergey Kovalev find the image?

The Complex Kovalev

It is the only thing that dismisses my theory on all of his comments on local fighters page, which oddly are all the same, a “100” emoji and a boxing glove emoji. I use to love a listening to a podcast called “The Mystery Show” and this was the kind of case that they would take on and that is why this story is so interesting to me now.

It just seems somewhat endearing in an odd way that the man who looks like a Rocky villain from the cold war era of Russia is scouring the internet offering encouragement to young fighters as well as exposure in an odd way. It seems to go against a lot of the motifs I have constructed of Kovalev.

Prior to this turn of events I had somewhat viewed Kovalev as a brute, who promoters handle with care and limited media exposure since he sort of spoken out in a non-politically correct way. Whether you want to put on cultural experience of growing up in Russia or just plain lack of empathy, I have always looked at Sergey Kovalev as someone who struggles to find sympathy or understanding for people who are not the same skin color or gender as himself. I know that is harsh since I just listened to a radio show on this topic , but I felt Kovalev had earned this through a myriad of mistakes in pre-fight build-ups.

Despite all of Kovalev’s flaws, one of the major takeaways I got from him after 30 minute Q&A session is how much more vulnerable he seemed then I thought of him prior. Maybe it was prior to Ward, he had looked unstoppable, but now he seems frustrated at times and you can see hints of someone who once was not an adult, but grew into the person we all know now on a public platform. 

Talking with Kovalev in Oakland I could see some of the childhood innocent that may have been taken from him somehow came back with Ward loss. Kovalev felt genuinely wronged and when questioned about thinking any other way from his perception he looks at you as though you didn’t understand the injustice that had happened to him. For a fighter who spent most of his career being the boogeyman, even beating a man so badly that he died days after his fight with him, Kovalev on this Tuesday morning in downtown Oakland felt like someone who was seeking to right a wrong and not a mythical force, it was as if he was a normal civilian trying to talk his way out of jury duty more so then the feared light heavyweight I have known and witnessed in person.

When Kovalev spoke it was brief, the words didn’t even get transcribed in the same order by his manager it seemed. This would be brought up at the public press conference as famed boxing manager and hip hop mogul J Prince called him out on Klimas’ brief answers. Prince thought out loud as he stated to a packed house in Oakland, CA.

“Am I the only one who doesn’t think [Egis Klimas] translated everything [Sergey Kovalev] said?”

The remark got laughs, but it also brought up a subtle truth Sergey Kovalev is an enigma. Social media is really the way to get a glimpse at how he perceives the world and the fact that he embraces it and allows fans to look at his view of the world is nothing short of interesting. When looking at figures like Andre Ward or even Gennady Golovkin, neither embrace the platform as freely, more then likely, because both fighters are more cerebral and have PR teams helping them with content that will maximize value and not get them in trouble.

Kovalev on the other hand has an apparel line that looks like that of a 80s pro wrestler with a simple K with a boxing glove in between with the word “Krusher” placed above it. Kovalev at times post things on his social media that would hinder sponsors involvement, almost certainly letting you know that he is the sole force behind the comments.

Even then I feel like when it is all said and done, I feel as though I will have a better grasp on Andre Ward and Gennady Golovkin then I would Kovalev and that confuses me the most.

Kovalev, who uttered these erie words over and over again.

“I will retire Andre Ward!”

Had an odd take on his last fight with Ward, he said he trained too much and that his plan for this fight was to not take Ward as serious and not train as hard.

It sounds odd to say it like that, but when I ran over my notes from the session with my colleague at a local sandwich shop near the event, we both came to the conclusion that he said just that without saying it that bluntly.

The one thing that I do understand about Kovalev is he feels like he is the variable and that whatever he does will control the outcome and nothing Ward does can impact that. I have thought since the first fight that Ward and Kovalev in many ways are meant for each other, because they’re perfection in boxing to two schools of thought, power and craft. They have mastered their domain and now only have one person left to face for validation.

For Kovalev, it is to prove that all the malicious words he has said about Andre Ward not winning the fight as well as mocking Ward’s religion. For Ward, it is to silence all of the detractors of his from fans to media who have had nothing positive to say about him ever.

On June 17th from the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, hopefully things will be a bit more clear, after this bout.

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Lukie Ketelle

Lukie Ketelle