Champ Sergey Kovalev agrees to fight Isaac Chilemba next
ABS-CBN Sports on Apr 24, 2016 10:50 AM
Light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev, right, responds to a question during an interview alongside his manager, Egis Klimas, in Los Angeles on Saturday, April 23, 2016. Kovalev, of Russia, has agreed to fight Isaac Chilemba, of South Africa, in his next bout July 11 in Yekaterinburg, Russia. (AP Photo/Greg Beacham)
GREG BEACHAM, AP Sports Writer
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Sergey Kovalev has found an opponent for a homecoming bout this summer to prepare him for his showdown with Andre Ward.
The Russian light heavyweight champion has agreed to fight Isaac Chilemba on July 11 in Yekaterinburg, Russia.
"This is not an easy fight for me," Kovalev said Saturday. "If it was, Russian fans would say, 'Hey, that's easy work. We're not going to watch it.' He's a tough fighter with a really uncomfortable style."
Chilemba (24-3-2, 10 KOs) is a respected former 168-pound champion fighting out of South Africa, but Kovalev (29-0-1, 26 KOs) is among the world's top pound-for-pound fighters.
He has a streak of 13 consecutive victories, stopping 12 of those opponents. He also ended the 26-year career of Bernard Hopkins in November 2014, taking both of Hopkins' light heavyweight belts and winning a third title while claiming every round on every judge's scorecard in the decision.
Kovalev believes Chilemba's athletic style and toughness will aid his preparation for his expected 175-pound showdown with Ward on Nov. 19 in one of the biggest prospective fights in boxing.
Promoter Kathy Duva, who also promotes Chilemba, confirmed that Kovalev and Ward have already signed contracts for the pay-per-view bout, which would match two unbeaten champions near the peak of their careers. While Duva and Kovalev are still confident Ward will accept the challenge, they realize nothing is certain in boxing.
"It's the biggest fight that can be made in boxing," Duva said. "It's done, and we have a contract. (Ward) just has to show up. He can't fight anybody else. When it actually happens, that's when I'll breathe."
Before meeting Ward in Las Vegas or New York, Kovalev is eager to return to Yekaterinburg, which is 140 miles north of Chelyabinsk, his hometown. The fighter now lives and trains in the U.S., but has a large Russian family and fan base eager to watch him live — and he plans to spend a few weeks relaxing in the Russian summer afterward.
"I have two homes now, Russia and America," Kovalev said. "I love to be here, and I love to be there. Here, I'm always busy with sport. When I go there, I will have time after the fight to enjoy with my family."
Kovalev left Russia in frustration with the nation's amateur system and his pro prospects, but he has become the most visible fighter on Russian television not named Klitschko. He is also a celebrity with powerful connections: Kovalev expects Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to attend the fight, which is being heavily backed by billionaire Igor Altushkin, the founder of the Russian Copper Company.
Kovalev, who stopped Jean Pascal in Montreal in January, hasn't fought in his homeland since December 2011. His opponent in that bout, fellow Russian Roman Simakov, died three days after Kovalev stopped him in the seventh round.
"I feel pressure in every fight, not just in Russia," Kovalev said. "I'm undefeated, and my nickname is Krusher. I have to prove my nickname every time. Fighting in Russia is the same."
Duva scheduled the fight on a Monday night to avoid any conflict with the Euro 2016 soccer tournament, which ends July 10.
A Monday date is unusual for a major prizefight, but Duva expects a huge television audience in Russia. She is also working to get the fight live on HBO if the network can clear a few technical hurdles.