Sergey Kovalev is a lover and a fighter.
Nothing seems to be more important to the Russian boxer than his family, whom he supports through his chosen profession. That was the case before, during and after his tragic December 2011 win over Roman Simakov.
Simakov died from brain injuries he suffered during the loss to Kovalev, who needed months to process what happened that night in the ring. But Kovalev now uses uses Simakov’s death as motivation for his ongoing pursuit of boxing glory and its accompanying riches.
Kovalev, who’ll fight Andre Ward on Saturday in Las Vegas in a highly anticipated bout between undefeated light heavyweights, revealed as much to the Vertical’s Chris Mannix.
“I have to continue, to fight for me and him, together,” Kovalev said in June. “I think he’s seeing me. Maybe he is. Maybe he’s looking down on me. I don’t know. But I will try to be the best in boxing. For both of us.”
Kovalev’s admission might startle some, but it’s both the outcome of much soul-searching and a partial reaction to the criticism and blame he still receives over Simakov’s death. It’s almost a polar opposite to what he initially felt.
“I really was lost,” Kovalev said. “I was lost for about a month. I got a lot of calls of support, from my parents, from friends, from my wife. But that whole month, I don’t remember. I was lost in my mind.”
Kovalev no longer blames himself for what happened to Simakov. His manager, Egis Klimas, suggests Simakov wasn’t in good physical condition before the fight, and officials should have stopped it before the fateful seventh round.
If Kovalev considered quitting the sport he had practiced since he was 11 and had lifted him out of poverty, his family’s needs prevented him from doing so.
“He had an obligation to his family, his loved ones,” said Kovalev’s wife, Natalya. “He is the only breadwinner in his family. If it’s not boxing, then what else? He doesn’t know how to sell. He’s not a businessman. He is a boxer.
“He must continue what he started. It doesn’t matter what happened in his life. He had to pull together and act. It doesn’t matter if I want it or if someone else wants it or doesn’t want it. He has his goal and must accomplish it.”
Kovalev’s decision to dedicate his career to Simakov’s memory helped him win his next five fights, the first of which occured just seven months after the terrible night in Ekaterinburg, Russia.
Regardless of how Kovalev fares Saturday against Ward, Simakov will remain close to his heart, alongside his family and sport he loves so much.
Thumbnail photo via Eric Bolte/USA TODAY Sports Images