By: Raymundo Dioses
“I was born to fight,” are the first words strewn from the HBO special My Fight: Kovalev/Ward as International Boxing Federation titleholder Sergey Kovalev is shown walking in front of a scenic array of clouds in Big Bear, California and then out on the Chelyabinsk, Russia horizon, reflecting on his life in the sport that took him from the Eastern part of the world to the West’s United States of America.
“My life has always been a fight,” a serene Andre Ward quips as 55thand Market St. signs are shown, an ode to his roots in his native Oakland, California. “I think the hardest part of my life is having to deal with setbacks,” says Ward, who flashes his 2004 Olympic Gold Medal to the HBO cameras.
Both fighters are shown working out in clips as the HBO’s excellent voice over talent Liev Schrieber defines a fighter as a person who only knows only one way to make sense of the world; who comprehends pain as a singular gauge of truth; who’s approach to his pursuit is categorically inseparable from his identity; that man is a fighter.
The shot deadpans into a black screen and then My Fight: Kovalev-Ward pops out in contrasting bold white lettering.
Ward looks across the beautiful Northern California ocean view as it’s relayed that the son of an African mother and a white father first had difficulties growing up bi-racial in Oakland, being seen as black to the white community, and not black enough to the black community. Wards father Frank, a former amateur fighter, raised Ward and his brother Jonathan in his formative years.
Ward looked to Frank as a Superman type figure, and at age 9 Frank walked Andre into a Hayward, California gym, which served as the future champion’s first exposure to the sport. Ward walks in and greets ‘Joe’, gym owner Joe Olivarez and touches the first heavy bag he ever hit; a rugged and weathered old school leather bound item which is now autographed and hanging near the front of the gym.
“This is where I met Virg,” recalls Ward in speaking of longtime trainer Virgil Hunter, who explains to the HBO camera that Ward had a wisdom most kids didn’t have at his age. Hunter guided Ward through a stellar amateur career leading up to the 2004 Olympic Games, which was targeted by the young fighter and his trainer as a goal.
At was at this point where Ward describes himself as being forced to grow up early, as his parents’ drug addictions came to light, forcing Ward and his brother out of their home and into the home of trainer Hunter. Hunter sought to make Ward and his brother feel safe and secure. Throughout the years Ward occasionally reunited with his mother, and father Frank remained a presence in the fighters life until August 26, 2002, when heart disease took Frank’s life.
Following his fathers’ sudden death, Ward slid down a bad road of drinking and hanging around the wrong crowd yet was able to be influenced once again with the forthcoming Olympics. Hunter helped the fighter get back on track before heading to Athens, Greece.
“I was never concerned about Andre the boxer, it was Andre the young man that I was concerned about,” said Hunter, who led Ward to a Gold medal win at the Olympics. After the events in Greece, Ward turned to religion as his foundation alongside the nickname “Son of God” as he rose through the professional ranks in becoming one of the best pound for pound fighters in the sport.
At 32 years of age and with a 30-0 record, Ward has developed into an amateur standout, to Olympic gold and an elite pound for pound status while surviving a rough childhood, finding strength through both his trainer and his faith, and now looks to continue his success against Kovalev on November 19, 2016.
With a win over Kovalev comes the International Boxing Federation light heavyweight belt.
The skyline of Kovalev’s Chelyabinsk, Russia is the first setting of Kovalev’s story, as the heavy hitting fighter looks at a landscape of smokestacks, army tanks and construction equipment. Kovalev describes the city as industrial, made up of factories and strong factory workers.
Chelyabinsk, Russia’s main industry is deftly described by narrator Schreiber as steel production. “Raw materials forged by intense heat, shaped by extreme pressure into something seemingly unbreakable,” as Kovalev is shown walking through a neighborhood in Chelyabinsk.
Kovalev describes a hard childhood that lived through the break of his nation from the USSR to Russia, with his mother and stepfather struggling to make ends meet while working at a tractor plant and trying to provide for three children. Back then, Kovalev noted that he knew not of living rich, or living poor; simply living was enough.
Although success was found later in his life through the sport of boxing, Chelyabinsk is no stranger to Kovalev, who is shown visiting his mother who still lives in his childhood home and points out that there was no shower; just a sink and a toilet in the house that raised him.
Self-defense was described as mandatory on the streets of Chelyabinsk, and Kovalev describes the antics he and the neighborhood kids would partake in, leading to admitted mistakes. However, at age 11, Kovalev learned to box in a now decrepit building where the fighter sifts through the remnants left behind.
“December 1, 1994 was my first boxing workout,” Kovalev vividly recalls as his first trainer, Sergey Novokov, describes his young pupil as thin, small and not noticeable early on in his training. Novokov was fighting as a professional at that time and would glove up against his students, who began to tuck their chins in and hold their gloves up more following being hit by the trainer. Novokov describes Kovalev as not the most talented of his bunch, yet the thing that pushed Kovalev through was having the strongest spirit.
One year into his boxing training, a heart attack took the life of Kovalev’s stepfather. At the age of 12, Kovalev then stopped boxing. Kovalev’s trainer would send his fighters to go get Kovalev, and Kovalev’s mother relayed to him that he was the only man left in the family and that he had to care for the other children and help his mother.
Maturity then kicked in, as did a rededication to the sport of boxing with Kovalev rising in the Russian amateur rankings. Feeling Russian politics were affecting his growth as a fighter, in 2009 Kovalev was introduced to Egis Klenis, who was told by famed trainer Don Turner that Kovalev could become a champion.
On July 25, 2009, Kovalev made his professional debut in the United States alongside the guidance of Klenis. Both fighter and manager had their doubts early on until 2012, when promoter Kathy Duva liked what she saw and placed Kovalev on an undercard against Darnell Boone, whom Kovalev famished in two and a half rounds in frighteningly ferocious fashion.
“My boxing career began going up very fast,” said Kovalev as Duva quickly signed the man who would become known as “The Krusher”. Kovalev began fighting on HBO on a regular basis while becoming a force to be reckoned with in the light heavyweight division. On November 8, 2014, Kovalev became the IBF’s champion with a dominant victory over future Hall of Fame inductee Bernard Hopkins.
“For everything that I am fighting for, in my life, in the ring, right now I understand that I passed a very long road on the path to come here, and every day, I get a new motivation. I’m still here, and I’m still undefeated and continuing to reach my goals and my dreams.”
Sergey Kovalev vs. Andre Ward for the International Boxing Federation light heavyweight title takes place November 19, 2016 live on HBO pay per view from the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.