Sergey Kovalev redeems himself, George Groves rides off into the sunset
By John J. Raspanti
Last weekend, Sergey Kovalev’s boxing life was up for grabs. If he didn’t defeat Eleider Alvarez, there would likely be no second chances. The odds were against him.
Winning a rematch in boxing is extremely difficult. Not saying it doesn’t happen, but it’s tough, and requires any number of circumstances. Here are a couple of historic examples.
In 1938, all-time-great Joe Louis knocked the stuffing out of Max Schemeling in less than a round. Two years earlier, it was Schemeling who stopped Louis. Many thought the German would put Louis to sleep again in fight number two.
It must be noted that Louis was fighting for more than revenge that night in New York. He was also symbolically battling for his country, and the evil that was Adolph Hitler.
Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier got together for a second time in 1974. Frazier had floored Ali with his patented left hook in round 15, and won a unanimous decision three years before in what was dubbed as “The Fight of the Century.”
The rematch went down in the same venue as their first fight, the hallowed grounds of Madison Square Garden. Frazier, who was undefeated when he defeated Ali, had been brutally knocked out by big George Foreman the year before. Ali had suffered the second loss of his career at the hands of Ken Norton prior to Frazier’s loss to Foreman.
Experts were divided on who would win, but it was Ali who boxed his way to a close victory. The rivals would meet one more time in 1975.
Kovalev wasn’t only facing a man who had knocked him out six months ago. He was also looking at serious jail time, accused of punching a woman in the face a few months before his first match with Alvarez. It was assumed that focusing on beating someone who had knocked him out would be out of the very difficult.
Boxers have to think of themselves as unbeatable. Kovalov, nicknamed “Krusher,” was once the most feared fighter in the light heavyweight division. A few years ago, I thought of him as an assassin lurking in the shadows, ready to pounce and destroy. After he lost a couple of bouts to Andre Ward, both controversially, Kovalev was mocked and ridiculed.
He returned and regained his title, then lost it and blamed his training camp. This wasn’t the first time that Kovalev had made excuses following a defeat.
Prior to the Alvarez rematch, he hired a new trainer, Hall of Famer and former world champion Buddy McGirt, and returned to the gym. Many mocked this move as well. Almost all of the experts predicted that Alvarez would clean his clock once again.
I, along with my cohorts on The Ringside Boxing Show, didn’t agree with them. I had a feeling that Kovalev wasn’t done yet, that his ability to box, and more importantly, his pride, would rise up and lead him to victory.
Kovalev executed his plan perfectly, out-boxing Alvarez over 12 rounds to win a wide unanimous decision. Alvarez fought like a guy who figured that all he had to do was smack Kovalev on the chin, and the big Russian would tumble like a cheap bottle of vodka in an earthquake.
Not so. Kovalev absorbed the blows and fought back. To me it was the most impressive victory of his career. What happens next is anyone’s guess. Kovalev must face his accuser next month in court. His greatest victory in the ring could be short-lived in the big picture
Former super middleweight champion George Groves announced his retirement last week. I’ve always liked Groves. I’ll never forget watching him solve the riddle of the rubic’s cube during his press conference with Carl Froch. Everything he did seemed to get under Froch’s skin.Froch wanted to tear off the head off the balding bratty kid.
Their first fight was stopped prematurely. In the rematch, Froch knocked Groves into Tomorrowland. Groves later admitted that he fell into a deep depression following his second defeat to Froch. Understandable. It appeared from the outside that all his friends deserted him. Fair weather indeed.
“To be honest, it was a very difficult period of my career,” Groves told Manouk Akopyan of www.theguardian.com four years ago.
Told to retire by many, and that he’d never be a champion by Froch, Groves was back in the ring four months later. He won two bouts in a row before traveling to Las Vegas, NV, to face world champion Badou Jack. Would the third time be the charm for Groves?
No, Jack knocked Groves down and won the match by split decision. Groves then did what a lot of fighters do (see above article). He made a change, - teaming up with trainer Sean McGuigan. McGuigan “got” Groves, understanding the cerebral nature of the man nicknamed “The Saint.”
He won four fights in a row before receiving what he knew would be his last chance at world championship honors. Showing more emotion than usual, Groves stopped Fedor Churdinov to win the WBA belt.
He defended his belt once, before meeting favored Chris Eubank Jr. a year ago. Eubank predicted knockout. Groves smiled and said little. He was no longer the cocky kid with an attitude, but a seasoned professional who knew what he could do. Groves used his experience and brainpower to win a unanimous decision over the petulant Eubank.
Groves was knocked out by Callum Smith five months ago, losing the title that he had spilled so much blood and humiliation over.
In a statement announcing his retirement, Groves spoke of his fight with Edward Gutknecht.
“Lastly a prayer for Eduard Gutknecht who suffered a brain aneurysm after our fight in November 2016,” wrote Groves. “He was put into an induced coma for 3 weeks and bravely fought his way back to consciousness. He lives in Germany with his wife, 3 children and a full-time career. This fight brought home the realization that boxing can have brutal consequences.
“After this, I truly felt like my fighting days were numbered. After winning the WBA world title I decided to only continue fighting while it felt necessary. After the birth of my second son last year and losing in the final of WBSS, I knew the desire to fight had left me. Retiring at 30 was a suggestion I first heard 10 years ago. I thought it was a good idea then and I still do now.”
Well said, George, and good luck.
Your career was a good one.