LAS VEGAS, NV (June 15, 2017) – On Wednesday, June 14, the televised undercard of Andre Ward vs. Sergey Kovalev 2: “The Rematch” sat down to participate in roundtables with the media during Fight Week Powered by Monster. Head trainers Virgil Hunter (Team Ward) and John David Jackson (Team Kovalev) followed the group of boxing talent with respective roundtables of their own. Ward-Kovalev 2: “The Rematch” will take place Saturday, June 17 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. The championship event, presented by Corona Extra, will be produced and distributed live by HBO Pay-Per-View® beginning at 9:00 p.m. ET/6:00 p.m. PT.
Below is what the participants had to say:
Virgil Hunter, Trainer of Andre Ward
“[Andre’s] ring IQ speaks for itself but the worst mistake you can make is to underestimate the opponent’s IQ. We take it all the way to the top, whoever we’re fighting. The mindset is you’re the best in the world. You’re the best that ever did it. You don’t want to stop the bar on eight when you can go all the way to 10. The bar is set at 10 in giving Sergey the credit that he rightfully deserves. Look, I’ve said it before, but I’m a Sergey Kovalev fan. Just not this fight. But I’m a fan of his. I knew a long time ago that if we ever moved up to light heavyweight that we would meet. I understood that a long time ago.
“You can never tell what’s going on in a fighter’s mind. I tend to let Andre set the tone. If we have to change it up, then I’ll come in and we might change up a few things. But he’s been doing it so long and I trust him. I know exactly what I’m looking at when he’s fighting. He can set the tone. If the frustration becomes an asset for us, we’ll stay there and keep him frustrated.
“Me knowing Andre’s mindset and how he approaches things, I told him that we’ll train for a knockout. It doesn’t mean it’s going to come, but we’ll train for it. It’ll be quite evident in the fight. He’s going to get hit because you got to get hit to win and get knockouts. He’s been hit by Sergey and he described the punches just as I see the punches on TV, very sharp… not concussive but sharp. [A knockout] is a possibility. I’ve only trained Andre to purposefully knock out somebody twice – the first one was Chad [Dawson], the second one was this one. I never trained him to knock anybody out, but those two I did. Only twice have we changed strategy to stop somebody.
“What we want to do is make sure Sergey doesn’t get the flush punch. He might graze you, he might rush punch, he might punch you like ‘get off me’ as opposed to being planted and zeroed in and ‘boom’ give him that shot. Sergey never landed another punch after the knockdown. So, if Andre was hurt, how could he make Sergey miss? All you got to do is watch it after the knockdown.
“I’ll have to take Sergey at his word, but when I look at the fight, I just don’t see where he got tired. He continued to throw and he continued to press. I don’t see personally where he got tired and I think I can identify fatigue in a fighter pretty well. But I have to take him at his word.
“No, Andre never made any excuses about his fight. Look, it was a tough fight, a great fight. If you came to the fight and participated in the fight, you don’t have any excuses. I’m not making any excuses; I’m just saying we’re going to have a different fighter. That doesn’t guarantee victory or anything, just a different fighter.”
John David Jackson, Trainer of Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev
On the first fight against Ward:
“My opinion is the same now as it was that night: Sergey won the fight. If you look at the first half of the first fight Sergey dominated. If you look at the second half of the fight Ward got back in the game but Ward didn’t come back and dominate like the way everyone says he did. Especially with the knockdown, Sergey won the fight hands down but he unfortunately didn’t get the decision. For this fight, if he can fight the second half of this fight the way he fought the first half of the last fight, then of course we will win the fight. He has proved it publicly that he can outbox Ward at his own game. The question now is, can Ward come back and try to outbox Sergey at Sergey’s game? That is highly doubtful. Ward isn’t a big puncher and can he take Sergey’s body shot? We’ll see in the second fight what happens but if Sergey fights the second half of this fight the way he fought the first half of the last fight then he wins. I had the first half 5-1 or maybe 6-0 for Sergey but the second half I had it 3-3 or at best 4-2 for Ward. So, when you count in the knockdown, Sergey won the fight.”
On whether it’s the game plan to knock out Ward:
“No. Sergey needs to stick with his jabs and his combinations, put every round in the bank just like we did the first fight but in the second half he needs to sustain that attack. Don’t falter and he will win. If he goes for the knockout, he may not catch Ward. Ward is a very defensively sound-minded fighter. Sergey needs to be smart.”
On Sergey’s tiredness, late in the first fight:
“There is a different conditioning coach now so hopefully that helps him physically as well as mentally. They seem to work well together. If he did his job than Sergey will be fine. For the first fight Sergey was running 14 miles a day and I asked him why. I told him he was going to wear his legs out. He is still running but not nearly as much. He is saving himself for this time around. I told him that although he was fatigued he hid it pretty well. I couldn’t tell that he was fatigued. He got a different coach for the conditioning part and that should work for him. If it works for him physically, it will help him mentally. And that is a tremendous blow to help him win this fight. Now that he has brought a new guy in let’s see if that is what he needed to be more successful in his pursuit of Andre Ward.”
On prediction for the fight:
“I give Andre a lot of credit for being a very defensive-minded fighter. The fight might go the distance but that’s ok. We aren’t worried about that. If it goes the distance and Sergey does what he is supposed to do, he dominates; he should win hands down. Just think about this: if Sergey hadn’t slowed down and kept up the same pace he had, what would Ward have done differently? He would have gotten his ass whooped the same way because Sergey beat him in the first half of the fight the way he wanted to. Sergey slowed down and that allowed Ward to get back in the game. If he didn’t slow down, then what would Ward do? He would have still lost the second half of the fight the way he lost the first half. Sergey allowed him to get back in the game. He didn’t just do it; Sergey allowed him to get back in the game because he got tired.”
On the knockdown in the first fight:
“I wasn’t surprised he got up because Sergey didn’t hit him flush. It was kind of a grazing shot. It wasn’t full with his knuckles. If Sergey had hit him with a solid shot, Ward probably wouldn’t have gotten up. He got hit with a shot that wasn’t solid.”
On changes for this fight:
“We worked on the inside game. Both fighters held a lot and Sergey was to blame for that also. Now Ward thinks that he is going to hurt Sergey to the body and probably break him down. Well, guess what? If you watch Ward’s fights he grabs a lot. He is not a true inside fighter. He grabs a lot and he holds and hits with the free hand. As good as Sergey punches, do you think that he is going to stand there and take those kinds of punches to the body? No. Sergey’s mentality is different. He is a survivor-type fighter. He is defensively sound. Once he gets hit he is going to take off. He is not going to stand there and take those kinds of punches.”
Guillermo Rigondeaux (17-0, 11 KOs), WBA World Super Bantamweight Champion
“I can’t wait for Saturday night. The Mexican boxing community is going to be out there and every Mexican is ready for war, so we’re ready to put on a spectacular fight on Saturday. I believe my preparation has always been excellent and the Cuban school of boxing has always been something I’ve focused on. I believe, on Saturday, June 17, it will be shown. I train for one boxer at a time and when it comes, it comes. You just train hard all the time. No boxer intimidates me in any way. [Flores] is a good boxer and I’m impressed by his style, but I’m not intimidated by anyone. It’s a God-given gift to move [the way I do] in the ring and have the reflexes I have. It just kicks in. I go to work when I step into the ring.
“I’m 122 pounds, I’ve always been at 122 but I’ll still beat anyone at 126. Weight isn’t really much of a big issue for me. I just want the big names and the big fights. For really good quality boxing, it’s not really about size. It’s more about heart, conditioning, speed, experience, excellence – everything I’ve gone through. We live everyday based on the results and the good work we put in. All the people are intimidated to get in the ring with me.
“When you have two superstars like that – and two friends of mine – it’s hard to determine [who will win]. But they’re going to put on an excellent show on Saturday, June 17. Andre Ward will truly have to prove whether he’s the real champ and this is the real test.’
Moises Flores (25-0, 17 KOs), Interim WBA World Super Bantamweight Champion
“I feel great; I’m level-headed. I’m trying to take advantage of the opportunity and do what I need to do. [Rigondeaux] being favored is not really a big deal. I’ve been the underdog during my last five fights, so this is nothing new to me. I understand the game. I’m humble; I’m OK with it, I’m ready. I’m ready to fight.
“[My reach and height] is definitely an advantage. We’re definitely going to use that advantage – we just need to use it the right way. His age will play a part in [the fight], so we need to take advantage of it and my youth. But I’m sure he’s done his job in the ring and in the gym. But so have I. I think it will be one of the toughest fights of my career because of his boxing style. He operates from a distance, his legs are strong and he’s intelligent. He doesn’t have the same speed he once had, but he’s still fast. We just need to attack him and trap him. I think my boxing style can slow him down.
“These are the opportunities you train for. He’s a boxer in every sense of the word. But what can he – or any rival – do to me that life hasn’t already done to me. [Rigondeaux] is the posterchild of a real boxer and, for all that, I give him credit. People talk because they love to see action, blood, a horror movie. They want to see combat. Rigondeaux has talked a lot and we’re going to confront him in the ring. There will be action, there will be blood. I work for that.”
Dmitry Bivol (10-0, 8 KOs) – Interim WBA Light Heavyweight Champion
On changing opponents from Sullivan Barrera to Cedric Agnew, a Southpaw:
“Any fight with any level opponent can create problems for a fighter. This is boxing and anything can happen. I think that if I follow the plan that we have set everything is going to be good. I am definitely glad with the way things have gone now. It is my 11th fight and I am glad to be fighting on such a big event on HBO Pay-Per-View. It is a great honor. It is a great achievement for me. We have set certain goals with my manager, my trainer, my promoter and the rest of my team and so far, everything is going by the plan. I am very glad that everything is going the way it is.”
On the Russian light heavyweights:
“I have certain pressures in my career and in boxing most of those pressures come from what I have to accomplish for myself. The goals I have set are for myself. It really isn’t a competition or a comparison to other fighters from Russia or any other fighters in the division. As long as I am achieving what I have set out to do and as long as I am going beyond what I am supposed to be doing fight after fight, that is the achievement for me. That’s a win for me.”
On his opponent:
“I never really try to set the main goal of knocking somebody out. Obviously, I want to showcase a good, exciting fight. I will be looking for openings and if there are openings I will use as many of them as I can. Hopefully, I can try to finish the fight earlier but I am ready to go the full ten rounds if I have to.”
Cedric Agnew (29-2, 17 KOs) – Former WBO Light Heavyweight World Championship Challenger
On his opponent:
“I think he is a pretty tough competitor but that goes without saying because everyone is a tough competitor. My thing is to overcome what I am dealing with that night and to impose my will on him and come out with the victory. It is going to be an all-out war. I am just trying to take it to him the whole fight. The things they say about him [Bivol] are the same things they said about Kovalev. I didn’t run from Kovalev. I can take a hit. I just need to stand in there and try to overcome that storm for the first few rounds and stay focused, stay grounded and stay ready.”
On his title fight with Kovalev in 2014:
“I just underestimated him. It was a learning experience. I grew from it. I am still trying to grow. Afterwards, we went back to the gym and we worked on different things and worked on perfecting different parts of my craft. We’re not quite where we need to be but things are moving in the right direction. People don’t know certain things that a fighter deals with on fight night and in training camp. He could be feeling physically ready but not mentally ready. We need to give fighters a chance to prove themselves and comeback after a loss. People look at fighters like they are not human but we are human too.”
On his confidence for this fight:
“If I wasn’t confident I wouldn’t be taking this fight. My thing is to fight the best-of-the-best in my weight class, to prove to myself and prove to the naysayers out there. I have been the underdog in quite a few fights and it doesn’t bother me at all. My thing is, those who really know me know I am not an underdog. It is going to be an action fight. It is going to be a grit and grind war out there. I am here to showcase my talent, my skills and it is going to be an amazing fight. You’re gonna see me fight a hell of a fight. You’re gonna see a lot of Cedric Agnew come Saturday night.”
Luis Arias, USBA Middleweight Champion (17-0, 8 KOs)
“I should have been at this stage (in my career) already but timing is everything. For whatever reason, my timing is now. I’m a little late; I’m 27 and should be fighting for a world title by now. But give it another year and I’ll be fighting for a world title. I’m just going to make a statement. I’m going to get him [Magomedov] out of there and I’m just going to start calling out some names.
“The middleweight [division] is definitely one of the top divisions in the game right now; I think it’s middleweight, welterweight and heavyweight that are the popular divisions in the game. I’m coming out at the perfect time. There’s a mega-fight coming in September in my weight class. The goal is to get the winner.
“[Magomedov] has a good record. He has the best record that I’ve fought so far. I honestly don’t feel like he’ll be my toughest opponent. But like I said, we’ll have to wait and see. He’s coming off a loss; he got dominated by an opponent. He’s fighting an undefeated champion, who is very confident and strong. Had the best camp I ever had. We’ll just have to wait and see. If he’s willing to take it, I’m willing to dish it out for 10 rounds but it will be over before then. We’ll find out Saturday night.”
Arif Magomedov (18-1, 11 KOs) – Former NABO Middleweight Champion
On his only career loss:
“It was a long time ago; it was more than one year ago. I know I did a big mistake, I know what it was and right now I am preparing completely different. We are going to see everything is going to work for me for sure. I know why I lost the fight before and I know where I made my mistake. That guy was not very good and I was fighting in even more better fighters. I know how I’m going to work to (give him a loss).”
On his opponent:
“He’s a very good boxer; he never had a loss and I watched a lot of his fights. I saw the video on the internet about him and he’s very fast and a very tough guy. I think he is one of the best opponents I ever had. Anybody who saw my fights on the internet probably tell that I’m going all the time straight, I give a lot of power punches and I’m doing a lot of combinations all the time.”
On extra motivation coming to the United States as the underdog:
“I got the goal to have performance here in the United States and I am reaching it step-by-step. I’m going to the big shows and I know that one day I’m going to be a champion. People in the United States love boxing more than in my country. People are very loud here and you can feel the fans are very (interested) in the boxing; they know who is good in boxing.”
Ward vs. Kovalev 2: “The Rematch,” a 12-round mega-fight for the WBO/IBF/WBA Light Heavyweight World Championships, is presented by Roc Nation Sports, Main Events, Andre Ward Promotions, Krusher Promotions and Corona Extra, sponsored by Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, Jetlux, Life10 Electrolyte, Zappos, D’USSÉ Cognac, ProSupps and Powered by Monster. The championship event takes place Saturday, June 17 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas and will be produced and distributed live by HBO Pay-Per-View® beginning at 9:00 p.m. ET/6:00 p.m. PT. Tickets for Ward-Kovalev 2: “The Rematch” are available on axs.com and at the Mandalay Bay Events Center Box Office.
Photo Credit: Roc Nation Sports/Tom Hogan – Hoganphotos/Main Events