On July 25, 2015 Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev (27-0-1, 24 KOs) goes against IBF mandatory opponent Nadjib “Iron Djib” Mohammedi (37-3, 23 KOs) but the road to success was not an easy one for him and his manager, Egis Klimas, who reflects on the journey.
Kovalev was introduced to Klimas via a mutual friend, Anatoliy Rubinchikov, and the two met for the first time in Kazakhstan prior to Kovalev’s professional debut. Klimas was travelling to Kazakhstan with his long-time friend and trusted advisor Don Turner, so the two of them met with Sergey together. Turner said he knew instantly that Kovalev was a special fighter, “He was an interesting guy. He was shadow-boxing and he never changed the expression on his face and I thought this guy is for real. So I told Egis that this guy can’t miss.”
After their meeting it was decided that Sergey and his fellow countryman, former IBF Featherweight World Champion Evgeny Gradovich, would go to North Carolina to train at Don Turner’s gym. During that time Turner remembers a quiet Kovalev, “Sergey was quiet. He don’t talk much. He never talked that much. He just trained hard. He trained real hard.”
Turner’s gym is located deep in North Carolina farm country, surrounded by corn and tobacco fields. According to Turner, “My gym is like old-time fighters. You isolate yourself and focus just on boxing. Fighters today don’t want to fight; they want to play. Fighters of 40 or 50 years ago they trained like nine or ten months a year. Today these guys train for six or seven weeks at a time. Sergey and Gradovich were one of only a handful of fighters that didn’t want to leave my camp. Sergey and Gradovich were serious.”
Klimas added, “Sergey and Gradovich were the only ones who lasted at Don’s gym. It is a huge hangar in a field surrounded by fields. The closest town is like ten miles away. Sergey never complained to me once. Now he tells me a lot of stories about that time, but when he was at camp he never complained.”
During this time Klimas paid for Sergey to fight on various cards trying to secure him a promotional deal, but he was unsuccessful. “I spoke with many promoters,” explained Klimas. “I went to Top Rank, Golden Boy, DiBella, Gary Shaw and Sergey was on all of their shows. Nobody could really see him because he was stepping in and knocking guys out in two rounds. Also, I couldn’t get the very good guys to fight him so everyone would just say that he beat another bum. They couldn’t really see what I saw. I saw his training; I saw his work ethic and his attitude. The promoters didn’t see much of him. He would usually fight on the first fight on the card so there was really nobody around to watch and they thought that I was just building a record for him.”
Finally, Klimas was ready to give up and leave the boxing business but the counsel of Don Turner changed his mind. Turner said, “I told him to keep doing and I said, ‘Why don’t you go to Main Events?’ I told him not to quit boxing because he put too much money into it. I said, ‘Man, you at the threshold of making money. Why you gonna quit?’ It is just like everybody that comes to the camp; they be two or three fights away from making money and they want to leave.”
“When he was already 18 fights and I knew to go deeper I would have to have a promoter, Don Turner said I should talk to Kathy Duva from Main Events because he knew her very well,” said Klimas. “He said she is a good promoter and he had a good relationship with her back in the day. I went to New York and called her and we decided to meet. She came with Jolene [Mizzone, Main Events’ matchmaker] and we decided to make a deal.” That deal would prove to be the turning point. In his fourth fight with Main Events, he knocked out previously-undefeated champion Nathan Cleverly to secure the WBO Light Heavyweight World Championship. Now, three years later, he is the Unified WBO, WBA and IBF Light Heavyweight World Champion.
Main Events CEO Kathy Duva continued, “I didn’t know what to expect from Sergey when I met with Egis the first time, but I left that meeting convinced that Egis was a manager we wanted to work with. While Jolene and I were meeting with him, we lost an important fight. Egis went from selling us on Sergey to helping us find a replacement without missing a beat. A few months later, Sergey rematched Darnell Boone on one of our cards and I was sold on Sergey. I’ll be forever grateful that Egis and Sergey came into our lives.”
When asked about his relationship with Egis, a grateful Kovalev added, “I’m very happy I got to meet with Egis. Egis believed in me and I believed in him and our union worked to get high stage of boxing. I wish the best to Egis!”