Sergey Kovalev has all but cemented his place as one of the top pound-for-pound boxers in the sport today. And this Saturday, the 6-foot Russian native will look to silence any questions about his control over the light heavyweight division when he takes on Jean Pascal in a rematch of their March 2015 bout at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Canada. HBO’s highly anticipated fight will begin at 9:45 p.m. ET. For a complete guide to everything you need to know about Kovalev-Pascal, click here.
While Kovalev was winding down his pre-fight training camp last week, he took a few minutes to talk with SI.com about how he first got into boxing, what his training routine is like ahead of a big fight and much more.
Daniel Friedman:What was your introduction to the sport of boxing?
Sergey Kovalev: When I first started boxing, my friend showed me that he went to a boxing gym and he brought me with him. And I started boxing together with my friend, my classmate. When I started, my coach showed me all the professional fighters in the ’90s.
Who are some of the fighters that you looked up to when you first got into the sport?
SK: Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns... We watched a lot of these boxers.
DF:Where's your favorite spot to hold training camp when you’re getting prepared for a fight?
SK: Before the fight, we train eight weeks. I start to prepare in Big Bear [Calif.] and the second part would be in a boxing gym somewhere comfortable. Depends where is my fight. Maybe down in Florida.
DF:I know cardio is a big part of your training, and while in Big Bear you guys sometimes go running in the mountains. Can you tell me a little about that and what other workouts you do to get into fighting shape?
SK: I run. I’m riding bicycles and I use an elliptical. It depends how I’m planning to prepare. The first part [of my training] is usually for conditioning and for stamina. It’s usually around one hour of running [per session].
DF:What about when you start to get closer to the fight?
SK: When it’s close to the fight, my running and everything should be shorter but faster. I think everybody usually [trains] like this. It’s nothing really new in the sport.
You’ve got incredible punching power. Some people attribute that to natural ability. How much of that do you think comes from training? If it’s from training, what do you do specifically to get yourself to that level?
SK: I think it’s from my hard workouts in the gym, complete with my natural ability. I don’t know. How I think [about it], I’m not really a strong puncher, maybe my punches are just good time and place?
DF:And what about the mental side of things? Do you do anything to help keep your mind calm throughout the process?
SK: Yeah, I try to just stay focused for my fight. It’s the most important thing for my training camp and in my life. I don’t do anything specific, I just stay focused and keep the mind calm as possible to win my next fight.
Is there anything different that you guys have worked on this time around heading into your matchup with Pascal?
SK: No, everything we’re doing is same compared with my last fight with Pascal. We just go over a lot my mistakes, and what I did in our first fight. Right now, it’s not different than my first fight. From my first fight, I started like six weeks before the fight with my training camp. Very late. I had some problems and I started late. But this time, it’s very good.
DF:What do you think about Pascal as an opponent? Is he someone who you think will be difficult this time around or will it be just like the last time you faced him?
SK: I think about him as a fighter that’s very strong, but his head is a bone. No brain inside his head. He got a lot of hard punches from me last fight and he still stood up. Next fight, we’ll see what happens. My punches should be more exact, harder I hope, and I should get good victory.
DF:After Pascal, whom do you want to face off with next? There’s a lot of anticipation about Andre Ward this year, and the possibility of Adonis Stevenson at some point. Do you even think about the next fight?
SK: No I don’t think about my next fight because I have a focus on my fight against Pascal. And second thing, I never see behind the back of my opponent. I shoot to win my upcoming fight.
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DF:Right now, where do you rank yourself in the sport of boxing?
SK: I don’t know, it’s not my opinion. I don’t think about this at all. People should be thinking about my rank or something, but I don’t think about where I should be. Whether I’m the best or I’m a legend? I’m just a simple boxer. I think like that. I’m just trying to be the best in my light heavyweight division.