By Keith Idec
FRISCO, Texas – Buddy McGirt was warned working with Sergey Kovalev would be difficult.
The former light heavyweight champion had a very public parting of ways with longtime trainer John David Jackson following his technical-knockout loss to Andre Ward in their June 2017 rematch. Then, after Eleider Alvarez stopped him August 4, Kovalev got rid of another trainer, Abror Tursunpulatov.
The Russian knockout artist admits he is stubborn. He also acknowledges he often didn’t listen to his former trainers when they told him he was over-doing it in camp.
That’s why McGirt monitored him so closely during their recently completed camp in Oxnard, California. McGirt was prepared for much more trying training sessions than he experienced with Kovalev in their first camp together.
The were times the former welterweight and junior welterweight champion had to be forceful with Kovalev. Eventually, however, Kovalev listened to him as they worked toward getting Kovalev ready for his WBO light heavyweight rematch with Eleider Alvarez on Saturday night at Ford Center at The Star, the Dallas Cowboys’ practice facility (ESPN+; midnight ET/9 p.m. PT).
“A lot of people told me that he was difficult to work with, but he wasn’t,” McGirt said Wednesday. “Everyone was telling me this and telling me that, and I was like, ‘OK.’ And when I got with him everything was gravy.”
Whenever Kovalev reverted back to the way he previously prepared, McGirt made sure his 35-year-old fighter got his proper rest. If nothing else, McGirt is confident Kovalev (32-3-1, 28 KOs) hasn’t left everything in the gym as he heads toward his immediate rematch with Colombia’s Alvarez (24-0, 12 KOs).
“There are days that we are in the gym,” McGirt said, “and I say, ‘That’s it!’ He says, ‘No, I want to do this.’ I say ‘No, that’s it. You can do that tomorrow.’ Then I have to sit there and wait for him to leave the gym, so he won’t do anything. I know if I left the gym, he would do extra. So I have to sit there with him and walk outside with him. Then he gets in his car and leaves. Then I get in my car and leave.”
McGirt mostly was surprised by the way Kovalev went about making weight in the past. The 6-feet fighter often would try to lose a lot of weight toward the very end of training camp.
McGirt made sure Teddy Cruz gave Kovalev every dietary advantage possible during this camp as well. Cruz, the strength and conditioning coach that helped McGirt make the late Arturo Gatti into a again, gave Kovalev every dietary advantage possible during this camp.
“I know that he had a strength and conditioning guy,” McGirt said, “to not only help with strength and conditioning, but to help him with his diet – to eat the right foods. He told me how he ate for the last fight and I told him he was crazy. A lot of these fighters, they wait till the last week to lose 10 pounds – that’s not healthy. … He’s in shape. He’s eating the right foods. His weight is good. So now it’s all up to him.”
From a technical standpoint, McGirt realized there wasn’t much he’d be able to change about Kovalev’s style now that he is 36 fights and 10 years into his pro career.
“He told me what he did wrong,” McGirt said. “Then we got in the gym and I said, ‘OK Buddy, you can’t really make any big adjustments. He’s been doing this too long.’ So, I just kept it simple. You can’t beat the basics. So, you just keep it basic and simple, not complicated, and let the rest take care of itself.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.