sports gazette

Burning Heart

Published: 17 Nov 2016

This Saturday at Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena, two of the world’s greatest boxers collide in a Light Heavyweight fight of the ages.

American Andre ‘Son of God’ Ward, 32, and Russian Sergey ‘Krusher’ Kovalev, 33, both remain unbeaten, each with an impressive 30 victories. Something’s got to give.

Dubbed as boxing’s ‘Cold War’ Saturday’s fight also has considerable political undertones.
For older boxing fans the clash bears more than a passing resemblance to a very different fight that took place approximately 30 years ago.

In 1985 actor and director Sylvester Stallone tapped into the prevailing political mood of Ronald Reagan’s America as the fourth chapter of his hugely popular Rocky film saga, pitted America’s finest against the pride of the Soviet Union, Ivan Drago.

Representing the cream of Russian boxing, Ivan Drago travels to the United States to take on an American legend, Rocky Balboa. However, during the media tour, an altercation results in Rocky’s friend and former rival, Apollo Creed stepping in to fight the Russian.

In the aftermath of Drago’s fight with Creed, the US fighter falls into a coma and subsequently dies before being avenged by Balboa in front of a hostile Russian audience.
That fictional incident involving Drago bears a grim similarity to a real-life incident involving Kovalev, in his 2011 fight with Roman Simakov in Ekaterinburg, Russia.

With a respectable record and once beaten as a regional titleholder, Simakov was considered an opponent worthy of Kovalev, but unfortunately, he wasn’t.
The first three rounds showcased the gulf in class between the two, and Kovalev has subsequently said he remembers wishing the referee would intervene. But he did not.

The seventh round saw the end of the fight, Simakov’s career and ultimately his life.
After sustaining wave upon wave of headshots, Simakov collapsed, and the fight was quite rightly stopped.

As Kovalev's gloves were removed in celebration, a haunting silence fell upon the arena as his limp opponent was dragged from the ring on a makeshift stretcher.
Back in the locker room, Simakov was turning blue, and within three days he succumbed to his brain injuries and died.

The seventh round saw the end of the fight, Simakov’s career and ultimately his life.

Kovalev may not be a pantomime villain like Drago, but it is an eerie coincidence that Ward and Kovalev meet almost 31 years to the day that the film was released.

In the years since Rocky IV, there has been a sizeable shift in the political relationship between the two once rival nations, not least due to recent shock appointment of President-Elect Donald Trump.

Kovalev is on record stating that given a choice, he would have Russian President Vladimir Putin accompany him on his ring walk when facing Ward. While Ward's political stance is not so well known, his country now faces a very different relationship where Russia is concerned.

While comparisons exist between Kovalev and the fictional Drago, Ward also shares a simultaneous connection with Stallone’s Rocky franchise.

Decades after the series’ glory days, Stallone revived the Rocky franchise with the most recent film, Creed, which was released precisely one year before Saturday’s fight on 19th November 2015.

In the latest instalment of the boxing franchise, Stallone returns in a supporting role as the coach of Apollo Creed’s son Adonis “Donnie” Johnson.
And who should feature in it as Danny ‘Stuntman’ Wheeler, Donnie’s sparring partner? You guessed it, Andre Ward.

In the words of Survivor, 80’s soft rock champions and creators of the Rocky films’ legendary anthems Eye of the Tiger and the Burning Heart, - Saturday’s fight is “East versus West” and “Man against Man”.

More importantly, the weekend will see one of the few remaining unbeaten pound for pound kings dethroned and the other acclaimed as the all-conquering hero. But which of them will enjoy the Hollywood ending?’

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