(GUARDIAN) - Sergey Kovalev is convinced he did enough to defeat Andre Ward when they met for the unified light heavyweight championship last November but this time he is determined to sprint through the tape.
The Russian nicknamed "Krusher" dumped Ward to the canvas early on and dominated the first half of their November fight, but he faded just enough to allow the 2004 Olympic light heavyweight champion from Oakland, California to escape with a narrow, controversial unanimous decision .
All three judges scored it 114-113 for Ward.
The rare match-up between two undefeated champions in their prime somehow managed to live up to the billing, offering fans everything but a definitive conclusion.
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So they meet again on Saturday night(Sunday morning, Singapore time) in Las Vegas as Kovalev tries to wrest back the World Boxing Association (WBA), World Boxing Organisation (WBO) and International Boxing Federation (IBF) titles he surrendered in his first professional setback.
It is the best fight that can be made in boxing today: Ward and Kovalev enter at No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in Ring magazine's pound-for-pound ratings.
And there is antipathy between the fighters and their promoters that has lent further intrigue to the proceedings.
"I just have one goal, to beat Andre Ward and beat all the shit from him because he doesn't deserve the belt and the status of a champion," Kovalev said.
"I want to put him back in his place."
The 34-year-old (30-1-1, 26 KOs) believes he overtrained for the first fight, describing the doomed combination of three-a-day workouts and daily half-marathons with a conditioning coach who was afraid to tell him to dial it back.
This time he has enlisted a new strength coach in Aleksandr Mikhailovich, whose training philosophy is said to centre around his robust work with biathletes.
"They seem to work well together," Kovalev's trainer, John David Jackson, said this week.
"If Mikhailovich did his job, then Sergey will be fine. For the first fight, Sergey was running 22km 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 this time around."
Ward (31-0, 15 KOs), a long-time champion at 168lbs (76kg) who all but cleaned out the division, went 114-5 in an extraordinary amateur career that culminated with a gold medal at the Athens Games, which remains the last time an American has topped the podium in men's boxing.
The last time he lost a fight was against John Revish at the 1997 National Silver Gloves tournament in Baton Rouge, Louisiana when he was 13.
"Tactically I obviously want to have a better start and I'm going to have a better start," the 33-year-old American said.
"That's really what got me in my hole: the start. I'm sure he's made some adjustments and he's going to come harder but I'm ready. I've done everything I'm supposed to do. When you prepare the way you're supposed to, and all the boxes are checked, it's time to go to work."
Ward, who is promoted by American rapper Jay Z's nascent Roc Nation Sports, has been guaranteed a minimum purse of US$6 million (S$8.2 million).
Kovalev's contract has yet to be filed with the Nevada Athletic Commission, but it's said he is due a 75 per cent share of the overall take for Main Events, his long-time promoter, in lieu of a base purse.
That means his compensation is in direct proportion with ticket sales and pay-per-view revenue, which many believe will be compromised by Wednesday's headline-grabbing announcement of the Aug 26 novelty match between American boxer Floyd Mayweather and Irish mixed martial arts fighter Conor McGregor.
That likely explains why Kovalev stormed off stage before the end of Thursday's final press conference, declining to participate in interviews and the traditional staredown photo shoot.
His frustration is understandable, but there's no doubt a reversal of November's cruel result would offer swift consolation.