Ahead of successfully defending his alphabet straps in Ekaterinburg, Russia yesterday, light heavyweight Sergey Kovalev participated in a videotaped interview and feature with Yahoo’s Chris Mannix. Since Kovalev’s bout against Isaac Chilemba was his first time fighting in Russia since 2011, it made sense to revisit his last bout in his home country. The bout in question is often referenced quietly because immediately after being stopped in the 7th round, Kovalev’s opponent, Roman Simakov, lapsed into a coma and died three days later.
It’s a bout that most of us have heard about but very few have ever seen. Until seeing the piece, I had never read or heard Kovalev discuss the Simakov bout. There isn’t anything wrong with the video or article from a journalistic perspective. Mannix handled it as respectfully as most anyone could. It was the subject matter itself that I found off-putting.
It’s natural to be interested in your favorite fighters, and Kovalev is an easy fighter to like. He’s a high volume power puncher who has a predatory glee in the ring that very few can match. Outside of it, he’s funny and affable like a slightly goofy pit bull. I enjoy watching interviews with him for that very reason, particularly when he’s carrying a purse.
Boxing provides a perverse voyeurism into the inner workings of the contestants. In no other sport are the combatants laid so bare. They’re nearly nude. They’re locked into a contest where physical damage is the goal. They get cuts often deep enough that we can see their insides spilling out, all for the cheers of the crowd and the paychecks those generate.
It is for that reason that I often find myself uncomfortable learning too much about the personal lives of boxers. With the advent of social media, almost every facet of everyone’s life has become publicly consumable, but with fighters it feels wrong. I feel like I already know as much about them as I need to just by watching them fight. Combine that with the nearly relentless backstory features used to promote fights, and it’s just too much.
Perhaps that’s the issue. It no longer seems that you are being presented a biography of an athlete. You’re watching a commercial and being sold a human being. Every potentially interesting feature of their lives, past and present, is chopped up, carefully edited and laid out with a smooth-voiced narrator cajoling you to buy in. We’ve become completely saturated and it’s starting to make me itch.
Access has become the currency of fans and media alike, and it is time we all took a step back. In regard to Kovalev, you are welcome to know what happened, that’s news, you are not entitled to know how he dealt with that. There are aspects of a person’s life that should remain for them alone. We’re already asking fighters to bleed for our entertainment, perhaps we should allow them to keep some for themselves.