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LAS VEGAS -- Sergey Kovalev was knocking out everyone put in front of him when his handlers went to HBO a few years back asking for a coveted spot on one of the networks boxing shows.Not so fast, the network said.You got two problems with this guy, promoter Kathy Duva remembers an HBO executive saying. One, hes a light heavyweight. Two, hes a Russian.Two problems, indeed. The combination isnt particularly attractive to boxing fans, or the network that buys many of the biggest fights.But on Saturday, it doesnt matter that Kovalev is a champion at light heavyweight, a division that historically has gotten little respect. Not when hes got unbeaten Andre Ward in front of him in a classic slugger vs. boxer matchup that is perhaps the most anticipated fight of the year.And the Russian part? Well, it helps that Kovalev now lives most of the year in Los Angeles and has quickly picked up the English language.I learned English only with reporters, he said this week, displaying a gift for gab in his new language with a small group of boxing scribes.Seven years after coming to the United States to seek fame and fortune, Kovalev is on the brink of both. A devastating puncher who has not lost in 31 fights, he will try to do what no one has done in 20 years -- win a fight against Ward, the last American man to win boxing gold in the Olympics.If the fight isnt compelling enough, Kovalevs story should be enough for some to pony up the $64.95 to watch it at home. His Russian fans will get the fight free, with the nations Channel 1 lined up to broadcast the bout live in his home country.America gave me opportunity. Its two great countries for me, Kovalev said. I love both countries, which is why I have two houses, in Russia and America.Kovalev comes from a fighting family, though he is the only one to actually put on gloves and do it in the ring. His mother, he says, used to beat up people as a child in Chelyabinsk, a factory town, where she works in a liquid metals plant.My mother fought a lot of times on the street growing up, even with boys, he said. She grew up in pr area.Kovalev grew up pr, t, with the family of five living in two rms of a three-rm apartment they shared with an unrelated elderly woman. He fought in the amateurs, though he never got a shot at making the Russian Olympic boxing team, before deciding to come to the U.S. and turn pro.Hking up with Egis Klimas, a Lithuanian immigrant who now manages a number of Russian and Eastern European fighters, he fought for a few dollars here and there in tiny places he describes as garages.Kovalev was undefeated in 17 fights but still a relative unknown when he returned home to face Roman Simakov in a fight that turned tragic. Kovalev stopped Simakov in the seventh round of the December 2011 fight, and Simakov fell into a coma and later died.The death devastated Kovalev, and it might have unraveled his career like it has other fighters who have killed men in the ring. He would later reach out to try to take care of Simakovs family, but the pain still lingers to a point he rarely will talk about the fateful night.Kovalevs big break came when he was signed by Duvas Main Events promotional company. Duva would get the HBO dates she sought in that first meeting, and it didnt take long for the boxer they call Krusher to become a regular on the network.He dominated the ancient but still crafty Bernard Hopkins in 2014, forcing him into retirement, at least temporarily. And two knockout wins over Canadas Jean Pascal in Montreal cemented his status as the best 175-pounder in the world.Now he takes on Ward, the former 168-pound champion who has fought only three times in the last three years. Bkies in this gambling town make Ward, a defensive specialist and extraordinary boxer, a slight favorite, but Kovalev believes he will prevail.He doesnt have a punch like Mike Tyson, but hes very smart and has gd defense, Kovalev says. Its not dangerous, but hes a tough target. He does very smart things in the ring.Kovalev has been doing some smart things, t. Perhaps none smarter than taking a chance and coming to the U.S. with nothing in his pocket and only his dreams.I love this country, he said. Im very comfortable with the people and the boxing in America.---Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlbeg(at)ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg tballgearshop.com/randy-white-jersey/" target="_blank">Randy White Youth Jersey . Pirlo limped out of Sundays 1-0 win over Udinese after just 13 minutes. Juventus says Pirlo underwent tests on Monday which revealed he has "a second-degree lesion to the collateral medial ligament in his right knee. tballgearshop.com/charles-haley-jersey/" target="_blank">Charles Haley Jersey . He says so-called TRT is only one problem and he wants to go even further than the ban. "Its about time," St-Pierre told reporters at a promotional event in Montreal on Friday. "I think its a gd thing. tballgearshop.com/tony-romo-jersey/" target="_blank">http://www.cowboysftballgearshop.com/tony-romo-jersey/ . 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Kuchar was at 10-under par with five holes remaining and had to return Saturday morning to hold his one-shot lead over Webb Simpson and Gary Wdland, who both finished the second round in the rain-delayed tournament. Simpson had to play 29 holes -- 11 holes to finish his first round in the morning, followed by his second round -- and he was ready to go more. He ran off six birdies over an eight-hole stretch and had a 5-under 66. "Its much nicer when youre playing well to keep playing. And when youre playing well, you feel like you could play 40 holes in a day," Simpson said. "My main goal ... I just wanted to get done today. It just felt nice to putt out on 9, knowing that Ive got tonight to sleep and catch up on rest." Wdland was one of the last players to finish at twilight Friday, and he finished strong. Wdland, back on track after a win at the Reno-Tahoe Open three weeks ago, birdied four of his last five holes for a 64 to join Simpson in the clubhouse at 9-under 133. "I feel ecstatic right now to be done," Wdland said. "It was a close call coming down the stretch if we would be able to finish. Luckily, I played great today, gave myself a lot of opportunities, and I drove the ball phenomenally and rolled some putts in, especially late." As for Tiger Wds, he couldnt get off the course fast enough. Wds challenged the target set by Simpson with three birdies in five holes -- he was two shots behind -- and he had a pair of par 5s in front of him. He failed to make birdie on either of the par 5s, and made three bogeys out of the bunker through the 12th hole to fall off the pace. He made birdie on the 13th, the last hole he completed, but was still five shots behind Kuchar, who was in his group. "I got off to a great start today and then lost it the middle part of the round and made t many mistakes," Wds said. He also said his back remained sore from what he said earlier in the week was due to a soft bed in his hotel that led to stiffness in his neck and bad. He said the pain increased throughout the round and when asked if a specific shot made it hurt, he replied, &"Every one.dddddddddddd" "Im going to get treatment right now ... and be ready for tomorrow morning," Wds said. It was the second straight year at The Barclays he has said a soft hotel bed caused stiffness in his back. Last year, it caused him trouble in the third round. Rory McIlroy showed more signs of turning his game around. After three double bogeys on Thursday, he limited the mistakes with some nifty par saves and was at 5 under with two holes remaining, starting with a shot from the 17th fairway after a big tee shot. Kuchar stopped with his tee shot just short of the green on the par-3 14th, and he had no inclination to finish. ""I feel like in the morning, they will be perfect greens," he said. "A situation where Im on 18 and can pretty much have a proper nights sleep and not have to worry about going out, Ill finish on 18. But in this situation ... it was amazing, we were down on the last hole, 13, kind of a little bit down the hole and it was dark. I wasnt sure we were going to tee off on 14. Coming out over the water, it brightened up by a gd margin. Its actually a beautiful skyline. "I think when the sun sets coming off, it was a nice little place to be this time of night." It lked even better atop the leaderboard, though theres still a long way to go -- and plenty of stars right behind him. Keegan Bradley set the tournament course record with a 63 and was at 7-under 135, along with Rickie Fowler (64) and Adam Scott, who was tied for the lead at one point until a lazy finish for a 66. Phil Mickelson, trying to retl his game after his British Open win, had a 69 and was seven shots behind the clubhouse lead. The last time The Barclays was at Liberty National, Heath Slocum won at 9-under 275. Since then, some of the landing areas were widened and the slopes on the greens were softened. Plus, the course was very little rough this year. And the soft conditions from the rain Thursday is making it easier to make birdies. For some players, their year was over. Ben Crane, after opening with a 67, had to withdraw with a lower back injury after playing just four holes of the second round. At No. 125 in the FedEx Cup, he wont be among the 100 players advancing to the second playoff event next week outside Boston. Lucas Glover withdrew with a hand injury, ending his season. The cut would not be made until Saturday morning, and Erik Compton needed two more rounds to try to qualify for the next tournament. He did his part, a birdie-birdie finish to get back to even-par 142. That was right on the line for making the cut. ' ' '