Photo Credits: Al Bello/Getty Images
Friends are laughing at me.
Fellow fight fans and prognosticators jeer me, they tell me “I’m sticking my neck out.”
If I’m wrong you may all hold the axe.
Nevertheless, I believe that Sergey Kovalev will defeat Andre Ward in their much anticipated rematch this Saturday night!
Return to the scene of the crime
Last November Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev brought his treasure trove of light heavyweight belts to the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas Nevada. He was betting the house that he could beat Andre Ward in a fair fight.
Kovalev was the undisputed 175-pound champion since trouncing the legendary Bernard Hopkins two years prior. A final unification match with WBC champion Adonis “Superman” Stevenson proved elusive and Stevenson was roasted in the press. Instead after beating all worthy (some not so worthy) challengers Kovalev accepted the challenge of newly minted light heavyweight Andre Ward.
Ward was moving up from 168-pounds, Super Middleweight, where he had become ‘The Krusher’ winning the Super Six tournament several years earlier and gradually escalating his campaign to move up in weight. Ward won Gold in the 2004 Olympics at 178 pounds, however, that was nearly 10 years ago.
With head gear.
And only three rounds.
Objectively, the greatest hurdle for Ward was inactivity having fought only five times in the five years since winning the Super Six. Hampered by rotator cuff surgery and a lengthy rehab as well as contract disputes Ward might have been seeing his prime years pass him by.
Then there was the level of opposition Ward chose at 175 pounds once he completed his move up in weight; British gate keeper Paul Smith who missed weight twice and forked over $60,000 to Ward’s side in fines. Smith was dealt with easily. Next came the physical but green Sullivan Barrera – totally out classed. Lastly tough, awkward Alexander Brand, no wins of note. Ward again won easily.
Meanwhile Sergey Kovalev had been a champion for three years and had fought his entire pro career at Light Heavyweight and stopping 80% of his opponents.
Still, the fight split boxing fans down the middle, if anyone told you they were sure that one or the other would dominate they were either lying to you or selling something…most believed it came down to the intangibles; Ward’s ring craft and intelligence and Kovalev’s power and calculation.
It was going to be a great fight!
For most observers, the first fight was a tale of two halves – the first half of the fight was largely dominated by Kovalev, working behind a hellacious jab that Bernard Hopkins described as a “power punch, it’s not like a regular jab,” and scoring a knockdown in the second round. Kovalev had managed to stun Ward several times dissuading him from trying to close the distance recklessly to facilitate his effective inside fighting.
By the 5th round however, momentum was beginning to shift.
Ward found his range with his jab – both to the head and body and was landing cleaner over all. Ward also reasserted his control over the distance and tempo of the fight, Kovalev went from stalking and pressuring Ward making him uncomfortable to chasing Ward and succumbing to the quicksand of Ward’s clinch game.
Momentum ebbed and flowed and commenters Jim Lampley and Max Kellerman of HBO both said that the fight might just come down to who won more “moments” in the fight in the eyes of the judges.
The 10th round is interesting. Not a particularly high paced round, however easy to score. Ward still tried to control the action but was being out jabbed and though Kovalev was tiring the God given power he possesses was still a threat, Ward pantomimed a Sugar Ray Leonard Bolo Punch and Kovalev merely stuck a straight and stiff jab in Ward’s face. Ward had a higher total connect percentage by threw far fewer shots and landed fewer, clearly the more telling blows in that round were landed by Kovalev, yet all three judges unanimously awarded the 10th round – a pivotal one – to Ward.
When the scores were read – a unanimous decision for Andre Ward after 12 rounds shocked many.
I had picked Ward to win in the build up to the fight – but only just.
It was announced recently The Ring Magazine’s Lineal Light Heavyweight Title was going on the line this Saturday as well, the notion that one of these men will able to start a “new era” in the light heavyweight division adds extra gravitas if only for diehard fans.
This fact will likely no be more than a footnote for two men who are beyond driven to prove to the dominance of himself to other.
Examining the trainers and camp philosophies two aspects are quite glaring; John David Jackson, ostensibly Sergey’s trainer is less a factor than previously thought – Virgil Hunter is overrated as a tactician.
First, the ‘controversy’ that arose at Jackson leaving Sergey’s camp for Ward’s was only “mind games” as Sergey put it. However, recently Sergey himself has said “John holds the pads, for timing and speed but it’s my strategy, I want to prove to myself that I can beat Ward, myself.”
After all a trainer in the ring is called The Chief Second – it is the fighters bout to fight.
Hunter is more a motivator than a tactician and for me is one of the more overrated trainers in the sport. Amir Khan, Andre Berto, Fonfara to name a few have not blossomed under the tutelage of Hunter, however the bond that Ward and Hunter have is second to none, Ward could be like the one great novel written by a writer and once absorbed in the public consciousness they are never heard from again.
Crucial for Kovalev according to him was conditioning in the run up to this rematch.
He’s said repeatedly after the 5th round in the first match his strength and stamina abandoned him. That lack of fortitude allowed Ward back in the fight. Perhaps Kovalev was as he asserts over trained.
In open work outs he’s look lean and mean – well meaner.
It could be Sergey will not struggle to make weight, not to imply he ever did but at 34 his frame is big at 6’0” and looked the bigger of the two men in the first fight.
It would help Sergey to be more mobile, he’s essentially a “1-2-3” fighter, by the book as it were, with the strength and power to end a fight with one blow, as savvy as Ward is that kind of power is the antonym of skill.
Kovalev wants to “punish” Ward like he did to Pascal in their rematch and he should!
Jab the body, the chest, the solar plexus, jab Ward’s shoulders (one of which has been surgically reconstructed) punch Ward everywhere, make him uncomfortable.
Of course, avoid Ward’s mugging clinching game at all costs and if you do grapple establish over hooks and hold until broken by the referee, don’t even play the game, if Ward tries to change levels to body jab – lead left hook – stop him in his tracks with the straight right, the rear upper cut would also be available in that instance.
By rounds 6-8 Ward will be battered and ripe for the picking and could be stopped or saved from a KO between rounds in 8-10.
Regardless, all Sergey’s offense ought to be predicated on his jab, one of the most underrated in the sport.
Kovalev’s biggest weakness may be hubris, he’s got a capable team around him but wants to essentially go it alone, he’s obsessed with beating Ward. This is not the movies, anger may fuel a fighter for a time but it won’t serve a boxer for long at this elite level.
Sergey will need a career defining performance. He’ll need a performance few think him capable.
For Ward having escaped with a narrow decision seven months ago beating a properly trained, motivated and angry Kovalev is a bridge too far.