Our resident experienced boxing scribe, Gerardo Grenados, in his recent article posed the question if the upcoming Sergey Kovalev vs Andre Ward fight could be considered the boxing match-up of the year?
In my opinion: this year’s finest match-up in boxing will indeed be taking place on Saturday at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, between two boxers in their prime in the form of Russian Sergey Kovalev(30-0-1) vs Andrew Ward(30-0).
This bout has all the ingredients deserving of that “match-up of the year” accolade and is a contest where boxing fans will get to see two undefeated fighters at the top of their game and hovering in the top pound-for-pound list; who are each vying, in Saturday’s showdown, for that coveted number one position in the pound-for-pound list that gives a boxer bragging rights as being the best fighter on the planet regardless the weight.
Sadly bouts of this magnitude are far too scarce in modern boxing…. We need far more match-ups of this caliber to save the sport in the long-term, if truth be told….
Due to the distinct styles of both men and their respective boxing records, the fight is being billed (or watered down) in the media to a battle between power and speed; boxing vs brawn.
But is this fight really that binary?
I think if you were to confine this bout’s outcome to being largely predicated on the two aforementioned physical attributes it wouldn’t entirely be wrong, but it would be misleading.
Kovalev indeed possesses ‘jaw shattering’ power in his hands, but the Russian’s ability to “crack” is also augmented by good speed and underrated technical skills, while conversely, Ward has plenty of speed but is maybe underrated in terms of his punching power at light-heavyweight and also has a inherent mental ‘grit’ that sometimes gets slightly overlooked due to the magnitude of his skill level which has allowed the talented Olympian to refrain from the need for any meaningful adoption of that particular part of his game.
Personally, for me, this fight has been one of the hardest fights I’ve had to pick a winner from in a long-time. Even with the plethora of analysis and commentary out there on this bout from experts and average pundits alike trying to breakdown each fighter’s qualities to adduce a winner, I still haven’t been able to derive anything from their musings that persuades me that either man has something that gives them a clear advantage for winning.
And for this fight, I haven’t developed the gut-feeling I usually get before a big boxing event either. So even my intuition is failing to give me a pointer to who I think will come out on top….
So, with-that-said, I decided to make this pre-fight analysis into a very simple and concise list that makes a play on boxing’s 12 round system to gauge each fighters strengths from a list of general attributes, leaving it to the reader to draw their own conclusion and forfeiting from giving my verdict on who comes out on top.
Ward has not only fast hands, but also has fast feet that enable him to move well and to suddenly leap in and close distance when his opponent least expects it. And it’s not just physical speed that the he exhibits in the ring, the Californian native also possesses quick-thinking that allows him to read his opponents accurately and adjust accordingly to various situations they may pose to him.
Kovalev isn’t too far behind when it comes to physical speed either and has decent hand-speed himself.
I could be slightly off in my comparison here, but Sergey slightly reminds me of Steve Collins in the speed department,in the sense that just as you think he is unable or not in a position to catch his man, he does….
I think though it’s self-evident Ward comes out on top here.
2. STRENGTH & POWER
Some experts and pundits in the boxing community have gave the opinion that Ward is just as big and strong as Kovalev at the weight, due to both men having some physical similarities in terms of stature and frame, their height(6 foot) and a near enough similar reach(71 to 72 inch).
While these observations may be true, the big questions that will arise in this bout(which is Ward’s 3rd fight in a year at light-heavyweight) will be: can he(Ward) demonstrate the same or similar enough punching power that he displayed at super-middleweight and can he take a punch from elite level opponents in this weight division?
Although he has already went the distance on two occasions in this category, the caliber of opposition hasn’t really answered those questions properly.
Kovalev going into this fight has scored 26KOs out of 30 wins and all at light heavyweight, and he has campaigned in the division since his debut in 2009.
The Russian in this respect will be well adjusted to the weight and punching power of opponents in the division.
Ward possesses great ring-generalship and a mental acuity that allows him to ebb-and-flow in any direction that a bout may take him: working behind an excellent jab that can act as a range finder, a device to “set-traps” or be used in a hurtful spear-like manner behind a shell-tight guard that’s almost akin to a Greek phalanx.
He is also adept at inside fighting, being particularly excellent at spoiling or smothering his opponents work.
Ward may be emboldened going into this fight by the fact that lesser fighters such as Isaac Chilemba had spurts of success in landing his jab in his fight with Kovalev.
Ward also posses good footwork which allows him to give his opponent unexpected angles to deal with and I expect Ward will employ more of this in this fight than we have previously seen.
Kovalev, on the other hand, has a good sense of timing and distance that in my opinion is underrated. He also likes to feint or set-traps before unleashing and can throw “creative” punching combinations that may catch opponents unaware.
I feel that Ward though has more tools in his armoury here and that this area will prove to be the most important aspect of his game to achieve victory in this fight.
On paper – the names that stand out on the Russian’s pro C.V. are Bernard Hopkins and Jean Pascal. In contrast, Ward’s resume has seen him participate in the super-six tournament and pitted against quality opposition such as Miranda, Kessler, Allan Green, Arthur Abraham, Froch and Dawson.
This round simply goes to Ward on the basis of quantity of opposition at top flight.
Both men are going into this fight at near-enough the peak of their 30s.
And although Ward has been campaigning the longest, he hasn’t been in any wars or taxing fights that have put serious miles on the clock and as of yet hasn’t tasted the bitterness of defeat in over 20 years.
Kovalev, like Ward, in this regard, hasn’t been in wars or any fights where he has left a piece of himself in the ring.
Both men probably have enough left to stay at top level for a good few years to come.
Ward has a ‘tricky’ style and employs a shell-like defense, but not quite on the same level as say a defensive maestro like Floyd Mayweather.
He also has good head-movement, footwork and an excellent ability to bully or smother a guys offensive work, but his defense isn’t impenetrable.
He can be hit.
And although Ward has enough defensive qualities to off-set what Kovalev brings-to-the-table offensively, he will have to be a 100% focused as anything less could prove fatal against such a big puncher as the ‘crusher’.
Kovalev, while not really noted for his defense and whom prefers to constantly press the action on the front-foot, utilizes feints and has an excellent sense of timing and distance which also help to act as defensive measures, especially when he counter-punches.
If Ward is sharp on the night and has enough pop in his punch to stop or make the Russian think twice, then it could be a seriously long night for the crusher and his defense.
Ward has seen and won it all at amateur and professional level with the apex of his amateur career concluding with an olympic gold medal from the 2004 games in Athens to being recognized as a superstar in the upper echelons of the pound-4-pound world boxing rankings in the pro game.
Ward has not only seen it all; he has also mixed with a plethora of boxing styles to boot due to his background and experience.
Kovalev, in contrast, may not have a similar success story of that from Olympic glory to professional stardom as Ward, but he has won various amateur national tournaments in his homeland and a gold at the World Military Games and compiled an excellent record of 195-18 at that level.
Both are also undefeated in the pros, with Kovalev suffering a blip in his record where early on in his career, in a bout, he inflicted an illegal blow to the back of his opponent’s head that rendered his opposite unable to continue and the judges declaring the fight a technical draw.
I favor Ward’s Olympic and super-six background helping him here and the fact that he hasn’t been beaten in over 20 years will no doubt have a great bearing on his confidence going into this bout.
Kovalev has only went the distance twice in his pro career and it was only in his fight with Bernard Hopkins that the Russian, for the first time, had went beyond 8 rounds in a fight.
Ward, however, has seen the final bell on 15 occasions and always comes in to a fight in excellent shape.
Sometimes when a fighter misses with shots it can cause him to tire-out prematurely and more so than if he was landing with his blows. The question then has to be asked: if Kovalev has the ability to maintain an adequate and successful level of pressure in his offence without ‘running-out-of-gas’, especially if the self-proclaimed “Son of God’s” defence proves too ‘slippery’ for Sergey?
I edge Ward in this department, due to the number of rounds he has under his belt and also because of the amount of times he has went the distance in a bout.
Both men have highly experienced trainers in their corner for this fight with John David Jackson training Sergey Kovalev and Virgil Hunter training Andre Ward.
Jackson, himself a former world champ, has worked with the likes of Bernard Hopkins and Shane Mosley and has also trained himself as a boxer under the vastly experienced trainer George Benton.
Virgil Hunter has plied his trade working under respected trainers in the sport and has trained champions such as Amir Khan and Andre Berto, and has worked with Ward personally for over 20 years.
Based on this, Kovalev will have the more experienced man in his corner due to Jackson having had a successful career of his own as a fighter and also due to having had the experience of facing talented opposition such as Bernard Hopkins and Reggie Johnson in the ring personally.
I think the extra insight that Jackson offers, due to having had his own successful career in the ring, could provide invaluable for a fight of this magnitude.
Any real measure of consistency from Ward was last seen back in 2008 where he was fighting an average of 3 times per-year, after that period there was a slow decline in the number of his fight engagements to the point where he was only featuring on a boxing bill once per-year from 2012 onwards.
And although he has restored his fighting activity this year to those 2008 levels, it remains to be seen whether he might have lost something in those years of little activity that Sergey’s skills could be capable of exposing?
This bout may answer that?
Kovalev however has fought no less than 2 times a year since his debut in 2009.
This could be a pivotal factor in this fight where consistency helps to stave off ring-rust and provides a ring sharpness that will be massively influential in allowing each man to maximize their defining attributes.
As mentioned before, Kovalev has campaigned at this weight since his debut and is a natural at 175 lb or 12 st 7 and well adjusted to the power possessed by competitors at the weight.
Although Ward won his olympic gold medal at light-heavyweight, the majority of Ward’s career has been at super-middleweight and he has yet to be tested if he can take a punch from a top flight light-heavy such as Kovalev. It must also be stated that Kovalev isn’t just a puncher at the weight, he’s a massive puncher. Nathen Cleverly gave insight into how hard the Russian hits when he commented in a post fight interview by saying(to paraphrase)that: “he could feel the power(of Kovalev) even through his defence, arms and gloves and that he had hurt him with almost every-shot”.
This little anecdote could give us an insight into what Ward will experience if the American decides to resort to trading , using the inside rough-house tactics as he has in the past or decides to stay in the pocket too long with the ‘Crusher.’
I give this round to Kovalev due to the length of his career and familiarity at this weight.
Both men project a serious all business attitude. Kovalev possess a dominating mean streak in the ring and a toughness that has been forged by an upbringing in abject poverty where having eggs in the fridge to eat meant it was a good day.
He has also caused a fatality in the ring which he took very badly and although to date it hasn’t caused him to refrain or second-guess his assaults in the ring, you never know what bearing this could have had subconsciously.
Ward also has a similar serious all business attitude to the fight game as Kovalev, but to the point that he can appear almost sombre.
The Californian also has a strong belief in god(hence the Son of God nickname)which can be a source of inspiration to a fighter or can create a moral dilemma that can act to diminish or temper a fighters edge. In this case it seems to provide a ‘bedrock’ for Ward.
Both men posses a solid work ethic and you can bet that there was no corners cut by both fighters in preparation for this fight.
On the basis of the above – I call a draw.
As the old adage goes: styles make fights. Ward has proven in the past that he can adjust when he needs to. Equipped with an athletic physique and utilizing a “shell” style behind a piston like jab, boxing fans and critics sometimes attribute Ward’s style to being like a mix of Bernard Hopkins, Floyd Mayweather and Roy Jones, all of whom he is on record as saying have influenced his style.
While the Russian’s style may appear more simplistic and not as eye pleasing due to his gangly frame, it is also deceptive. Kovalev likes to come forward, maintaining an educated pressure behind a solid jab that is aided by feints from both hands and feet, and deceiving footwork that allows him to set up hurtful rights and body shots.
Kovalev’s style reminds me very slightly of a mixture between Carlos Monzon and Jeff Harding.
I favor Ward’s style in this fight as in the past he has shown he can alternate it to negate his opponents style and has also shown that he can fight or box when he has to.
Overall Winner: Andre Ward.
Even though Ward comes out on top overall in this simple breakdown, again, to reiterate( as I have done sparingly), the Russian should not be underestimated in departments where he comes second to Ward, especially those areas that focus on the technical side, as he(Kovalev) is very adept at timing and maintaining distance with an opponent to maximize leverage in his blows, while being patient enough not to rush or smother his work when applying calculated and educated pressure. And although Ward might be considered the more cerebral fighter in this bout, Kovalev’s boxing ability must not be overlooked or underestimated at the expense of his devastating punching power.
I do slightly favor Ward to come out on top, but only if he boxes the way he did against Froch (who slightly resembles Kovalev in the power department and not much in style). However, with-that-said, Ward was at that time a super-middleweight(and a big one at that)and had success trading with his hard-hitting Nottingham based opponent. Questions still remain whether he(Ward) will have enough “pop” in his punch to trade or gain the respect from a guy such as Kovalev at this weight and may see himself having to resort to boxing, potshotting, holding and spoiling his way to victory rather than engaging in the same assertive manner as he did against Carl Froch.
But as we all know, one punch is all it takes to end a fight in boxing and Kovalev has enough power to stop Ward at any point in the fight should he connect cleanly and that could be as much a deciding factor in this fight as a 100% focused and prime ward showing up.
There’s plenty of reasons why Ward could come out on top in this fight, but there’s one major reason why Kovalev could render these void with one deft blow and that’s why I am remaining on the fence with this prediction.