Sergey Kovalev puts his IBF, WBA and WBO light heavyweight titles on the line against former WBA/WBC/RING super middleweight champion Andre Ward on Saturday at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas (live on HBO Pay-Per-View in the U.S.).
The classic boxer vs. puncher matchup appears a 50/50 contest. It could be the most significant fight in boxing since Floyd MayweatherJr.-Manny Pacquiao. Canelo Alvarez-Miguel Cotto could argue different and their bout will most likely yield higher PPV numbers than Saturday’s showdown. However, this bout pits two of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world in their fistic primes and the winner would stand a top the 175-pound division and possibly even be considered the best fighter in the world pound-for-pound.
Kovalev, 33, sprang to prominence when he won the WBO title in August of 2013, bludgeoning Nathan Cleverly. Since then, he’s consistently sought out the best available opposition, twice beating Jean Pascal as well as Bernard Hopkins, among others, unifying the WBA and IBF belts along the way to running his record to 30-0-1 (26 knockouts).
Ward, 32, won an Olympic gold medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics and has been groomed for stardom since. As a pro, his big break came almost seven years later when he beat Mikkel Kessler in Showtime’s “Super Six” tournament to win the WBA 168-pound strap. Ultimately “SOG” won the tournament besting Carl Froch in the final to add the WBC belt to his collection. Over the next couple of years, Ward (30-0, 15 knockouts) was beset by legal issues with his then promoter Dan Goossen, all of which kept him on the sidelines, fighting infrequently. He returned to action in mid-2015 and has reeled off three victories to help set up his latest challenge.
It will be fascinating to see how each man deals with what the other brings to the contest. How will Ward deal with Kovalev’s offensive style, not to mention his power? How will Kovalev deal with Ward’s ring smarts and boxing IQ?
The fight also means a lot to the respective promoters. Kovalev has long worked with Main Events and is the star of its stable while Ward is aligned similarly with Roc Nation Sports since returning from his hiatus. Both promoters need the win as much as the fighters do to remain a significant force in boxing.
HBO produced two programs in the build-up. “My Fight”
and “Road To…”
Online gambling group bet365.com lists Ward as slight a 8/11 (-138) favorite while Kovalev is priced at 11/10 (+110).
RingTV.com asked 38 boxing insiders for their picks:
Mitch Abramson, RingTV.com
Sergey Kovalev UD 12 Andre Ward: Perhaps he’s been playing down to his opposition but I think Ward has looked awful in recent fights against Alexander Brand, Sullivan Barrera and Paul Smith. He should be ashamed of himself for the way he coasted and didn’t try to do more to stop Brand, which was truly one of the worst fights to ever appear on HBO. If Ward comes alive and is the Ward of old, then he beats Kovalev but I just don’t see it, based on how he’s looked. If he has truly lost a step at 32 – and I believe he has – then Kovalev should be able to do enough to win.
Kenny Adams, trainer of 25 world champions
Andre Ward PTS 12 Sergey Kovalev: I’ve flipped from one to the other. I thought maybe Kovalev in the later rounds but I think Ward is going to outbox him all the way, I think he really is. If he boxes and moves, he wins but if he punches with Kovalev, he’s going to get in trouble. Close decision Ward.
Eleider Alvarez, light heavyweight contender
Andre Ward to beat Sergey Kovalev: I think Ward will win. He is the most complete boxer out of the two. He knows how to adapt to all situations.
Artur Beterbiev, light heavyweight contender
Andre Ward PTS 12 Sergey Kovalev: Ward will win a decision. He is an integral boxer with a lot of experience in that kind of mega fight.
Darnell Boone, fought both Kovalev and Ward
Sergey Kovalev KO Andre Ward: This fight is a toss-up on who will win. I would go with Kovalev simply because of the layoffs and what I’ve been seeing in the past fights for Ward and the guys he’s been picking to get ready for Kovalev. If pushed, I would say Kovalev by late stoppage.
Livingstone Bramble, former lightweight titlist
Andre Ward PTS 12 Sergey Kovalev: I think Ward’s going to outbox him. I think there’s nothing pretty about the fight. Ward’s not going to knock Kovalev out. I think points is the only way he can win. I think Ward makes him miss and blocks him and has a lot of fun that night. His boxing skills are going to help him win.
Lucian Bute, former super middleweight titlist
Undecided: A very intriguing fight between maybe two of the best P4P fighters today. A very close fight, 50/50 in my opinion. If it goes 12 rounds, I see Ward winning but, if a KO/TKO happens, I see Kovalev winning. I can’t pick a winner but I will watch with interest.
Nathan Cleverly, WBA light heavyweight titlist
Sergey Kovalev PTS 12 Andre Ward: Brilliant fight, the best of the best. This is the best fight that can be made in boxing at the moment. I think Kovalev is an elite fighter, pound-for-pound one of the best. Andre Ward, an elite fighter, pound-for-pound one of the best. Putting it on the line against each other, fantastic. Really interesting fight, it’s a tough one to split. You’ve got Kovalev’s boxing ability and brute power against Ward’s tremendous boxing skills, defensive skills and technique. It’s a tough one to call. I think it’s going to be a real close fight. I think Kovalev will start assertive. He’ll start the fight on the front foot, letting his hands go, I think he’ll make his power known early. I think he’ll have Ward very defensive, trying to counterpunch Kovalev and maybe knicking a few rounds on the back foot, countering and landing his shots and maybe tying up Kovalev’s hands and stopping him from throwing. But I just think Kovalev with his distance and timing, with his range, his boxing discipline, long punches, I feel he’ll be quite busy. Ward will feel his power and will become a little bit negative in the fight and I think Kovalev will edge the fight on the front foot, will just let his hands go a bit more, land more punches and I think Kovalev wins on a points decision.
Robert Diaz, Golden Boy Matchmaker
Andre Ward PTS 12 Sergey Kovalev: Terrific fight on paper and one that I am interested to watch. Personally my heart says Kovalev, activity, skill, power, intelligent. I mean. you name it. He has it. His ring smarts are not appreciated enough but, believe me, this guy thinks in there and is not just a big puncher. On the other hand, you have a very skillful athlete in Andre Ward, who has not lost in ages. I do believe he might have bit more, too soon, and one more fight would have benefited him but you must applaud him for stepping up. Now to the fight, In the beginning, I said terrific on paper but I believe it will play out less than that and somewhat of a disappointment. I believe there will be a lot of clinches and holding and Ward will look to frustrate Kovalev. There will be little action and Ward will win an unpopular decision.
Cameron Dunkin, boxing manager
Andre Ward UD 12 Sergey Kovalev: I like Ward in the fight. I think Andre Ward, he’ll be too slick and a little too quick and I think he’ll box Kovalev well and he’ll win a unanimous decision.
Stephen Edwards, boxing trainer
Andre Ward PTS 12 Sergey Kovalev: Ward in a tactical war. I see both fighters being knocked down but Ward is better equipped to hustle and win rounds. I think Ward edges it.
Tevin Farmer, junior lightweight contender
Andre Ward UD 12 Sergey Kovalev: It’s a tough fight for both. Kovalev’s coming to win. Andre Ward’s coming to win. I’m definitely going with Andre Ward. It’s going to be a good fight. They’re both world-class fighters. I see him winning a UD, he’s more of a boxer and Kovalev is the bigger guy, so I see a decision.
Doug Fischer, RingTV.com editor
Sergey Kovalev UD 12 Andre Ward: I think Kovalev will gradually break Ward down over the course of 12 competitive rounds. There’s a chance that Kovalev can stop Ward late (or force Ward’s corner to halt the bout) but I think the Olympic gold medalist’s physical strength and tenacity are as underrated as the defending titleholder’s boxing IQ and corner.
Norm Frauenheim, The Ring/www.15rounds.com
Sergey Kovalev TKO 11 Andre Ward: Andre Ward has the smarts and skills to win on the scorecards. But there are signs that his legs are’t young enough to avoid Kovalev’s long, precise and powerful right hand long enough to get him through 12 rounds. The guess here is that Kovalev will employ his own competent skillset, patiently setting up a right that will begin to find its target in about the eighth and land often in the ninth and 10th for a stoppage in the final couple of rounds.
Jeffrey Freeman, KO Digest/TheSweetScience.com
Sergey Kovalev MD 12 Andre Ward: While “Krusher” Kovalev has been crushing quality foes at light heavyweight, Andre Ward has been slowly backing up into the heavier division against extremely sub-par opposition. All that inactivity and ring rust will finally catch up to Ward against the world-class Kovalev. I say Ward rises from an early knockdown that robs him of his equilibrium and forces him into a much more physical fight than he’d like to engage in with a true killer like Krusher. After 12 rounds of close combat favoring Kovalev, even the ringside judges won’t be able to rob the Russian, although one will see a draw to save a little face for Ward in the rematch.
Sean Gibbons, Zanfer matchmaker
Andre Ward PTS 12 Sergey Kovalev: I like Ward. Andre’s overall boxing skills vs. the flat-footedness of Kovalev should win a 12-round decision…better overall ring generalship.
Tom Gray, RingTV.com
Andre Ward UD12 Sergey Kovalev: From the moment the fight was announced, my prediction has never changed, although there are reasons to be wary. Ward is a brilliant technician, on the outside and the inside. The American has that special type of radar that makes him very difficult to tag cleanly with one shot and almost impossible to hit with more than one shot. Peak versions of Muhammad Ali, Wilfred Benitez, Pernell Whitaker, Roy Jones Jr., Bernard Hopkins and Floyd Mayweather were of a similar defensive motif. If Kovalev has major success, my hunch is that it will be big single shots from the outside that do the damage. There’s a train of thought that Kovalev is too big and strong for Ward but close-quarter combat comes down to knowledge and, for my money, the challenger is the best inside fighter on the planet. Kovalev may be shocked at how effective Ward is at counter-punching in this posture and his own lack of success up close could prove to be very frustrating. I think Ward wins by a mile but I’m prepared for anything. Memories of him being floored by Darnell Boone are all too fresh in the memory. I’ve saw Kovalev up close and he is positively terrifying.
David Greisman, BoxingScene.com
Andre Ward UD 12 Sergey Kovalev: Ward won’t be the first skilled boxer that Kovalev has faced but he will be much better than the aging (yet still capable) version of Bernard Hopkins that Kovalev shut out in late-2014. Kovalev will be the toughest test for Ward yet. We haven’t seen Ward get hit by someone with Kovalev’s power. Kovalev has the ability to give Ward a tough fight but Ward has the smarts and strategy to take Kovalev completely out of his element. Ward wins the decision.
Montell Griffin, former light heavyweight titlist
Andre Ward PTS 12 Sergey Kovalev: It’s too close to call. It’s a tough fight. I think if Andre Ward is at his 100 percent best, he should win the fight. If he’s not, I’ve got to go with the “Krusher.” I think Andre Ward has the boxing skills to dominate but we all know one punch can change it all. This is a fight that is so close to call. Andre Ward could win 11 rounds and get caught in the last round and lose. I’ve seen Andre Ward get caught a few times in his career. Kovalev is a big man with punching power. I think he’s a better boxer than people give him credit for but I don’t think he’s on Andre Ward’s level, as far as boxing ability. I’m looking forward to it. Vegas don’t even know whose going to win; they got it pretty much even money. If Kovalev lets Andre do what he wants to do, it’s going to be a long night for Krusher. He’s going to have to force the fight, jump on him, hit him on the arms and make it ugly and try to wear him down. I have to go with Ward. If it goes to a decision I’ve got Ward for sure.
Lee Groves: RingTV.com
Sergey Kovalev PTS 12 Andre Ward: The key to this fight is that, while both are versatile, Kovalev is long enough to box with Ward while also possessing fight-ending power in each hand. Ward has all the skills in the world but he was a moderate hitter at best at 168 and won’t be the mortal KO threat to “The Krusher” is at 175. Also, Kovalev showed against Bernard Hopkins that he can stick with a highly disciplined fight plan from beginning to end and he’ll need to do that again versus Ward, the best fighter he has yet faced. For me, although it won’t be easy by any means, the stars point toward a Kovalev victory.
Andreas Hale, KnockoutNation.com
Sergey Kovalev SD 12 Andre Ward: I honestly cannot remember a time when I struggled to pick a winner of a fight but this fight is that moment. Two fighters with contrasting styles and both excellent at what they do will compete for the top pound-for-pound slot in the world. Ward is the more technically savvy of the two but Kovalev’s boxing is extremely underrated. This fight will likely be nip-and-tuck throughout but I have a feeling that Kovalev’s activity and punching power will be the difference maker with the judges. There will be several close rounds where the judges will err on the side of Kovalev’s harder punches over Ward’s. Size will also end up being a factor as Ward’s bump up to light heavyweight might not go smoothly against Kovalev, considering that Ward’s past couple of opponents did absolutely nothing to get him ready to fight a man of Sergey’s caliber. But make no mistake: Ward will have his moments in the middle rounds in a very close fight that we’ll likely end up seeing again.
Virgil Hill, former light heavyweight and cruiserweight titlist
Andre Ward to beat Sergey Kovalev: I think it is one of the best fights out there. Even though they don’t get the recognition like “Triple G” (Gennady Golovkin) and Canelo Alvarez, who are not willing to fight each other, Kovalev and Ward are the best in the upper division and are willing to fight each other. This kind of match-up elevates boxing to its highest levels. As far as Kovalev, in my opinion, he’s the best puncher out there in boxing. In Ward, my only issue with him is the long layoff. I didn’t particularly think he looked that good in his last two fights for him to fight the likes of Kovalev this early in his march back to the top when he could fight other fights. My instincts tell me that, if Ward can reach Kovalev’s chin because, (Kovalev) has been dropped before and stay away from the big shots, then Ward wins the fight. Kovalev is mean and aggressive and, if he can land that big shot, then he wins the fight. I think Ward is a little bit better boxer than Kovalev but Kovalev can box and has that one-punch knockout power in either hand. It is truly a great match-up for boxing.
Reggie Johnson, former middleweight and light heavyweight titlist
Andre Ward PTS 12 Sergey Kovalev: I’ve had a lot of people talk to me about that. If ever there was a fight that was 50/50 (this is it). I’m stuck on who to pick. This is a coming-out party for both of these fighters. I don’t know how Ward is going to respond to the pressure and how Kovalev is going to respond if Ward boxes and moves. Everybody wants to twist my arm and me make a pick. I’d go with the smart guy, Ward. I’d go with Ward because of his mindset. I think he’ll win a decision. I can’t see him knocking out Kovalev.
Donny Lalonde, former light heavyweight titlist
Sergey Kovalev TKO Andre Ward: I am going with a late round TKO by Kovalev. Too much power and strength for Ward, I think.
Gary Lockett, boxing trainer
Andre Ward PTS 12 Sergey Kovalev: Ward on points but it’s a neck-on-the-line prediction.
Raul Marquez, former junior middleweight titlist and now “ShoBox” commentator
Andre Ward UD 12 Sergey Kovalev: I think that’s a very interesting fight. I love Andre Ward’s skills but Kovalev is powerful and a good puncher. He comes forward and also has good skills. I think it’s a very entertaining fight, two fighters who are in their prime. I really don’t know who to pick. I love Andre Ward’s skills. I covered him when he was in Athens, Greece (for the 2004 Olympics) with Telemundo and I always thought he was going to be a great fighter and then Kovalev, I think he’s more powerful but just because you have more power, doesn’t always mean you’re going to win the fight. I’m going to lean toward Ward. I think he’ll win on points, just overall a better boxer, more of a complete package. It’ll be good but I’m going with Andre Ward by close unanimous decision.
Wayne McCullough, former bantamweight titlist
Andre Ward PTS 12 Sergey Kovalev: It’s a great match-up between arguably two of the top pound-for-pound fighters today and this fight could decide the No. 1 spot. Kovalev is the bigger man, having fought his entire career as a light heavyweight and, even though they have a similar number of fights, Kovalev has been the more active of the two. He has a big right hand and is going to want to land that punch. Ward has better skills and, over the years, has been able to box in a way to protect himself from a big puncher. It will be interesting to see, when Kovalev hits Ward with a right hand, if he can take a full light heavyweight’s punch. And if he does, I see Ward boxing his way to a points win with his technical skills.
Dariusz Michalczewski, former unified light heavyweight titlist
Sergey Kovalev to beat Andre Ward: I like Kovalev. I like his demeanor I think he is, overall, a sound boxer and, in my eyes, is the favorite going into the fight.
Yvon Michel, Promoter, GYM
Andre Ward to beat Sergey Kovalev: I am convinced that Ward has athletic capacity, the craftiness, the intelligence and the boxing IQ to control the aggressiveness and punching power of Kovalev. Kovalev is strong but predictable and he tends to weaken at the end of fights, while Ward finishes strong. I see Ward winning an intense and interesting fight.
Sergio Mora, former junior middleweight titlist and current middleweight contender
Andre Ward PTS 12 Sergey Kovalev: Great fight for Ward to finally prove P4P No. 1 status. I pick Ward by decision. If a 49-year-old Hopkins went 12 with Kovalev, Ward will too. But Andre will bank in rounds for close decision victory.
Diego M. Morilla, TheSweetScience.com, ThePrizefighters.com
Andre Ward W 12 Sergei Kovalev: Ward may have trained for what looms as the biggest challenge in his career, so far, by taking on sporadic challenges from sub-par opposition but his undeniable talent should carry him to victory with relative ease. Kovalev will have to land heavily on him with more than two or three punches at a time in order to do some damage and it is virtually impossible that Ward will be so far out of his element to allow this to happen. Inactivity and injuries will be a factor in Ward’s performance but not enough to prevent him from scoring a decisive (and not necessarily entertaining) decision win.
Marty Mulcahey, UCNlive.com
Sergey Kovalev PTS 12 Andre Ward: Not an easy choice but I believe the intangibles in this fight are lining up in favor of Kovalev. He has fought the better opposition of late, has been more active, is naturally bigger and, in case he falls behind, has fight-ending or altering power. Since I do believe this will be a close fight, a knockdown can alter the scoring immensely, which I think Kovalev scores, at some point. I also believe people discount the boxing ability of Kovalev, who comprehensively outboxed the always tricky Bernard Hopkins. Ward has his moments early but Kovalev starts to time Ward from round three on and slowly steamrolls his way to a decision victory.
Harry Pratt, sports writer
Andre Ward PTS 12 Sergey Kovalev: Ward gets it via a tight points decision, either UD or split. The American may have been way below par, of late, but he always seems to defy logic and produce just enough to keep winning. Suspect we are in for long, dull fight where ugly, awkward style trumps all.
John J. Raspanti, Maxboxing.com, Doghouseboxing, Ringside Boxing Show
Andre Ward W 12 Sergey Kovalev: This is a classic 50/50 fight between two undefeated champions. Ward is a superior boxer-puncher. Kovalev has dynamite in either hand. Ward has likely never faced anyone with the knockout power of Kovalev.
Kovalev will be meeting someone he can’t intimidate – and is gritty as hell. So who wins? I see a very close fight with bursts of activity. Ward’s ability to throw punches from odd angles will bother Kovalev. Kovalev will hurt Ward a few times with head shots. His power could be a game changer. Ward appears to have an edge on the inside. He’s also a very intelligent fighter. I see the ultra-competitive Ward doing more down the stretch to win the fight by decision.
Matt Richardson, BWAA Vice President
Andre Ward UD 12 Sergey Kovalev: This fight has marinated too long. A year ago, I would’ve given Sergey Kovalev a better chance. But now Andre Ward has gotten sharper and closer to what he was prior to his self-imposed exile. Throw in how poorly Kovalev performed against Isaac Chilemba in July (against a style that’s not too far off from Ward’s) and I think Ward should be a clear favorite. Kovalev has that great power as his equalizer but you can’t knock out what you can’t hit. I’m hoping for a good, competitive fight but I just can’t shake the idea that Ward will win a comprehensive 12-round decision. Probably in the 117-111/116-112 range. Ward by unanimous decision.
Salvador Rodriguez, ESPN Deportes
Andre Ward PTS 12 Sergey Kovalev: If the fight is more like a wrestling match, it’s going to Ward but if the fight is an war, I’m going for Kovalev. I believe that this fight could give us the best Ward in years. No too many emotions at the fight.
Cliff Rold, BoxingScene.com
Andre Ward PTS 12 Sergey Kovalev: Until we know the referee, it’s hard to anticipate fully what we’ll see. There are a couple ways for Ward to win here. For Kovalev, it’s a tighter needle to thread. He has to hurt Ward early and not let him set a rhythm. He can win rounds that way but it’s hard to see seven of them. Going with Ward on the coin flip, his inside game and willingness to win ugly playing a role.
Michael Woods, NYFights.com, RingTV.com, Everlast podcast “TalkBOX”
Andre Ward UD 12 Sergey Kovalev: Man hasn’t lost since he was 12. Oh, but he’s not 12 anymore. Andre Ward is however the best defuser and nullifier in the game and, even if his reflexes have slipped a tick, his defense should carry the night over a man who edges him in power. I see Ward over Kovalev, UD 12, eight rounds to four.
Final tally: 26-11 (With one undecided) in favor of Andre Ward to win Saturday’s light heavyweight showdown against Sergey Kovalev.
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