Kovalev can crack, but he won’t solve Ward
LAS VEGAS – I like the Sergey Kovalev-Andre Ward matchup as much as anyone. I just don’t think it’ll be a close fight: Kovalev is very good, Ward is better – much better. The American will neutralize everything the Russian tries to do and win a one-sided decision. I wouldn’t bet the house on that … but definitely the car.
I don’t mean to disrespect Kovalev, who will be making the ninth defense of his light heavyweight title against Ward on Saturday night at the shimmering new T-Mobile Arena on the Las Vegas Strip.
“Krusher” can crack. He has stopped 26 of his 30 victims – often brutally – which is convincing evidence of his finishing power. I acknowledge the fight could end with one krushing punch. And Kovalev made it clear that he also knows how to box when he nearly shut out Bernard Hopkins in November 2014, his most important victory.
The man can fight, which is why he’s near the top of everyone’s pound-for-pound list.
The problem is that Ward is a different breed altogether. He is in the exclusive fraternity of master boxers, pugilistic geniuses who have an answer for anything their opponents throw at them.
They move, they clutch, they wrestle, they bob, they weave and they ultimately land more than enough punches to emerge with one lopsided victory after another.
We’ve seen it many times from Ward (30-0, 15 knockouts) since the 2004 Olympic gold medalist turned pro in December of that year. He emerged as a star when he upset a strong field to win the Super Six World Boxing Classic in 2011, outclassing Carl Froch in the final.
Immediately afterward, Froch said he took some solace in the fact that he fared slightly better against Ward than the other fighters in Super Six. The implication: Ward is special and no one can touch him.
Some knowledgeable people believe the previous sentence should’ve been written in the past tense, that Ward is no longer the fighter who won the tournament five years ago. They say his legs aren’t what they were, that he won’t be able to move out of harm’s way as deftly as he once did.
“You lose what you don’t use, especially when you get older,” one observer said about Ward’s legs.
And when (not if) he gets hit by the sledgehammers on the side of Kovalev’s body he’ll be in trouble. Ward might not lose but, they believe strongly, he’ll have to overcome some serious adversity to win.
I get it … but I don’t buy it.
Ward has fought only five times since his meeting with Froch because of issues with his former promoter and injuries. And he hasn’t faced an elite opponent since he stopped Chad Dawson in September 2012, more than four years ago.
Thus, it’s reasonable to wonder whether he’s the same fighter.
Several experts I spoke to say they saw a slower, more stationary version of Ward in his recent fights against Sullivan Barrera and Alexander Brand, a relative weakness they believe will allow Kovalev (30-0-1, 26 KOs) to inflict damage.
I didn’t see any slippage, certainly nothing significant. His objective in those fights was to shake any rust and continue to adjust to the 175-pound division, as victory against two second-tier opponents was never in doubt. Mission accomplished.
I honestly don’t believe you can read much of anything into those fights, which amounted to workouts.
Kovalev’s perceived size and strength advantage? Kovalev has been a light heavyweight his entire career, which one can argue does give him at least a slight advantage. One could also argue that Ward has grown out of the super middleweight division, making him a legitimate 175-pounder.
Plus, more than one opponent at 168 pounds has said after meeting Ward that they were surprised by his strength. He’s strong.
So, yes, we should give Kovalev an edge when it comes to natural size and strength but it’s not a big edge and it is unlikely to offset Ward’s superior skills unless Ward truly has declined, as some believe. We’ll see.
I think the fight is going to look a lot like Ward-Froch. This is what Froch had to say to the media afterward:
“It was a bad night for me, obviously. I couldn’t get anything going and that is due to Andre Ward. I wanted to put shots together, but he ducks and he slips and he slides. I tried desperately to get shots off, but I never found myself in the zone. He was either too close, smothering me, or too far away. He did a good job of keeping himself out of harm’s way.
“The name of the game is to not get hit and he did that well. Even when he was tired, to keep himself safe, he was excellent. I never really had someone hit me like that in the chest and I had trouble dealing with that. It was a tough night. I had a bad night. It’s a difficult sport and it was really frustrating.”
I’m convinced Kovalev will feel the same away after his rendezvous with Ward.