Monday, March 20, 2023  |


Confident, defiant Andre Ward sets the stage for Kovalev rematch

Photo by Khristopher Sandifer/Roc Nation Sports

It lasted over a half hour, and everyone in the room, I daresay, would have been happy with another half hour or more, because the back and forth at the Parker Meridien in Manhattan with Andre Ward was fairly fascinating.

The Oakland-based boxer came to NY and sat at the head of a conference room table as fightwriters threw queries at him. As one might expect, if his in-ring manner is an indicator, Ward played defense effectively and was also more than capable on offense. But, as we saw in his last outing, which came against Sergey Kovalev in November – when he shrugged off a knockdown in Round 2, steadied and readied himself for more combat and then fought ruggedly and smartly the rest of the way – his defense is not impregnable.

The judges deemed him the winner and, to this day, debate rages – OK, not at the level you will see “Who won, Leoanrd or Hagler?’ back and forths – as to whether Ward deserved the nod, or the Russian terminator Kovalev should still be unbeaten.

Both men talked on Monday about wanting to be more definitive, with Ward’s crew chattering that they wouldn’t be surprised to see him notch a KO of Kovie, and Kovalev’s demeanor and talk suggesting that if he was a terminator before, he’d be undergoing some programming-tweaking which would make him able to finish the job and drop and stop the perhaps-top pound-for-pound pugilist on the planet (not named Mayweather).

Ward told writers that he wanted his effort on June 17 in Las Vegas to be “more definitive.” He allowed that all are allowed to opine, but those saying that his win was a “robbery” are pretty much out of line.

The 33-year-old said he’d always wanted to be in a rematch … and here is where the gathering took a sharper-than-expected turn. Young-gun writer Gabe Oppenheim challenged that statement and asked Ward why, if he’d been so keen to do a rematch, did it take awhile to book the sequel. Well, Ward said, I fought in November, actually contemplated hanging up the gloves, decided then to keep fighting and to honor the rematch clause and then signed on to fight, a bit before it was announced to the masses. That’s a reasonable amount of time, he countered with that Ward-ian edge (which isn’t enough to have me describe him as “angry,” but is there just enough for you to notice he seems to be holding back slightly on going harder with a counter).

Photo by Khristopher Sandifer/Roc Nation Sports

At this juncture, Ward zoomed out and talked about how he’s been perceived, and how the media does what it does, and that’s not always the best way. You hear one side of the issue, he said, and unless you are inside the sphere where the deals get made, you just don’t know. Like when people opine that Ward is “scared” and that’s why the rematch is taking so long to get made, that is balderdash, in his mind. “I’ve been boxing 23 years, I did 12 rounds with Kovalev” and “there’s nothing scary about him.”

He told us that boxing is “a thinking man’s game” and that applies within the ring, as when he adjusted after being knocked down and made switches to fight smarter and maybe even harder. It also applies outside the ring, as when he makes it a point to be a savvy businessman, with team members James Prince and Josh Dubin and Roc Nation, and to negotiate hard and smart on his own behalf.

He was asked if he took umbrage that Kovalev had just, in his sit-down session with select media, said that he thought it possible that Ward might pull out of this rematch a week or two before. “No, I don’t care,” he said. He just wants Kovalev to “leave the excuses at home this time.”

He didn’t offer any excuses for being knocked down in that first fight and, in fact, presented it as a positive moment. It was “the best thing for me,” he stated, because the knockdown moved him from a place where he was thinking too much to a mode where he was fighting on instinct, trusting his decades in the game.

Photo by Khristopher Sandifer/Roc Nation Sports

And, I asked, did Kovalev’s power lessen as the fight went on? Kovalev is a sharper puncher more than he’s a pure bomb-thrower, the Cali man said. Message was: He could handle the best the Russian had to offer. Ward celebrated the knockdown, because he proved he’d get up and rise above during a most difficult time. Maybe that message was more for watchers than him, or maybe it answered a question that he’d not been forced to deal with till now …

Ward told us that he’s learned more about Kovalev in the months after their first fight than preceding. He maintained that Kovalev showed “weakness,” with his insistence that he actually deserved to get the W and by advertising his dismay with edgy social media posts.

We the media being more than willing to get a longer query session, Ward was asked if he didn’t think that him being African-American doesn’t play into some bias against him, from media and/or fans. “Man, I’m not getting into that,” he said with a grin that suggested he’d like to, that he had some thoughts on the subject. He showed more-than-ample wisdom when he noted that it’s impossible to truly know the real motivation behind a barb cast at him. He told us that in the last two or three years he has relaxed his scrutiny for untoward motives in critics, and that unless proof is “tangible” he’s not keen to go there. But, he said, the media’s propensity to push to be first with the sensational or negative angle is frustrating.

How about working to get both sides of a story … wait to publish, and work to ask him about his side? (I could have interjected and noted that he has more than a fair point. However, he has never been the warmest and fuzziest and most media-friendly athlete in the sphere, and so at times, people have tried to get his side and been rebuffed. Always polite, to be sure, and respectful. But vacuums get filled. So, really, this issue is the defintion of a two-way street, I could argue.)

“Come to my camp for a week or two” and spend time with me, he said, and then you will get to better understand all sides of the story. At this juncture, I could have thrown in my two cents and talked about how media is in this age, on the defensive. Budgets are down, sensationalism is rewarded with clicks and there are more videographers covering boxing now than writers. In other words, media just seek to remain employed and don’t usually have the luxury of taking their time doing deep dives into subjects. Thorough and thoughtful is less rewarded these days. Ward doesn’t dig it when journos come to him with their “articles already written.”

Chris Mannix wondered if Ward had a theory on why he hasn’t connected with more of the masses and Ward noted that really, short of Floyd Mayweather, who has and does? He’s quite well-compensated and, in fact, doesn’t seek that Mayweather-level attention. He’d not feel right offering up antics that would play well on a “24/7” or “All Access” and then be feeling like he’d have to apologize to his family for acting up. “I never really wanted what Floyd had,” Ward said. “That’s a lot.”

Kovalev isn’t a massive seat-filler, Ward noted, and further, Mayweather was graced with the kindness of fate, with Hatton and De La Hoya being A-siders on the downside and ripe for the taking, which boosted his profile.

Photo by Khristopher Sandifer/Roc Nation Sports

As for retiring, he said he truly did ponder it, talked about it with inner-circle types. He had a chat with Andre Berto and that came up, and then TMZ ambushed him and he was on the spot on the subject.

After, we all walked downstairs and the presser kicked off. Team Ward, including Roc Nation’s Michael Yormark and managers James Prince and Josh Dubin, went at Kovalev hard, with Prince particularly giving off an aura of menacing confidence. Do not be surprised to see Kovalev knocked out, he said.

My take: Ward is still wrestling with his place in the sport, as a fighter/businessman/attraction who unapologetically works to make sure the deal, any deal, is to his liking. He well knows that in decades past, that hasn’t been the norm, that fighters usually had a “leave the business to the business-side guys” mentality which in fact didn’t serve them or their bank accounts and long-term financial wellness in good stead. He’s still wrestling with just how to trust the media enough to interact with them often and with more candor than his personality might dictate. He went dark for long, long spells while fighting a managerial battle with Dan Goossen, and few if any media have been informed by him what actually went on then. The man keeps a small and tight circle and doesn’t send signals that he wants to enlarge it. That can be good (he isn’t compromising himself to gain publicity) and it can be bad (more accessible actors will maybe get the benefit of the doubt if there are sides being picked, because their pre-existing media relationships are stronger). But I do sense Ward is moving closer to being fairly serene about the whole issue, if not as settled as he sometimes maintains that he is. Finally, to the reason we gathered: I see and hear most pundits liking Ward to get the W June 17, to continue the caliber of work done in the last two thirds of their first clash. Let us hear from YOU, the reader, about that wisdom. Kovalev told me he thinks he over-trained for the first fight, and thus will have better stamina and power this time. What say you?