After a solid victory by Manny Pacquaio and an electric UFC 205 card culminating in a spectacular knockout for superstar Connor McGregor, the month of November has been delivering for fight fans. On paper, the best is yet to come, with two incredible matchups featuring some of the best pound for pound fighters on the planet. This coming Saturday, we have the pleasure of seeing unbeaten Olympic gold medallist Andre Ward, against the feared Russian puncher Sergey Kovalev.
Andre Ward v Sergey Kovalev
On Saturday 19th September at the T-Mobile arena in Las Vegas, it is happening. Andre Ward v Sergey Kovalev is a fight that has whet the appetite of boxing purists. It may not quite have the crossover appeal (and that is likely to be reflected in the number of PPV buys), but the fight is something that has left fanatics of the sport giddy with excitement. Opinion as to whom will be the victor is largely split down the middle – some are favouring the crafty and extremely talented Ward, whilst others see the incredible raw power and underrated boxing skills of Kovalev as likely to come out on top. Either way, we will find out very soon
For years they have been separated by 7lbs – Ward fighting at Super Middleweight, and Kovalev wrecking anyone in his path at 175lbs. At the lower weight, Ward was exemplary in nullifying, frustrating and scoring on his opponents, and he racked up some very impressive names on his resume when winning the Super Six Super Middleweight tournament. High calibre fighter such as Carl Froch, Mikkel Kessler and Arthur Abraham were made to look fairly ordinary by the Oakland native. However, contractual disputes and injuries left Ward on the side lines in what should have been the peak of his career. After the enforced hiatus, Ward returned in earnest this year, jumping up to the 175lb division that probably suits his muscular frame better. His opposition has been underwhelming, but two victories have shown that he definitely hasn’t lost his winning touch.
Whilst Ward has been inactive, Sergey Kovalev has been the opposite, fighting with regularity over the last few years. He really arrived in the public’s consciousness with a devastating victory over Nathan Cleverly, knocking out the Welshman in his home country in brutal fashion. Since that fight, Kovalev has been on a tear, winning 8 further fights, with 6 of those victories coming by knockout. He simply battered Bernard Hopkins and came within a whisker of stopping the veteran for the first time back in 2014, and the wily Hopkins was full of praise for Kovalev’s boxing skills and power. Other highlights on the Russian’s resume include two destructive performances over the durable and talented Jean Pascal. Admittedly, Kovalev didn’t look too hot last time out when beating Isaac Chilemba over 12 rounds, but the South African is notoriously tricky and tough (took Tony Bellew 12 rounds twice).
Onto the fight analysis. What does Ward need to do to nullify Kovalev’s power? How can Kovalev solve the Rubik’s cube that is Andre ‘SOG’ Ward? Ultimately, Andre Ward needs to be Andre Ward. What does that mean? He needs to use his cagey style and athleticism to score on Kovalev and then get out of danger by either tying up or using his fast footwork. There isn’t really any other way that he can fight. He doesn’t carry notable power and relies on his speed, ring savvy and reflexes. And for Kovalev? He needs to throw punches, lots of punches. If Wards manages to entice Kovalev into a chess match, he is probably going to come unstuck. Kovalev needs to throw volume and mix up his power shots to keep Ward guessing. He won’t get through with too many, but some will land, and with the Russian’s power, it only takes one shot.
The pick? It has to be the John David Jackson trained Sergey Kovalev. The reason? His size, power, momentum and the fact that he has the attributes to make it a very tough night for Andre Ward. Although Ward hasn’t been beaten in nearly 20 years, he has looked a little more like a mortal in his recent two outings against Barrera and Brand. Understandably there was ring rust against Sullivan Barrera and the mechanical Cuban managed to clip the Olympic gold medallist more than his trainer Virgil Hunter would have liked. That timing and defence did improve in his next fight against Alexander Brand, but his opponent was a little wild and Ward was able to pick his shots better.
The main difference in this fight is power. Kovalev has that lights out power that intimidates his opponents, and on the other side, whilst it would be a little harsh to say Ward has no pop in his punches, he definitely doesn’t have the same snap in his shots that the Russian does. But Ward doesn’t rely on his power, never has. However, he also hasn’t fought a fully hydrated, strong fighter with a high boxing IQ and ferocity in his fists. Ward has been decked hard before, and if he caught clean, he could go again. After a cagey first few rounds where Ward may establish an early lead, Kovalev is likely to see his pressure pay off, and once he starts landing hard shots on Ward, the dynamic of the fight should change. Can Kovalev stop Ward? Potentially. Can we say he can stop him with conviction? Probably not – after all, Ward is a defensive master. An outright win bet is the safe option. It is a finely balanced fight, but we give it 60-40 in Kovalev’s favour, and the fact that odds against can be obtained on the Russian, suggests he is a value bet.