Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev will renew pleasantries this weekend, in terrific but undervalued rematch.
Fight date: Saturday 17th June
Fight Time: 9pm EST (2am UK) Fighters expected in ring around 4:30am GMT
Where to watch: HBO Pay-Per-View (US) Sky Sports 1 (UK)
For the mainstream, Floyd Mayweather and Connor McGregor have taken the limelight in the boxing headlines, with their August clash officially announced. But the overblown circus act has not taken over the whole town.
The irony is that while the majority marvel over such a gross mismatch, only the minority have their eyes firmly set on arguably the biggest – or at least the second biggest, with Gennady Golovkin vs Canelo Alvarez set to take the world by storm in September – fight of the year. As Andre Ward heads into a career defining rematch with Russian puncher Sergey Kovalev.
The event has received little to no hype, but a contest this good needs no such build-up, even if it is exactly what it deserves.
Last November the two battled it out for what many in the game believed to be the mythical pound-for-pound number 1 slot. But the general consensus saw Nicaraguan sensation Roman Gonzalez as the pole sitter before his first career defeat earlier this year. This loss almost surely opened the door for Ward to claim that subjective title.
There is no uncertainty about what is most definitely on the line here on Saturday night though. The WBA, WBO and IBF Light Heavyweight titles that Ward ripped from Kovalev by one single point on all three scorecards. As well as that, there is a legitimate sense of legacy on the line too.
For Kovalev 30-1-1(26KO’s), his maiden defeat to Ward was hurtful. Another loss wouldn’t tarnish his spot in the history books, but not going down as the best Light Heavyweight of his era will be a ‘Krushing’ blow. But win and we head to a rubber match, where the names Ward and Kovalev will be clamped together, like so many great rivals before them.
Ward 31-0(15KO’s) has the chance to confirm his status as the number 1 fighter on the planet, and having dominated a packed Super Middleweight division, a second victory over the once invincible Kovalev would cement his legend in the sport. But defeat would severely damage a reputation that has already took hits from those that refuse to appreciate his effortless style of boxing.
After their first 12 rounds together, there will be a certain level of respect between the pair, but thus far they have yet to show it. The psychological warfare has continued right up until – and into – fight week.
From the outside, it seems that once again Kovalev is the more rattled, but much of this is down to the personalities of the two. Kovalev is far more outspoken and to a degree a volatile character, while Ward is reserved and calculated with every word he speaks.
And it would not be unfair to compare the personalities of the two with their respective fighting styles. Kovalev is the heavy handed, the come-forward approach, inviting his opponent to stand and fight.
While Ward thinks through every move, reluctant to throw unless he is in optimum position to land.
In their first encounter, it was eventually Ward whose strategy worked the better. And while Kovalev ensured the fight would be razor thin, it was fought at Ward’s range and Ward’s pace. Another 12-rounds of this nature and it is unlikely to see Kovalev changing the final outcome.
Much has been made of the way in which Kovalev tired down the stretch of the first meeting, and it seems that he and his team have addressed it in camp. But fighting with the same intensity in the championship rounds as you do in the opening stages is down to far more than just conditioning, often it just comes down to a fighter’s style. And Ward’s certainly is more suited to success in the long haul.
For all the two have learnt, it is difficult to envision a different fight this weekend. Kovalev is too smart to come rushing in, while Ward is also intelligent enough to figure that his accuracy on the back foot will pay off as the rounds tick by.
The feeling is that Kovalev’s best chance of beating Ward came 7 months ago. Ward has a grasp on the only element of surprise Kovalev brought to the table. That being how hard he can hit. Ward has felt the power and most importantly survived the power.
Once again, Ward’s accuracy will prove critical as he slowly breaks a more urgent Kovalev this time around. Expect moments of unpleasant viewing for the purists, as the two tussle for control on the inside.
Kovalev will once again lose ground late on, but this time the final verdict will be undisputed, as will Ward’s place as the number 1 in the sport of boxing.