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Andre Ward angered Kovalev on purpose

Andre Ward Sergey Kovalev

By Chris Williams: Andre Ward (31-0, 15 KOs) says his game plan was to anger IBF/WBA/WBO light heavyweight champion Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev (30-1-1, 26 KOs) last Saturday night by talking to him and frustrating him in their fight at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. Ward said his trainer Virgil Hunter told him to intentionally make the 33-year-old Kovalev angry, because he felt that he was angry type of fighter that wears his emotions on his sleeves.

Ward then went about doing that last Saturday by doing things like talking, faking bolo punches, and wrestling with him on the inside. Ward says that Kovalev had no inside game to speak of, so he worked him over in close. Ward points out that Kovalev tried to tell everyone that he was a dirty fighter, but referee Robert Byrd wasn’t buying into any of it. Ward had the advantage in boxing skills and the inside game against Kovalev. That was clear.

It didn’t look like Kovalev got angry inside the ring against Ward. Kovalev seemed to stay pretty calm throughout the fight. He did look tired, frustrated and less than confident in the last half of the contest. I didn’t see any anger on the face of Kovalev. An angry fighter would have showed it during the clinches. Kovalev was calm, and just focusing on keeping Ward from throwing punches on the inside instead of letting his own hands go. You could tell immediately that Kovalev didn’t have an inside game to use, because he was only trying to stop Ward from throwing punches instead of letting his own hands go.

Ward said this to about last Saturday’s fight with Kovlev:

“Listen, he’s a really emotional guy,” said Ward about Kovalev. “Virgil told me before the fight, ‘Keep him mad. Talk to him. You know, keep him mad. That’s who he is. He wears his emotions on his sleeves. When a guy like that is angry, he makes mistakes.’ So it’s showmanship. Just let him know your there. It’s part of what we do in the ring. He doesn’t know how to fight on the inside. It’s not his game. His specialty is the long range, because of his anatomy, his size, and the way he’s been trained. So this is why he tried to make a big stink about me being a dirty fighter. It’s funny. When they asked him about it, he’s like, the [Mikkel] Kessler fight, I think. He went back to 09. Come on, man. That was just a ploy to get the referee…I’m thankful [referee Robert] Byrd did a great job and didn’t buy into it. There’s something about victories like this. We’re not trying to win like this every time. There was something about this victory tonight that I’m proud of, man, I really am. I’m proud of it, thankful. It showed a lot about my team, about myself. I’m so used to sour grapes that they’re not sour anymore. They’re sweet. They’re not happy [Team Kovalev]. I don’t expect them to be gracious and say a lot of nice things about me tonight, but we walked away with the belts tonight. We did it fair and square. This was my first come from behind victory in my career, and I’m proud of it. We showed another facet tonight of our game. We showed we have a lot of heart, and we can make adjustments against the best. This wasn’t a tune-up fight. This was the best. This was a guy that nobody wanted to fight, and we picked him out of the crowd and said, ‘We’ll fight,’” said Ward about Kovalev.

Kovalev needs to be clinical to his approach to the rematch. He’s got to keep his emotions in check, and he needs to learn from his mistakes from last Saturday night against Ward. It’s not good news that Kovalev wasn’t able to make adjustments to what Ward was doing in their fight, because it showed a fighter who was lacking in boxing skills and ring IQ.

Part of that is Kovalev’s problem, but the other part is his trainer John David Jackson’s fault. You can’t have a fighter who only knows how to fight on the outside. If you know you’re facing Ward, then it was imperative that you earn how to fight on the inside. Kovalev didn’t even try to fight in close. All he was doing was trying to keep Ward from fighting. That’s no good.

Kovalev and Jackson should have known that unless they were going to fight Ward on the inside, Kovalev would end up getting tired trying to keep him from throwing shots. Ward wasn’t trying to wrestle. He was trying to get his hands free so he could throw shots in close. There’s a difference. Kovalev was trying to keep Ward from throwing punches, and that takes a great deal of energy to do that. Jackson blew it by not training Kovalev to have an inside game for this fight. What was Jackson doing during training camp if he wasn’t teaching Kovalev how to fight on the inside? What a waste.

Kovalev’s major mistakes were as follows:

1. Not throwing punches while on the inside. There was too much focus on Kovalev keeping Ward from throwing punches rather than letting his own hands go.

2. Doing a poor job of cutting off the ring when Ward was moving around on the outside. Kovalev should have been trained well enough to quickly get to Ward instead of slowly shuffling after him. By being slow to cut off the ring, Kovalev ended up wasting a lot of time. He also missed a lot of shots, becaue Ward would move out of range while he was throwing punches.

3. Not throwing enough jabs. Kovalev forgot about his jab during vast stretches during the second half of the fight. That was a big mistake, because with a jab as good as Kovalev’s, he should have been using it a lot more than he did. Kovalev was just looking to land his power punches, and he was missing with them. At least if Kovalev had used his jab 80 percent of the time, he would have increased his chances of being seen connecting with a shot. Ward was countering Kovalev when he did jab, but Kovalev should have been ready for the counters by throwing his right hand.

4. Kovalev failed to throw a lot of punches. His work rate was low in the fight, and this enabled Ward to win rounds with his own low work rate. By only throwing a few more punches than Ward, Kovalev ruined his chances of victory against Ward.

I think the only two fighters in the light heavyweight division with any chance of beating Ward is Adonis Stevenson and Artur Beterbiev. Stevenson fights on Showtime, so he likely will never fight Ward. Beterbiev will possibly get a chance against Ward if he doesn’t fight Stevenson and lose to him. Ward vs. Beterbiev could be a huge fight in the near future. I rate Beterbiev as a better fighter than Kovalev. He’s just had a late start to his pro career due to his extended amateur career in Russia.

Ward will have a lot of problems trying to beat Beterbiev, because he’s very strong on the inside, and he’s capable of knocking his opponents out with rapid fire power shots while being held. If that had been Beterbiev fighting Ward on Saturday, the fight would not have been done on the inside, because Beterbiev is a far better inside fighter than Ward. It’s not even close. Ward would likely have tried to beat Beterbiev by staying excessively on the outside all night. I don’t know if that would work, because Beterbiev cuts off the ring really well. Kovalev needs someone like Beterbiev to teach him how to fight in close.

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