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Beterbiev and Kovalev gunning for Andre Ward

Andre Ward, Artur Beterbiev, Sergey Kovalev boxing photo

By Allan Fox: Andre Ward (31-0, 15 KOs) is now in the hot seat with his close/controversial 12 round unanimous decision win over former IBF/WBA/WBO light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev (30-1-1, 26 KOs) on November 19 last year Not only is Kovalev gunning for Ward’s titles in a badly wanted rematch, but also unbeaten #2 IBF Artur Beterbiev (11-0, 11 KOs), who will be facing the winner of the Ward-Kovalev 2 fight unless the winner chooses to vacate the IBF belt.

Ward had this message on his Twitter over the weekend:

”They might act like it didn’t happen, but I’m here to tell you it did! What a year! Not just in the ring, but my life,”

If the 32-year-old Ward is talking about his win 12 round unanimous decision win over Kovalev as being a reality, he’s right. Ward did technically win the fight, but he didn’t win it in the minds of a lot of boxing fans for him to be seen as the real winner. Ward is viewed by a lot of fans in the same way that Tim Bradley was viewed after his controversial 12 round decision win over Manny Pacquiao in 2012. Even today, boxing fans see that fight as a controversial one that Bradley didn’t win.

2017 is going to be an interesting one to see how the Ward, Kovalev and Beterbiev situation plays out. Unless Ward is going to only defend his titles once in 2017 rather than at least twice, we’re going to see two very good fights. You can count on Kovalev fighting twice no matter what happens in the Ward rematch.

Kovalev isn’t throw away half 2017 by fighting only once. Hopefully, Ward is of the same mind, because he needs to be staying busy now that he’s at the last part of his career. I don’t see Ward being able to fight into his 40s or even his last 30s unless he’s willing to fight as a contender rather than a champion.

I think we could see Ward lose for the first time in 2017 if he faces both Kovalev and Beterbiev. One of those guys will likely give Ward his first taste of defeat. Ward could have lost already, because his win over Kovalev last November sure did look like a loss, except for in the minds of three judges that scored the fight 114-113, 114-113 and 114-113.

Beterbiev is going to be the one that will make it real interesting if he gets a crack at Ward or Kovalev, but especially Ward. Beterbiev is the equivalent of kryptonite for the inside fighting that Ward has grown to depend on when fighting guys with punching power. Beterbiev not only is a very dangerous fighter on the inside, but he also likes to fight on the inside.

Most importantly, Beterbiev is capable of throwing shots with knockout power while being held on the inside. Even when one of Beterbiev’s arms are held in a clinch, he’s able to land some amazing power from close range without having to put his body into the shot like normal fighters do.

This is why Beterbiev is perhaps the worst thing that could happen to Ward. If Beterbiev gets a shot at Ward in 2017, we could see a new champion in the light heavyweight division. Ward can always vacate the IBF title to get out of the way of Beterbiev, but that doesn’t seem like his style.

There’s probably less of a potential of Ward vacating and more of him simply sitting on the titles for the remainder of 2017 without defending them if he can get past Kovalev in the rematch. Beterbiev might end up getting stuck in a waiting game with Ward. Whether it’s worth it or not for Beterbiev to wait is unclear. Unfortunately, if Beterbiev chooses to go the World Boxing Council route to face WBC light heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson, he’s likely going to be waiting a long, long time there too before he gets a title shot. Stevenson hasn’t faced his mandatory challenge since 2013. Beterbiev’s career could stagnate and wither if he waits on a title shot against Stevenson. Ward is really the best shot that Beterbiev has if he wants to get a crack at one of the titles.

Kovalev vs. Ward I didn’t do a great job in term of pay-per-view buys on HBO. For a fight that received as much fanfare as this one did, it was very disappointing. It wasn’t because of the actual fight itself being boring, and believe me, it was very boring to watch. It was because the casual boxing fans didn’t get excited about these guys.

The light heavyweight division is traditionally not a division where you see PPV fights. There have been some great fighters in the 175lb weight class over the years, but they’ve not been PPV fighters. Before their fight on November 19, Ward and Kovalev had been career-long fighters on regular premium cable rather than on PPV. Putting them together didn’t mean that the boxing public would want to all of a sudden pay to see them fight. When you get two popular but not super popular fighters facing each other, it doesn’t mean that they add up to a PPV fight. It just means you’ve got a good fight for regular HBO or Showtime.

It was obvious going into the Kovalev-Ward fight that Ward was going to turn the fight into a grappling affair rather than a slug-fest to make it exciting for boxing fans. This should have been a super exciting fight for both fighters, because it was their first efforts on HBO PPV. By not making it a compelling fight, Ward and Kovalev may have doomed their future efforts at PPV.

That’s just the reality. When you fail to perform, then boxing fans don’t pay to see you fight again. But with Ward, all you needed to do was look at his past fights to know how he was going to fight Kovalev the first time around. Ward did a lot of holding and wrestling in his past fights against Carl Froch, Mikkel Kessler and Edwin Rodriguez. It was only obvious he was going to use that type of fight approach against Kovalev.

Kovalev has to make some major changes to his game for the Ward rematch, because it’s very likely going to involve more wrestling the second time around than it did in the first one. That’ll be bad news for Kovalev if he hasn’t adapted. Kovalev needs to realize right away that he’s not going to have much time for him to do any real outside fighting against Ward.

Every round is likely going to see Ward quickly closing the distance and grabbing Kovalev for two and half minutes of steady wrestling. I doubt that the referee will do much other than stand and watch and let the two fighters try and work it out. Some referees will penalize a fighter when he’s turned the fight into a wrestling match. I’d be very surprised if one of those types of referees is selected for the Ward-Kovalev rematch.

Kovalev is going to likely be on his own in this fight, which means he’s going to need to try work an arm free on the inside to throw short power shots. He’s not going to get much going from the outside in the fight, because I don’t think Ward will give him any daylight to speak of before grabbing him for more wrestling. It’s probably going to be boring to watch, and I can’t see the fight selling a lot of PPV buys on HBO. Kovalev will need to try his best to fight in close, because that’s where I see the brunt of this fight taking place.

Kovalev is talking about wanting to sign a Russian trainer Nikolai Khromolov to help him. I don’t know how a former Russian amateur coach is going to be able to help Kovalev deal with Ward’s wrestling, because that’s not stuff that you see too much of in the amateur system. Kovalev needs a trainer like Abel Sanchez. Kovalev used to be trained by Sanchez. It might be a good idea to go back to him. There are some Mexican trainers like Nacho Beristain, who would likely know how to deal with Ward’s grappling style of fighting. Beristain could teach Kovalev how to fight on the inside by throwing short body shots. Even Julio Chavez Sr. would be someone that be helpful for Kovalev.

Kovalev is going to be more of a handful for Ward in the rematch. If Ward doesn’t raise his own game a couple of notches, he’s going to lose this time. I think the judges are going to bend over backwards to make sure that there’s no controversy this time.

If Kovalev loses to Ward, then Beterbiev will be next up for the American fighter and that could prove to be a real problem for him. Beterbiev is a next generation type of fighter. I think he does everything that Kovalev can do, but much better. The inside skills that Beterbiev has going for him make him a real threat to the aging Ward. I won’t be surprised if Ward waits until 2018 before he faces Beterbiev. It won’t change anything, because Beterbiev is a young 31, but I still have a feeling that Ward will wait until 2018 before he makes his next defense if he gets past Kovalev.

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