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Kovalev ready to beat Ward in rematch

Andre Ward Sergey Kovalev

By Allan Fox: Andre “SOG” Ward (31-0, 15 KOs) and Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev (30-1-1, 26 KOs) will be meeting up in less than 3 weeks on June 17 on HBO pay-per-view at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. The hype for the Ward-Kovalev II fight hasn’t been there unfortunately. You can argue that much of the interest in the boxing world has been on the Saul Canelo Alvarez vs. Gennady “GGG” Golovkin and Kell Brook vs. Errol Spence Jr. fights.

There was also Canelo’s mega-match earlier this month against Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. on May 6. We’re now closing in on the Ward-Kovalev 2 rematch on June 17, and we’ve got to hope that it’s a more exciting fight their previous match last year on November 19. That fight was exciting for the first 2 rounds. After that, it became a grappling contest with Ward doing a lot of holding while the referee did nothing to stop it.

The referee wasn’t breaking them apart, and there was subsequently a lot of long spells with nothing but wrestling. Ward appeared to lose the fight in the minds of a lot of boxing fans. Boxing News 24 scored the fight 8 rounds to 4 in favor of Kovalev. The HBO commentators though Kovalev had won the fight as well, but the judges scored it in Ward’s favor by a 12 round unanimous decision by the scores 115-113, 115-113 and 115-113.

“These guys don’t like each other. It’s genuine,” said Roc Nation Sports president Michael Yormark.

Ward and Kovalev don’t need to like each other. That’s not what this fight is all about. This is about finding out who the better fighter is of the two. You can’t say that the winner of the Ward-Kovalev II fight will tell us who the best fighter is in the 175-pound division. There are a handful of talented fighters the winner of the Ward-Kovalev II fight would need to face and defeat for them to be crowned as the ruler of the division. I don’t see that happening. Ward is slowing down as a fighter, and it’s hard to imagine he’ll be fighting too much longer.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Ward retires if he loses to Kovalev. Even if Ward wins, I don’t think he’s going to bother trying to fight the likes of Adonis Stevenson, Artur Beterbiev, Oleksandr Gvozdyk, Joe Smith Jr. or Eleider Alvarez. Ward could possibly fight one of those guys in my view, but definitely not all of them. Beterbiev would be the hardest one of that bunch for Ward to fight, because he wouldn’t be able to maul him on the inside like he did against Kovalev last November. Beterbiev is an excellent inside fighter. Ward wouldn’t last long if he tried to fight Beterbiev in close.

“He doesn’t deserve respect from me,” said Kovalev about Ward. “Of course, I had a chance to go for the kill. He grappled me and held me, keeping his head low. As a result, there wasn’t the time left. I tried to finish him off, but didn’t succeed. Since there had been one knockdown already, there could be more. There was nobody in the ring in the first 4 rounds. I didn’t feel it, but in the 5th round, my energy was finished. I finished the fight, all 12 rounds. But I don’t know how I managed the last 7 rounds. It was purely my willpower. That’s one thing. I simply overrated him,” said Kovalev.

Ward definitely held Kovalev a great deal last time they fought. You could understand it from Ward’s perspective while he chose to hold. Ward wasn’t able to beat Kovalev when they were on the outside because of Kovalev’s superior outside boxing skills. Kovalev was the far better fighter at range, and his jab was a major weapon for him each time they were on the outside. Ward doesn’t move very well at this point in his career. The 33-year-old Ward’s once great mobility is all but gone. He now is mostly a stationary fighter who tries to nail his opponents with single pot shots and then tie them up so they can’t get their punches off.

Ward was knocked down in the 2nd round by Kovalev. After Ward got back up, he stuck his head in the chest of Kovalev and kept it there for pretty much all of the last 10 rounds. It was almost pure wrestling. If you like watching prolonged wrestling, then you were happy camper in watching the Kovalev-Ward I fight last November. But if you were like a lot of boxing fans that were hoping to see an actual fight involving the trading of shots, then you weren’t pleased to see the grappling. The referee had a chance to stop Ward’s wrestling, but he failed to do so. He stood and watched like the fans did. With the fight being on PPV, the referee should have stepped in and taken some points off from Ward at some point.

“What he has to wrap his brain around is there’s nothing scary about you. A lot of times you’ve got to bully the bully,” said Ward about Kovalev. “You have the opportunity to finish me. Where was the ‘Krusher?’ He’s used to having his way. I’m not going to let him. I got hit with his best shot, and I was fortunate to get up. A lot of times taking a good punch isn’t a talent. You make up your mind and you’re stubborn about it, that I’m not going to go nowhere. He’s used to having his way. He’s used to dictating his fights. He wins a lot of fights merely on his reputation. He doesn’t like you in his chest. I’ve never really had to come from behind like that. And I proved that to myself in the biggest moment of my career. I feel like it took me to another level. He wasn’t who I expected. I expected more,” said Ward.

Ward is right about Kovalev not liking to have his head in his chest. I don’t think any fighter likes to be wrestled round after round without stop. This isn’t MMA. If this was MMA, I think Kovalev would have happy to have Ward wrestling him.

Kovalev is said to be working on defeating Ward’s inside grappling. It’s pretty obvious that Ward’s Plan-A for the Kovalev rematch on June 17 will be to immediately take it to the inside and start mauling. If Kovalev hasn’t improved in this area, then he’s going to be in trouble when he gets inside the ring with Ward, because this is clearly going to be a wrestling match from Ward’s end. Kovalev needs to be studying Beterbiev’s fights to learn how to fight on the inside, because he’s one of the best in the light heavyweight division.

“I don’t think Andre thought he got a gift there. But I’m sure he felt that, ‘that was a close one and maybe I got away with one,’” said HBO Boxing commentator Max Kellerman. “He had plans A through Z. Kovalev dealt with it very well, but that’s one of the things Andre does well. Those who would say that, ‘Well, that threw Kovalev off. What Kovalev should have done.’ Okay, you get in there and do that against Andre Ward, you know? What Kovalev did was totally excellent.”

I think Kovalev did a good job of trying to pry Ward off of him on the inside during the prolonged wrestling the two were doing. Kovalev struggled to throw shots while Ward was grappling with him on the inside. Kovalev needs to improve in this area for him to beat Ward, because it’s obvious that Ward is going to take it to the inside and keep it there from round 1 to round 12. If Kovalev is going to land any shots, it’s going to be from short distance while being held by Ward. If there’s a quality referee working the fight that doesn’t put up with wrestling, then Ward’s chances of winning the fight are slim and none. Ward was a great fighter back in 2011 and earlier when fighting at a distance, but he’s slowed due to aging and many years of fighting infrequently.

“He fought a smart fight, perfect fight,” said Bernard Hopkins about Ward in his first fight against Kovalev. “You’ve seen the fight. I’ve seen the fight. Kovalev was schooled. Sergey Kovalev, I spoke to the man, and he asked me who I thought won, and I said, ‘No comment.’ He made Sergey Kovalev fight a fight that no one had seen hi fight in his 30-plus fights with almost 80 percent knockout ratio on his record. That was a game changer. He missed the opportunity,” said Hopkins in speaking about Kovalev knocking Ward down in round 2. “Anytime when you knock someone down, when you get them in that position, they don’t see another round. That might have messed with Kovalev’s psyche. ‘That was a hard shot I hit him with. Everybody else didn’t get up.’ “

Hopkins is probably right about Ward fighting a smart fight. I think it was the only fight he could fight against Kovalev. Ward couldn’t beat Kovalev on the outside, so he turned it into a wrestling match, and kept him from fighting. It was smart, but it wasn’t boxing. I thought Kovalev landed the far better shots in every round of the fight. Ward’s punches were limited to weaker ones thrown on the inside. Ward would occasionally land a jab on the outside, but he wasn’t connecting with his power shots from the outside. It was too risky for Ward to throw punches from the distance, so he didn’t even try to. Ward got dropped in round 2 when he tried to throw a power shot. After that, Ward rarely threw power shots from a distance.

“In my opinion, there’s no question that Sergey Kovalev hurt Andre Ward in most of the rounds, and he did more damage and he deserved that decision,” said HBO unofficial ringside scorer Harold Lederman. “It just wasn’t a good decision. There was no question in my mind that Sergey Kovalev was jobbed. When you judge a fight, you say to yourself at the end of the round, who hurt the other guy more than the other guy hurt him. In my mind, Sergey Kovalev hurt Andre Ward in most of the rounds. There’s no question that Sergey Kovalev won the 10th round. I mean, come on. If I was in his corner, I would have said, ‘Sergey, jump on him,’ you know? It says Andre Ward has got a lot of guts, a good jaw, a big heart. He’s here to win. He’s saying to himself, ‘There’s nothing that’s going to stop me; not Sergey Kovalev or anybody else,’ and that’s what he did,” said Lederman.

Round 10 was a clear round for Kovalev. I’m still not sure what the judge’s saw in Ward to give him that one. Kovalev won the fight in my opinion. I thought it was a clear win for him. Some boxing fans think the judges only gave it to Ward because the boxing fans were cheering for him all throughout the fight. The judges might have been influenced by the cheering and gave the rounds to Ward instead of the fighter that appeared to be getting the better of the action in Kovalev.

“Honestly, Sergey brought another guy in front Russia to speak,” said Kovalev’s trainer John David Jackson about working the corner of Kovalev’s fight with Andre Ward last November. “During the fight, I was limited in what I could say. So how are you going to limit me on what I can say, when I’ve devised a plan for you to fight this kid? Now you’ve got another guy. I don’t know what he’s telling you. First time I’ve seen him in my life, so I know he’s not a boxer,” said Jackson.

I don’t think Jackson was aware that Ward was going to use grappling. That’s something you’ve got to repair your fighter for. Jackson couldn’t coach Kovalev in the corner how to deal with Ward’s wrestling if he’d never trained for that.

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