SAN DIEGO, June 14, 2017 – It was a fight boxing sorely needed to salvage 2016. Undefeated light heavyweights Sergey Kovalev and Andre Ward delivered plenty of drama in the decision won by Ward, but it didn’t completely answer the question whether either man deserved to sit atop the pound for pound rankings.
It took six months to nail down the rematch, and now it’s just a few days away on Saturday, June 17, at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. Ward (31-0, 15 KOs) and Kovalev (30-1-1, 26 KOs) arrived in Las Vegas on Tuesday, bringing serious personal animosity into what’s expected to be another competitive fight.
A final news conference is scheduled Thursday at 4 pm ET/1 pm PT, followed by Friday’s weigh-in, and the rematch airing Saturday via HBO Pay Per View starting at 9 pm ET/6 pm PT. View the final news conference here.
The first bout was arguably the most important fight of 2016, but it barely showed up on the radar among all but dedicated fans. There were only 170,000 pay per view buys; compare this to the one million buys for the hideous Canelo vs. Chavez Jr. bout a month ago. When the public has interest in a bout, a $59.95 price tag doesn’t stop them. The rematch should push past the anemic 2016 numbers, but someone is at fault when the expectations are so low.
It’s not any single factor. The promoters involved don’t generally love working with each other, but they are doing their best to be cooperative. The athletes are complying with media requests. HBO produced one of the best “24/7” preview broadcasts featuring personalities in the bout in many years. If you haven’t seen it, you can watch the full documentary here.
As of late Wednesday, the confirmation of a boxing match between MMA star Conor McGregor and retired undefeated champion Floyd Mayweather will take some of the meager attention away from this fight. It’s all a real shame, because this fight will prove something about the first fight, no matter which way it goes.
Ward, who won Kovalev’s WBA, WBO, and IBF belts in this division unification fight to remain undefeated, knows not everyone was universally pleased or saw the decision going his way. Ward runs hot and cold and sometimes the chip on his shoulder gets in his way. He expresses no doubt he won the fight. He’s grown increasingly irritated with questions about the legitimacy of the win, and Ward has a fair point here.
Kovalev and his team including promoter Kathy Duva, manager Egis Klimas, and trainer John David Jackson all disgreed with the decision, insisting the judges’ cards should have gone Kovalev’s way. Much of the boxing media agrees. Kovalev was disappointed after the bout, and disappointment has turned into anger. He insists he only lost because he was overtained and not at his best, and with correct preparation he will take advantage of what he learned the first time.
No one should be surprised these men don’t like each other, nor do the teams who support them. It’s somewhat unusual when opponents have a true personal beef. Boxers share a genuine mutual respect for the hard work and desire it takes to succeed in their sport. Plenty of trash talk is all in fun. Often they genuinely like each other, and put their feelings aside to get down to business in the ring.
Not this time. The criticisms and lack of respect are real. Short version: Kovalev is a crude bully who hides behind social media and likes the vodka. Ward is a self-absorbed prima donna who’s been coddled and avoided tough opposition.
Upon arrival in Las Vegas on Tuesday, the fighters offered a few comments to get things rolling during Fight Week.
Ward said he looked forward to answering any questions out there about him, and removing all doubt about his decision win in the first fight. “Now after this, we don’t want to hear any excuses. We don’t want to hear about anything. We’re going to shut the door on this and, like I said, take all doubt and all questions off the table.
“All of this talking is getting ready to be over. We’re getting ready for my favorite part, which is the fight. June 17. It’s about business, so I did what I had to do the first time. I’m looking to turn it up this time,” said Ward.
Ward said he is used to the pressure at the top and it comes with the territory. “You get to a point where you don’t run from the pressure, you embrace it. That’s what all the greats do. All I got to do is be myself and that will be enough. Everything else will take care of itself. At the highest level, you’re going to face adversity. It’s not if, it’s when. But the question is how do you respond?
“Some people thought I won, some people thought I lost. So let’s do it again and that’s the beauty of rematches in this sport. It’s nothing to get defensive about. You just lace it up, do it again and we’ll see what happens,” said Ward. Ward said he doesn’t get too high or low about either praise or criticism, and people are entitled to their opinions.
Kovalev says Ward is going to see a very different opponent on Saturday. “Ward fought an empty Kovalev. This time I will not be empty – Ward will be fighting Krusher. I had pushed myself so hard in the beginning of training camp that one month out I was empty. I felt so much pressure for the fight – my first fight on HBO Pay-Per-View – that I just trained too hard. For this fight, I definitely had to get in shape, have different emotions and different motivations.
Kovalev says Ward’s fans have been pouring fuel on the fire. “I want to thank my haters – they motivate me to keep going. I want to get my belts and I’m here for this … Yeah, my fists will say it. I’ve already said enough. I want to say to Team Ward – they’ve said a lot of trash to my side, my team. He will pay for everything; I promise you.”
During a discussion with boxing media, promoter Kathy Duva told me, “I think Sergey fights a little better when he’s angry.” He’s plenty angry, but how much better will he be?
The championship event takes place Saturday, June 17 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas and will be produced and distributed live by HBO Pay-Per-View® beginning at 9:00 p.m. ET/6:00 p.m. PT. Tickets for Ward-Kovalev 2: “The Rematch” are available on axs.com and at the Mandalay Bay Events Center Box Office.
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is President/Owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego, California. She is a veteran boxing observer covering the Sweet Science for Communities. Read more Ringside Seat in Communities Digital News. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego. Gayle can be reached via Google +
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