Fight blueprint no different for Saturday’s Ward Kovalev 2 rematch

After reviewing our predictions for the first fight, we’ve got serious boxing déjà vu.

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Andre Ward (left) and Sergey Kovalev both weighed in Friday at 175 pounds. Phioto: Ed Mulholland, HBO Boxing

SAN DIEGO, June 16, 2017 – After a tense road to the rematch ending Friday on the scale with both athletes weighing in right at the 175 pound light heavyweight limits, Sergey Kovalev (30-1-1, 26 KOs) and Andre Ward (31-0, 15 KOs) square off with something to prove at the Mandalay Bay Events Center. The pay-per-view fight airs on HBO Boxing at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT.

Kovalev wants the WBA, WBO, and IBF title he lost to Ward back, and wants to exact serious revenge on Ward for winning a narrow unanimous decision, a fight many observers thought Kovalev won. Ward says he’ll prove he is the legitimate champion with a repeat victory.

The pair fought just seven months ago. We looked back at our original prediction column, and our assessment was solid as a rock. Read it again, judge for yourself.

We could have dusted off the original fight prediction, updated a word here and there, and gotten to our Friday fish tacos a lot faster. But we’ll earn our keep with a fresh look.

Sergey Kovalev walked into Thursday’s news conference wearing a “WAR” hat a la Marvin Hagler, told Andre Ward to “Be prepared” and left without taking any questions or posing for photos. Photo: Ed Mulholland, HBO Boxing

Going into the fight, Kovalev is in a full rage, and Ward is still brushing Krusher’s dirt off his shoulder while adding a little of his own. Their proxies range from icy to passive-aggressive to downright hostile themselves. The final news conference saw Kovalev telling Ward to “be prepared” and leaving without any additional comments, answering questions, or posing for media photos. Media left with photos of Ward with undercard fighter Guillermo Rigondeaux.

The weigh-in was loaded with security personnel, including one man standing between Ward and Kovalev during their face-off. Ward talked to Kovalev, who stared forward with no comment.

The tense face-off including a security guard positioned between the fighters and Ward’s trainer Virgil Hunter keeping a close watch.

The fireworks still haven’t lit up many fans. Only the dedicated followers of the sport are preparing to watch on Saturday. Much of the rest of the sports world is gaga over the upcoming arrival of the combat sports circus in Las Vegas August 26, enough said about it.

This rematch is among the most significant fights that can be made in 2017. If you wake up in time, we encourage you to take in the pay-per-view and enjoy this intense drama.

What will it take to win? Our keys to the rematch for Kovalev and Ward:

Andre Ward is the faster of the two athletes and able to land punches while maintaining defensive distance. Photo: David Spagnolo, Main Events

Speed kills in boxing.

Kovalev is the power-puncher with a far higher knockout percentage than Ward. He can hurt Ward with either hand, and his jab is hard enough to be a significant weapon. He is physically strong and has fought in this weight division his entire professional career.

Ward’s defensive skills are exceptional, nearly as good as Floyd Mayweather. He is quicker on his feet and more skillful with his hands than Kovalev. Ward does not need to change his approach. He can slip in, use his fast hands with accuracy, and get out of Kovalev’s range. Kovalev needs to pin Ward against the ropes and bang him to the body as he did in the early rounds of the first fight to slow him down.

When Sergey Kovalev can land his right hand flush, he can do serious damage. Photo: David Spagnolo, Main Events

Getting things right.

Ward showed he can take a punch, getting off the canvas in the first fight to come back and win. Kovalev has said the knockdown punch landed from the fingers and not flush from the knuckles. If Kovalev can unleash his best weapon more often, bust through Ward’s defense and land significant right hand power punches more accurately, will it make a difference? This is one of the more intriguing aspects of the fight.

Andre Ward knows how to watch the pattern of a fight and pick his places to strike. Photo: David Spagnolo, Main Events

Patience is still a virtue.

If Ward can fend Kovalev off as he successfully did in the second half of the first fight, and sneak inside to batter him from time to time, he’ll win the fight three minutes at a time. Kovalev must guard against becoming impatient and doing something reckless that will leave him open to Ward scoring, if not hurting him outright. If he’s as angry as he seems, he’s got to watch his temper getting the best of him.

The longer the fight goes, the better conditioned fighter will have an advantage. We pointed this out last November, and it turned out to be the driver of the decision. Kovalev says from the fifth round on, he felt like a delfated balloon and blamed overtraining. Ward has fought 230 professional rounds now; Kovalev barely half of this at 126 rounds due to his knockout rate. Kovalev says he’s in much better shape this time. Both men appeared in superb condition at the weigh-in, but even a small difference can loom large in rounds 11 and 12.

Sergey Kovalev says he’s in far better condition for this rematch than the first fight. Photo: David Spagnolo, Main Events

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes.

Ward won the first fight because of his ability to think in the ring, observe what’s going on in front of him, and adjust when necessary. He has the technical skills to deploy the right tactics at the right time. Here’s what Ward said about the first bout:“Personally, I’ve never won big fights doing one thing. I’ve never won big fights doing what people think I should do. The bottom line is making the necessary adjustments, on the fly. That’s what the great ones do. So that’s what I plan to do, have my head on a swivel.”

It worked brilliantly for him. When Sergey Kovalev rushed at Ward, pressured him and used his brute strength, it worked – at first. Then Ward shifted tactics to cope with it, and just as he did, Kovalev ran out of gas. Ward kept chipping away, and he took the decision.

Ward doesn’t need to change a thing. He has the superior pure skills, impresive speed and he uses distance to perfection. The same solid foundation will serve him well again in the rematch. All Ward needs to do is not let Kovalev bully him as he did in the first four rounds of the first fight.

It’s Kovalev who needs to change. Let’s assume he’s in better condition. Ward knows what to do with him. Kovalev isn’t suddenly going to become the 175-pound version of Floyd Mayweather and evade Ward; he isn’t going to be able to punch from angles like Vasyl Lomachenko. All he can do is more of the same and not run out of energy. But more of the same isn’t likely to succeed.

We predict Andre Ward will go home to Oakland with the WBA, WBO, and IBF light heavyweight titles. Photo: Ed Mulholland, HBO

Our prediction for the fight.

Against Andre Ward, Sergey Kovalev can try to push himself, be more accurate with his punches so he can make whatever he’s able to land count. He has to be able to hit Ward moving away, and he has to be able to shorten punches if he can land one when Ward is in close. But he’ll need to be fast.

Ward is still the smarter man in the ring. Kovalev is stronger and he might be stronger for longer this time. Either man has a puncher’s chance to win. As much as we hate to repeat ourselves, in a fight of brains versus brawn, we still go for brains. Andre Ward wins a unanimous decision a second time. We hope it’s less contentious and more definitive than in the first bout.

Kovalev vs. Ward airs on HBO PPV starting with the televised undercard bouts at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT. The preliminary undercards are available for viewing free via live streaming starting at 6 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT. Watch here.

Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is President/Owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego, California. She is also a serious boxing fan covering the Sweet Science for Communities. Read more Ringside Seat in Communities Digital News. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego.

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