LAS VEGAS, November 18, 2016 – With the weigh-in completed and final formalities out of the way, all that’s left for light heavyweights Sergey Kovalev (30-0-1, 26 KOs) and Andre Ward (30-0, 15 KOs) is to get in the ring at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Saturday. Both fighters weighed in at the limit of 175 pounds.
Kovalev puts his WBA, WBO, and IBF on this line to make this a true unification fight, although the single belt he doesn’t own is the lineal championship now in the hands of Adonis Stevenson.
This is the most significant fight of 2016 in the boxing world, but it isn’t generating the sort of fan excitement it merits. Fans clamor for “the best to fight the best.” It is genuinely taking place in this fight, with two of the top five pound for pound boxers putting undefeated records on the line to become the unified light heavyweight division champion.
What this fight isn’t likely to do is generate a Fight of the Year from an action perspective, like a Salido vs. Vargas fight. While boxing connoisseurs are surely to enjoy every nuance of the fight, it may end up being a subtle fight and difficult to appreciate.
What will it take to win? Our keys to the fight for Kovalev and Ward:
Sergey Kovalev needs to marshal his strength. 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.
Andre Ward needs to marshal his quickness. Ward’s defensive skills are exceptional, nearly as good as Floyd Mayweather. He is quicker on his feet than Kovalev and more nimble. Ward does not need to run; he needs to take a page out of Manny Pacquiao’s book: slip in, use his fast hands with accuracy, and get out of Kovalev’s range.
Everyone has a plan until he gets hit. Who has the tougher chin between these two men? Kovalev has shown he can take a punch, but we aren’t as sure about Ward because his defense doesn’t let it happen too often. If Kovalev can bust through Ward’s defense and land a significant power punch in the right spot, how will Ward react? This is one of the more intriguing aspects of the fight.
Patience will pay off. If Ward is able to fend Kovalev off, or finds himself forced to hold and employ tactics bordering dirty tricks, Kovalev must guard against becoming impatient and doing something reckless that will leave him open to Ward scoring, if not hurting him outright.
If it goes 12 rounds, the better conditioned fighter will have an advantage. Ward has fought 218 professional rounds; Kovalev barely half of this at 114 rounds due to his knockout rate. Ward is coming up to light heavyweight for the first time, though he fought at this weight as an amateur. Ward has gained strength, but you’ve also got to use more energy to move a larger body around the ring. Both men appeared in superb condition at the weigh-in, but even a small difference can loom large in rounds 11 and 12.
It’s the mental game, stupid. When we asked Sergey Kovalev about the mental aspect of this bout, he said, “I think this is most important thing. For me this is a mental fight. It’s not who is stronger, but who is smarter, who is sneakier, and brings best skills into the ring and who is mentally stronger. If I happen to knock him out, it will be a bonus for boxing fans and for me myself.”
For his part, Ward believes he has the edge because of his ability to change plans when necessary. “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.”
Our prediction: Against Andre Ward, Sergey Kovalev will need to push his game and be far more aggressive and crisp with his punches. He will need to figure out how to hit someone moving in ways he won’t expect with Ward, or he’ll have his power effectively taken away from him.
There is no question Ward has the superior pure skills. His hand speed is impressive at light heavyweight. He measures distance to perfection. He lays down a solid foundation of bodywork to slow his opponents down before deploying his powerful left hook. Ward cannot let the naturally bigger Kovalev bully him, and if Kovalev is able to cut off the ring and get to him, Ward could be in trouble.
Kovalev was able to get to another wily, experienced opponent in the ring, Bernard Hopkins, and drop him for the first time in his lengthy career. But it’s not likely to happen again. One thing Andre Ward can always find a way to do is win. He hasn’t lost a fight since he was 13 years old, not as an Olympic champion and not as a professional.
Ward is the smarter man in the ring, Kovalev the stronger. So in a fight of brains versus brawl, we’ll go for brains. Andre Ward wins a unanimous decision in a narrow but definitive victory.
Kovalev vs. Ward airs on HBO PPV starting with the televised undercard bouts at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT.
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. Gayle can be reached via Google +
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