This past June super-middleweight champ Andre Ward 28-0 (15) fought for the first time in 19 months. Ward looked sensational stopping Paul Smith 35-6 (20) in the ninth round of a 12-round 172 pound catch-weight bout televised on BET. Before his 19 month hiatus Ward thoroughly cleaned out the super-middleweight division. Some of the names on Ward’s impressive resume that he compiled in the midst of cleaning out the division read Chad Dawson, Carl Froch, Arthur Abraham, Sakio Bika, Mikkel Kessler and Edison Miranda. And to those with a sophisticated eye, they fully grasp none of the bouts were close nor were they ever in question as to who won.
There was a time when Andre Ward, before his year and a half absence from the ring, was considered no lower than the second or third best pound-for-pound fighter in boxing. Only Floyd Mayweather, who turned pro eight years before Ward, routinely out-polled him in the pound-for-pound debate. And the reason for Ward’s high ranking was, he is really that special and can do everything as a fighter in the ring. Andre is a master boxer and technician, and like Mayweather, he doesn’t need much time to figure out what his opponent doesn’t like and what their weaknesses are – and then feeds them a steady diet of it and forces them to do what they don’t want to do.
Ward has a terrific jab to the head and body, and he is tremendously effective using it offensively and defensively. He can step back and counter while allowing his opponent to lead, or at least making them think they are. He knows how to go after runners and movers, and he can fight on the inside and neutralize his opponents while doing so. He’s very strong physically, and his punch resistance and stamina have never been a remote issue for him.
The only “but” when it comes to assessing Andre Ward that you hear is, he’s not a life-taker when it comes to punching power. However, most writers and fans don’t understand that punching power is overrated. Sure, it’s a great equalizer, but it’s only as good as the delivery system in place to get it to the intended target. Ward, like Mayweather today, Bernard Hopkins, Muhammad Ali and Larry Holmes from yesteryear, punch/ed plenty hard enough to win. As we saw in many of their high profile bouts, punching power was never much of a factor in determining their signature bouts during their careers.
That said, as great as Ward looked in his last bout, Paul Smith isn’t an elite fighter, not even close. Ward did exactly what he should’ve and dominated every facet of the fight. In short, he looked terrific. But the cold-water on that is, because Smith was so far out of his league, it’s hard to gauge Andre’s showing and asses exactly where he’s at. Add to that, a new monster has emerged since Ward’s exile, and he’s only a couple pounds bigger than Andre.
His name is Sergey Kovalev 27-0-1 (24) and he’s clearly the most formidable and feared fighter in the light heavyweight division. Amazingly, Kovalev’s ascendance has been a little overshadowed by middleweight Gennady Golovkin’s emergence over the same time period. This in all honesty has befuddled me for two reasons. For starters, Kovalev is a more versatile fighter than Golovkin. I know some try and paint Gennady as an unbeatable wrecking machine, but in truth, he’s basically an attacker. Yes, I know he can box, but back him up and he, like most attackers, aren’t nearly as effective. Secondly, Kovalev has clearly beat better fighters and has compiled a more impressive resume than Golovkin.
In his last two bouts, Kovalev stopped the hard punching and former title holder Jean Pascal. Pascal fought Bernard Hopkins to a draw and had him down twice in a title bout. It’s a short list of fighters who can make that claim. Before fighting Pascal, Kovalev won no less than 11 of 12 rounds against Hopkins and managed to put Bernard down. Kovalev adjusted to the rough and shrewd Hopkins at every turn of the fight and bettered him. It didn’t matter what Hopkins tried, Sergey usually got the better of it and he was quite effective with his long game. This had Bernard searching for answers in trying to come up with something he could do so he could gain the upper hand against Sergey. Unfortunately for Hopkins, he never found a single answer and Kovalev basically ran away with the fight. At the post fight press conference, Hopkins told the assembled media not to discount Kovale’v’s showing because of Bernard’s advanced age. In other words, Hopkins showered Kovalev with high praise, something that is not a typical occurrence when Bernard comes out on the losing end of a decision.
Kovalev is scheduled to fight Nadjib Mohammedi on July 25th in Las Vegas. If Sergey wins as he is favored to do, the talk of him fighting Andre Ward early next year will gain traction and escalate. And what an intriguing fight that is to ponder. Neither Kovalev nor Ward has ever faced a fighter like the other. It’s a real tough fight to handicap and pick the winner. And the proof of that is, yes, it’s Andre Ward, and yet I can’t tell you that I would pick him to win. Kovalev’s long game and power will give Ward much to address. Will he, can he? That’s what makes the matchup so compelling and anticipated.
The fact that I can’t say for sure that I would pick Andre Ward to beat Sergey Kovalev tells me one thing for certain….I must think an awful lot of Kovalev.
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com