Kovalev vs. Ward – Well, it looks as if boxing is going to realize, at least in my opinion, the most intriguing matchup that could be made in the sport, later this year when WBA/IBF/WBO light heavyweight title holder Sergey Kovalev 29-0-1 (26) will defend his belts against Andre Ward 29-0 (15) who is the former undisputed super-middleweight champ. Yes, Kovalev versus Ward in late 2016 is really that good. And the reason for that is – it’s impossible to make an unbreakable case favoring one over the other.
With Muhammad Ali recently passing away, many boxing aficionados are reviewing his career and debating the highlights of his unparalleled tenure as the alpha fighter in the heavyweight division circa 1964-78. And when all is said and done, the most anticipated and biggest fight of Ali’s life was his first meeting with “Smokin” Joe Frazier when neither he nor Joe had come close to losing a bout as the defending champion. What made Frazier vs. Ali so special is that it was impossible to envision either one of them as a loser, especially at the hands of the other on the morning of the bout.
No, I’m not saying that Kovalev and Ward are at that level because they’re not. As terrific as they’ve both been since they’ve become world class fighters, it’s not like I can’t imagine them losing. However, the intangibles surrounding them makes a match-up between them better than the pairing of any other two fighters in boxing at the moment.
A little over 13 months ago many fans were unfortunately duped, due to a six-year build up, into thinking that Floyd Mayweather fighting Manny Pacquiao was a once in a generation clash; and oh how wrong they were. By the time Floyd and Manny touched gloves, Mayweather was on the decline and Pacquiao was three bouts removed from suffering the worst loss and knockout defeat of his career. On May 2, 2015, it was not a reach picturing Mayweather being out-worked and out-hustled by a younger opponent, and in regards to Pacquiao, his defense and head movement was all but gone and he was no longer a non-stop attacker who brought the heat and pressure from bell-to-bell.
As a result of the letdown fans suffered after the Mayweather-Pacquiao waltz, they hitched their hopes on believing that a showdown between the universally acknowledged best 160 pound fighter in the world, Gennady Golovkin 35-0 (32), and the new biggest star in boxing Saul “Canelo” Alvarez 47-1-1 (33), would be everything that Mayweather-Pacquiao wasn’t. Maybe a meeting between Golovkin and Alvarez would be all that, but I wholeheartedly believe the case favoring GGG over Canelo is overwhelming. In fact it’s really hard to find a path to victory for Canelo. So in my view, other than seeing the names Golovkin and Alvarez paired together on a billboard, I just don’t see where them fighting is such a big deal.
For a fight to be big and loaded with anticipation, especially if neither fighter is a superstar or major personality, it needs the element of intrigue as far as who is going to win or who should be favored. And that’s what Kovaklev-Ward has in abundance. So much so that it’s almost most impossible to give one a decided advantage over the other. Kovalev just turned 33 and looks to be peaking physically and emotionally; his confidence and total belief in himself couldn’t be higher. From a technical vantage point, Sergey has an inside/outside game. He can control his opponents with his long left jab and uses it to steer them where he wants them to go. It’s a hard punch and it keeps his opponent from taking serious runs at him while at the same time creates an opening for his right hand to sneak in behind it. And if his opponent allows him to close the distance and get close, Kovalev can fight on the inside and is very effective getting off with hard and accurate uppercuts and hooks in close quarters.
Andre Ward just turned 32 and hasn’t lost as an amateur or pro in more than 12 years. Ward is a counter-puncher with underrated physical strength. And he just may be one of the most versatile, stylistically that is, fighters in boxing. Throughout the course of a fight, Andre sees what his opponent doesn’t like to do or isn’t good at, and then forces him to fight from his weakness. If Andre’s opponent wants to assert himself and push the fight, he’ll more than oblige him and in the midst counter the hell out of him until he’s dizzy from getting hit with shots he doesn’t see or doesn’t appear to look like much. On the other hand, if he’s in with fighters who want to use the ring and pick their spots, he’s quite capable of taking away the distance and space they need to be effective. To better Ward, you better be more than a puncher, and if you think you can out-box him, he’ll foul you and beat you up to the point to where his foe might think he’s fighting two men at the same time.
It may be an old cliche in boxing, but neither Kovalev nor Ward has shared a ring with anybody like they’re going to see this coming November. For every case pointing to Kovalev, there is a counter one pointing to Ward. Both fighters really want the fight because legacies are on the line and the winner will be the most celebrated fighter in professional boxing immediately after the bout. This isn’t like Mayweather-Pacquiao where the argument before the bout was which one of them had slipped the least. Actually, the biggest unknown pertaining to either fighter is that Ward is coming off a layoff in which he’s only fought two times since 2013. On the other hand, like it was with Joe Frazier before he fought Ali the first time, Kovalev has been fighting and cleaning out the division pretty steadily for the past three years.
Both fighters will fight once more before they meet, Kovalev in July and Ward in August. You can bet your mortgage money on them both winning. And then it’s on to the best fight that can be made in boxing…Kovalev vs. Ward. No, they’re not the biggest stars in the sport, but they are authentically two of the best fighters in it. One of them, Kovalev, is no doubt in his prime and the other, Ward, may be on the slight decline. However, he was so terrific during his prime that even if he lost a smidgen of what he once was, he’s still very capable of winning.
Their names on the marquee don’t have the sizzle that a mantle with Mayweather or Alvarez across it would have, but Kovalev vs. Ward is the best fight between two unbeaten world class fighters that boxing has to offer, and I defy anyone to pronounce that one should be a predominant favorite over the other.
Regarding Golovkin vs. Alvarez, I ask how can a fight be so big and anticipated when virtually everyone agrees who the winner will be? That’s what the case would be if Golovkin fought Alvarez, but this certainly won’t be the situation when Kovalev and Ward finally touch gloves. It won’t be hard finding someone to bet against without giving odds when they meet.
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com