In perhaps the biggest and most anticipated fight in 2016, Sergey Kovalev battles Andre Ward for the light heavyweight championship this Saturday in Las Vegas. Fans and experts are split as to whom they feel will prevail. In analyzing the fight, there are a few subtle factors to keep in mind that may impact the outcome.
Ward has a tendency to force clinches in fights. When he tries to be first and not counter, he often follows by grabbing his opponent. Also, if the action turns to infighting he likes to grab. So if Ward does clutch and hold excessively in this fight, how will referee Robert Byrd handle the situation? Byrd is a referee who does not like to intercede in the action and does not like to take points or even issue warnings unless absolutely necessary. Byrd does, however, like to keep the flow of a fight going and often breaks fighters early instead of allowing them to work. I see Byrd as being a very favorable referee to what Ward wants to do and this could play a factor in how the fight plays out.
Kovalev is, of course, the bigger puncher in this fight. But it is also important to remember he is the much bigger man as well. Kovalev has fought his entire career at light heavyweight. Ward fought the early part of his career at middleweight before moving to super middleweight. He has only recently moved to light heavyweight and has never fought anyone as big or as strong as Kovalev. Ward was hurt and dropped by Darnell Boone in a middleweight fight many years ago. If Boone could hurt Ward at middleweight, what happens if Kovalev lands flush at light heavyweight?
Finally, Kovalev is very underrated in how he places his punches. He uses subtle lateral movement to find angles to land his power shots with maximum effect. He is also very good at looping his punches around the gloves of his opponents. There is a reason why many of Kovalev’s opponents are reluctant to open up when fighting him and go into a defensive posture. Kovalev finds a way to land his power shots with maximum efficiency and power.
These are a few subtle factors to keep in mind for the big fight this weekend. This is certainly an evenly matched fight on paper and one of the factors mentioned above may ultimately be the difference in determining the outcome.
A Tale of Two Different Opponents
Malik Scott and Jo Jo Dan were each brought in as the opponent in their respective bouts this past weekend. Though each was the opponent, the way each approached their respective fight could not have been more different.
Malik Scott dropped a wide twelve round decision to Luis Ortiz. It wasn’t that Scott lost to Ortiz, but the overall effort put forth by Scott in the fight that raised eyebrows. He seemed to just want to survive and showed little effort aside from winging a few hard right hands. Did he think that going the distance with Ortiz would somewhat make up for what happened in his bout with Deontay Wilder? Or maybe was he trying to make Ortiz look bad to help out his good friend Wilder? I am not sure the reason but Scott never really did much but run and play defense. He clearly was not willing to let his hands go to try to win or at least make the fight somewhat entertaining. Hopefully this is the last time we see Malik Scott in a significant heavyweight contest.
To the contrary, Jo Jo Dan showed tremendous will and heart in his fight against fast rising prospect Jarrett Hurd. Dan fought to win from the opening bell and exposed himself to a tremendous beating from Hurd. But Dan never gave up until his corner mercifully stopped the contest in the sixth. He let his hands go with sometimes reckless abandon in hopes of turning the tide. Dan was willing to take risks and go out on his shield for the chance to do something dramatic. He was not in the ring for just a paycheck and despite the long odds of success never stopped trying to win until the end. It was an admirable effort to say the least.
Fighters who are brought in as opponents have to make a choice when entering the ring. They are not expected to win and sometimes, as in the case with Scott, look solely to survive rounds without taking much punishment. And sometimes, like Dan, they go all out to make drama happen.
Oleksandr Gvozdyk-Isaac Chilemba
The pay-per-view undercard of Kovalev-Ward is pretty weak. One fight though does peak my interest. And that is a light heavyweight contest between prospect Oleksandr Gvozdyk and longtime contender Isaac Chilemba.
Gvozdyk is yet another fighter with strong amateur credentials hailing from Ukraine. While he may not have the one punch power of some other Eastern European prospects, Gvozdyk possesses very heavy hands and his punches carry a cumulative effect on his opponents. Only one fighter in his first eleven fights has lasted the distance with him and that is veteran ring survivor Michael Gbenga.
In addition to being heavy handed, Gvozdyk is also very technically sound. He works behind an excellent stiff left jab that is thrown with precision accuracy. Often times, he will follow up with a sneaky quick right behind the jab. Gvozdyk is also a good body puncher and has shown an ability to break his opponents down over the course of a bout.
Gvozdyk has wins against fringe contenders Nadjib Mohammedi and Tommy Karpency, but Chilemba represents a big step up in class. Chilemba gave Kovalev a decent test his last time out in July and before that gave the undefeated Eleider Alvarez all he could handle in dropping a majority decision. Chilemba is slick and hard to hit clean. He has experience against the best in the division and has never been decisively beaten. Chilemba will pose an interesting test to the less experienced pro Gvozdyk.
Gvozdyk’s team is showing a lot of confidence in their fighter by putting him in with Chilemba. If Gvozdyk can dominate Chilemba, he may be something special. But the veteran Chilemba will not be easy to dominate and could very well spring a mild upset. It is a solid fight and one worth watching before the big headliner later in the evening.
Check out The Boxing Channel for more boxing news on video.