Don’t be surprised if Andre Ward takes the fight right to Sergey Kovalev on Saturday night and makes things rough. Ward, someone espoused to be a classic boxer, is so much more. If you watch film of him closely, you will see a complete fighter. One of the better in-fighters in boxing today, Ward can fight in close to his opponents just as well as he can box them from the outside. He is the best overall technician in boxing today.
Ward’s left hook could be the key to the fight this weekend. While Ward will surely use his quicker hands and feet to stay out of harm’s way at times, he will also stand in close on occasion to dodge, parry and push Kovalev off balance before landing that devastating Ward left hook.
If you are surprised I laud Ward for his presence in close, don’t feel alone. Ward told me his opponents often feel the same way until they feel how strong he is in the clinches. His toughness inside as well as his hard punching while there are truly what makes him such an elite prizefighter.
“That’s definitely going to be something that takes him by surprise,” said Ward about Kovalev. “Honestly, that’s probably one of the biggest assets that I’ve had throughout my career even as an amateur. It’s never quite taken serious but when the fight starts it’s too late.”
Ward is one of the more admirable fighters in boxing. His blue collar, no nonsense approach is refreshing. He doesn’t scream at the top of his lungs how good a fighter he is. He just shows us with his performances.
Still, there seems an ever-present , albeit underlying chip on his shoulder about not being universally recognized as one of the most dominant forces in boxing.
“I don’t even look at it as disrespect anymore,” said Ward. “I relish in it. I love when I see certain comments or hear certain analysis and I think ‘man that guy really doesn’t know what is going on in the ring.’ [My strength inside] is actually one of my greatest weapons. I don’t look like much on the outside but there’s a lot more there than people think when the bell rings.”
Kovalev will surely be Ward’s toughest test. The unified light heavyweight champion might be the only fighter in boxing as under-appreciated as Ward. In a boxing world gone mad for Gennady Golovkin — who is excellent, but is lauded more than his resume suggests that he should be — Kovalev is doing more than Golovkin in the ring and looking just as destructive a force as GGG while doing it.
Kovalev and Ward have different mindsets heading into Saturday night. The ever thoughtful Ward indicated he and trainer Virgil Hunter had very specific plans for fight night. Anyone who has seen him dismantle the likes of Chad Dawson, Carl Froch and Mikkel Kessler knows the man goes into his fights with a plan and then executes it to perfection. However big a risk Kovalev poses to his perfect record by virtue of his incomparable power, Ward will use the same approach he always does and be prepared for anything Kovalev has shown as a fighter to date.
“If you don’t plan, you plan to fail,” said Ward. “At this level, you have to have a blueprint to what you are going to do. Then I have to take it and go execute it when it’s fight time.”
Kovalev, on the other hand, while his technical ability cannot be questioned (look no further than how he boxed brilliantly versus Bernard Hopkins), seems more like a wild animal as fight night approaches. When I chatted with him earlier this week, he was notably on edge. He downright exploded at the idea that he should be thinking about what Ward might bring to the table on fight night at all until he has Ward standing right in front of him.
“Listen. I don’t think about anything,” said Kovalev. “I am just waiting for this day, November 19, to fight him. I don’t think about what he’s going to do or what he’s not going to do. I am ready for everything. I just want to fight already. I need to fight. I am not a reporter. I am a boxer. I’m a fighter. I will be thinking inside the ring during the fight. But not right now. Right now, I do my job in the gym.”
Whatever the outcome this weekend, Kovalev-Ward is a welcome addition to this year’s mundane boxing schedule. The winner will rightly be considered the best fighter on the planet with the loser considered probably no worse than top 5 or so. We probably use the term superfight too loosely, but it is being correctly applied to Kovalev-Ward.
To give both credit, they know what kind of challenge they have before them. Even the raving monster Kovalev suggested Ward looks like the best fighter he will have faced to date in his career.
“I am really excited for this moment and really happy to fight the best fighter I have faced in my boxing career,” said Kovalev. “It’s a new situation. We will check his power and his skill. We will know if he is as good as we think on November 19.”
The line makers have Ward listed as a slight favorite heading into fight week. Still, Ward’s mindset is simultaneously underdog and favorite. He knows how good Kovalev is but he expects greatness from himself, too.
“He’s a champion, and he’s been one a long time,” said Ward. “He’s ruled the light heavyweight division for a long time similar to the way I ruled the super middleweight division and you just don’t get to that point without having a lot of skill. He’s much more than just a brawler. He’s very measured. He’s accurate. Plus, he can fight. There’s a lot you have to deal with. I have to be at my best to beat him.”
It’s hard to pick against a fighter as excellent as Ward, though I ultimately did for Bleacher Report’s expert picks. As great as Ward looks, I think Kovalev is his equal with more power to boot. Still, I could just have easily convinced my brain to go with Ward. This is a true case of evenly matched greats going against each other in their primes.
Check The Kovalev vs Ward Final Press Conference at The Boxing Channel