KOVALEV-WARD. This past Saturday night boxing was treated to an outstanding tactical bout between the newly crowned light heavyweight champ Andre Ward 31-0 (15) and the former champ Sergey Kovalev 30-1-1 (26). Prior to the bout I stated Kovalev-Ward was a very tough fight to handicap, and for that reason I tried something different. I purposely didn’t write a pre-fight article because I didn’t want to make a pick, although those who know me know who I was leaning towards. The reason I didn’t want to make a pick was because I wanted to watch the fight and remain completely neutral — because it’s human nature, especially in a close bout, to view the action through the eyes of your pick, and I didn’t want to chance that on this particular bout.
For the last decade I’ve written how the only score that counts when judging a fight is the one you tabulated while watching the bout live and in the moment, not knowing the result. Remember, the judges only get one shot. Watching a fight live, not knowing what’s going to happen, along with the crowd noise and anticipation, is a lifetime different than watching it on your computer through YouTube or in your quiet living room after the fact. Every fight looks different watching the replay, knowing who won and how it was scored. So if you didn’t see it live, your score doesn’t carry the weight as those who scored it live and in the moment.
Kovalev-Ward was the most anticipated bout of the year. Based on the controversial decision, the same may hold true for the rematch. All three judges scored the fight 114-113 for Ward, with the deciding factor being that two of the judges gave the 12th round to Ward — a round I saw for Kovalev. I scored the fight 115-114 Kovalev, or 5-5-2 in rounds, with the 2nd round knockdown scored by Kovalev being the difference. It was a very close fight with a few difficult rounds to score. The decision was definitely not a robbery.
Basically, the fight was two different bouts in one. Kovalev had the better of it during the first half, controlling the fight with his jab and straight right hand. Ward finally got a read on Sergey during the last six rounds, scoring with his jab and left-hook, along with some roughhouse in-fighting and body punching. All three judges had Ward winning seven of the 12-rounds they fought, and that’s not what I saw. Moreover, if you take into account Kovalev won the first and 12th rounds without question, Ward had to win seven of the ten rounds between those bookends. And I don’t think he did. Perhaps he won six if you give him the benefit of any doubt but, I’m sorry, there’s no case for Andre taking seven rounds between the second and the 11th.The best case for Ward is that he won six rounds and Kovalev won six with the 10-8 second round via the knockdown scored by Sergey being the difference.
The fight had many ebbs and flows. Kovalev’s jab and right hand were the difference in the rounds he won. He dropped Ward in the second round with a big right hand and Andre was on high alert for the next few rounds trying to get a read on it. Once Ward realized that the fight may be slipping away he fought with more urgency. He was more effective than most anticipated he would be when he took the lead.
During the middle rounds Ward’s jab and left hook started to become a factor. Andre was terrific in moving his upper body and getting inside to nullify Kovalev, blunting his power. At some points it looked as though Ward was fighting off some accumulated rust as his body punching slowed Kovalev just enough to where he became more confident taking chances down the homestretch. As Ward became less and less concerned about Kovalev’s power, his greater versatility fighting inside and giving Kovalev different looks reduced Kovalev to relying too much on one punch.
Going into the fight everyone knew Ward held the edge in everything with the exception of punching power. But Sergey’s power was a big equalizer, and for the first half of the fight Ward was leery of it, thus allowing Kovalev to control the fight. It wasn’t until Andre sensed he was really behind that he started to impose his will and skill on Kovalev. I just don’t think he quite made up the ground he lost in the early going, in much the same way Bernard Hopkins fell behind Jermain Taylor before he mounted his rally during the last six rounds of their bout.
It was an extremely close fight. Kovalev was unmarked when it was over, whereas Ward’s face was a little marked up and red. Whose style you liked better probably went a long way in how you scored it. As I was watching it, in my mind, I thought Kovalev was doing slightly better than I thought he would and Ward wasn’t doing quite as much as I figured he would. I also think watching it live favors Kovalev, whereas watching the replay favors Ward. And the reason for that is that I think the threat of Kovalev’s power looms as less influential as the fight is unfolding before you.
I think it’s easier to make the case for Kovalev winning than it is for Ward. In order to get Ward ahead and give him the decision, you need to give him practically every swing round. It’s easier to find seven rounds favoring Kovalev than it is Ward. A Kovalev victory by one-point is the right call, but I could live with it ending in a draw and I’m moderately uncomfortable with the actual result, Ward winning by a point. But it must be stated adamantly that the decision wasn’t a robbery like some are insinuating.
Here’s the takeaway: Kovalev earned the nod and should’ve won by a point or kept his title with a draw. But I’d definitely pick Ward to win the rematch.
Ward will be so much more confident now that he’s experienced Kovalev and has a good read on him. Kovalev can’t change stylistically. The only thing he can do in a rematch is attempt to be a little busier. The next time Ward will smother his power more and go to his body earlier. Ward, who fought off a lot of rust Saturday night, has more room to be better than does Kovalev if they were to fight again and that would net a more conclusive victory for him.
The best chance Kovalev had to beat Ward was this past Saturday night. As the record will show forever, he didn’t do it. Just as everything was in his favor on November 19th, 2016, it will be in Ward’s favor if they meet again.
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Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com