WARD-KOVALEV II — The press tour for the Ward-Kovalev rematch kicked off today (Monday, April 10) in New York City. It’s up for debate as to who really won their first meeting and handicapping the rematch is one of the more difficult fights to get a firm grip on in quite some time. Almost everyone I’ve conferred with has basically said they need more time to think about it.
When Andre Ward 31-0 (15) and Sergey Kovalev 30-1-1 (26) met last November for Kovalev’s unified light heavyweight title, Ward was considered the more stale fighter having only fought three times since 2013 after not fighting once in 2014. During that same time Kovalev fought seven times and looked as if he was peaking, and even with that Ward was -145 and Kovalev was +115 at Bovada.
The fight went the distance and all three judges saw it exactly the same, 114-113 for Ward. HBO judge Harold Lederman scored it 116-111 for Kovalev — which translates into him seeing it 8-4 in rounds for Sergey, scoring the second round 10-8 in which Kovalev dropped Ward with a blunting right hand. The judges, conversely, saw it 7-5 in rounds for Ward minus 1-point due to him suffering the second round knockdown. After the bout 63 members of the boxing media were polled; 46 scored it for Kovalev, 16 scored it for Ward and one had it a draw.
This observer had it 6-6 in rounds and 114-113 Kovalev. When the bell rang to end the fight I made a note stating…”Ward got beat and Kovalev’s going to get the decision.”
Five months have passed since the fight and those who saw it are still debating who won. As I said then, I could see a draw but I think the case favoring Kovalev is slightly stronger. My immediate thought after the decision was announced was that Ward wins if they fight again, and wins more conclusively. I felt this way because historically the better boxer-technician usually beats the fighter whose identity is his power above everything else – and that’s especially true in rematches where the “boxer” lost the first meeting. In this case the better boxer won, at least officially.
Here’s what makes the rematch so difficult to get a read on – neither Andre nor Sergey had a stellar night, not based on the high bar they set for themselves fighting other elite fighters. Both can improve technically and stylistically from what they showed during their November clash. Add to that, unlike last time, they both have a chip on their shoulder.
“I’m going to keep it short and sweet. You got what you asked for – now you have to see me on June 17. This time…leave the excuses at home,” said Ward.
“I’m glad to know that rematch will happen. I really hope that Andre Ward will get into the ring for this rematch. Fans of boxing will see the real Krusher–the one they have missed for couple of my last fights. For me this rematch is very important as no other bout in my entire boxing career. Thanks a lot to all of boxing fans,” said Kovalev.
Ward is upset that the first fight brought more questions than answers about him and that public sentiment is largely against him. And Kovalev believes in his heart that he was ripped off by the three American judges and doesn’t like how Ward has talked down to him via social media calling him an excuse-maker when things don’t go his way.
That’s what makes the rematch so appealing. The first time around they showed each other the utmost respect leading up to the fight, whereas this time it’s no doubt more personal. Forget the fact that both are considered among the top-5 pound for pound fighters in boxing. They’ll be fighting for supremacy over the other more than any titles or rankings.
The first fight was littered with missed punches and clinching. In many ways they were both too respectful of the other and instead of forcing a mistake neither took much risk in order to create something. It was amazing seeing how much they both feinted but neither cut loose with total commitment. The only punch that both Ward and Kovalev fought with total belief in was their left jab.
Ward was sharper during the second half of the bout but he held a lot on the inside and seldom attempted to in-fight, a spot where he holds the advantage due to his quicker hands and ability to get off in tight quarters. Andre was outstanding once again using his forearm across Kovalev’s face and cheap shooting him; he’s a master at that. Surprisingly, Kovalev never strayed from the rules or tried to make the fight ugly to answer Ward’s subtle fouls– something I don’t think will be the case when they fight again June 17th.
Ward also didn’t jab enough. He was just lucky that Kovalev didn’t inch in more and was content to reach and lunge more than we’ve seen from him in previous bouts. Sergey also wasn’t busy enough and tried to set Ward up and finish him with mostly straight jabs and crosses. Kovalev totally abandoned his hook during the bout and Ward took away his uppercut by mostly pulling him in and smothering his torso tightly to where he couldn’t turn it over. There’s plenty of room for Kovalev to be more imaginative offensively this time. Actually there’s room for both to be better and when it comes to adjusting and tweaking, I favor Ward.
Andre isn’t power driven and doesn’t really have to hurt Kovalev or put him down to gain the upper-hand. If Ward can be first and make Kovalev pay for missing him more than he did the last time, he should be okay. However, that’ll be easier said than done because Kovalev will surely put more pressure on Ward this time. Also, I believe Kovalev needs to gain Ward’s respect back the way he had it during the early going of the first fight. Andre was gaining confidence as the fight was progressing. It’ll go a long way if Kovalev can bring his memory back reminding Ward that he’s too dangerous for him to believe he’s the physiological predator.
The rematch should be a better fight to watch than their first meeting. Going by the last fight they appear to be near equals, and if the fight is close again, I expect Kovalev to be given every conceivable break this time — thus setting up a potential rubber match, another factor that has to be considered when trying to pick the winner!
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Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com