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Kovalev vs Ward Preview – The July 11 bout between Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev and Isaac “Golden Boy” Chilemba at the DIVS Sports Palace in Ekaterinburg, Russia, was supposed to be an indicator bout, but it wasn’t. The 12-round fight for the WBO, WBA and IBF Light Heavyweight World Titles didn’t shed much light on what to make of Kovalev-Ward this coming November – other than confirming that Sergey can still punch pretty good. Without seeing Ward 29-0 (15), who fights Alexander Brand 25-1 (19) next month, nothing can be etched in stone.

Also, it says something about both Ward and Kovalev 30-0-1 (26) that they both agreed to take on legitimate opponents before facing each other. With one fight out of the way and one to come before we can see the best fight that boxing has to offer this coming fall, Kovalev’s showing against Chilemba 24-4-2 (10) basically confirmed only one thing — and that is, if you were picking Ward to beat him, Sergey didn’t do anything to change your mind or scare you off of that pick.

Kovalev vs Ward Preview

Kovalev was bothered by Chilemba’s sporadic and pesky jab, and Isaac survived because he didn’t really try to fight it out and take Kovalev’s head off. He gave him some movement and every time he sensed there was a hole to fill in order to keep Sergey from walking him down, he popped a couple jabs and moved away, which bought him time. Kovalev dominated, but Chilemba potshotted him fairly effectively from the outside–enough so that Kovalev never got reckless, even though Chilemba can’t punch at all.  The first six rounds were relatively close. Then Kovalev knocked him down with a beautiful right hand, and it looked like the fight was going to be over.  The next round was bad for Chilemba too.  But then he came back, Kovalev looked really tired, and it actually looked for a while like he might have hit the wall.  But Chilemba didn’t have the ammunition to push things, so we never found out.

The right hand that dropped Chilemba was explosive and he hung on for dear life. I really thought Kovalev was going to finish him in the eighth round, but he couldn’t find enough openings without getting tied up. This is a scary thought if you’re rooting for Kovalev over Ward, because Ward is the father of shutting guys down and turning machine gun offenses into paintball guns. Chilemba was awkward, physically strong, and took a good shot.  But Kovalev looked flat, he got tired for no good reason that I could see, and at points it looked as if Sergey fought with a little trepidation that I hadn’t picked up on before. At one point Chilemba held him behind the head and hurt him with a right uppercut, and Kovalev put up with it — a dangerous sign for someone like Ward.  Ward won’t miss seeing that.

It’s hard to know whether Kovalev has lost something, had an off night, was overconfident, or just fought an awkward guy. But he didn’t look like the monster he’s being built up to be. However, this isn’t anything new for fighters going into a super fight. Larry Holmes was dropped by Renaldo Snipes and didn’t look overwhelming against Snipes in his bout prior to fighting Gerry Cooney in what would be the signature bout of Holmes’ stellar career. Conversely, in Cooney’s previous bout before facing Holmes, Gerry looked like the scariest heavyweight since George Foreman circa 1973-74 when he stopped faded contender Ken Norton in less than a minute. Yet when Larry and Gerry finally met, Holmes fought the most complete and purposeful bout of his life, winning via 13th round TKO.

What stands out about Kovalev’s showing versus Chilemba is that he didn’t look like the same life-taker we’re used to seeing. And for someone who was leaning toward Kovalev, it’s a little troublesome. Had Kovalev and Ward fought each other this weekend, being that I had to make a pick, I would’ve leaned toward Kovalev. Without seeing Ward yet, all I can say is that I’m not as sure now as I was. But the fight is four months away so I won’t read too much into Sergey’s showing against Chilemba without seeing Ward fight Brand.

The only thing I can say for sure is that Andre Ward does everything better than Isaac Chilemba, and Sergey certainly wasn’t overwhelming. With that said I think the result and aftermath probably has Ward backers feeling a lot better about his chances than they did this time last week. But being a student of boxing for 50 years I know that styles and mental approach has a lot to do with a fighter’s showing. So before thinking I have the puzzle solved, I’ll wait for Ward to fight next month and try and acquire more data.

Kovalev vs Ward Preview / Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at

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