A COLD WAR CLASH: WARD vs. KOVALEV

     The cold war has long been over but East-West tensions are once again on the rise. In the world of boxing, there is another classic matchup on the docket for Saturday night. The battle to take place between Andre Ward versus Sergey Kovalev is a familiar one but it is not because of any political connotations associated with it. This is the age-old style clash of the boxer versus the puncher. One man who had his career path lined out for him and another who dwelled in relative obscurity for his first twenty fights. 

Tough Beginnings

     If you look at the two outside of the ring Andre Ward is the person that you might find yourself rooting for. Nicknamed “Son of God,” or “S.O.G.” for short, Andre was born to drug addict parents in Northern California. His birthplace is actually San Francisco, but he moved across the Golden Gate bridge to Oakland at a very young age. Oakland is a tough city, and it is even tougher when you have a white father and black mother. Some people that live there even call it “Bump City”. Growing up there it is easy to fall into the street life but hard to pull yourself out of.

Nonito Donaire and Andre Ward as children
Nonito Donaire and Andre Ward as children

     The definition of a gym rat from an early age, Ward kept his nose clean. He set the example for his little brother of what not to do and trained every day except for a short period of time after his father died. A few months later he got back to work with the only trainer he has ever had, Virgil Hunter, and qualified for the 2004 Olympic games in Athens where he would go on to win a gold medal for his country. “Son of God” had not lost a fight since 1998 and there have been eyes on him ever since. Ward stays true to his home state and does his best to keep the money generated off his fights in California. He has only fought outside of the Golden State 7 times in his 30 pro fights. He is the type of fighter your mother would be happy to pull for.

 

     Sergey Kovalev also grew up in an impoverished environment. He was born in Russia on the heels of the Soviet Union’s reign. If you ask him or most of the people who grew up around where he did, their lives were much better under U.S.S.R. rule. His logo is actually a red fist fashioned into a “K.” Sergey’s father died when he was only 11 years old forcing him to grow up even quicker than he would have. Kovalev also has a younger brother. The similarities between the two fighters end there. The man that was to one day be world champion had somewhat of a misspent youth. He ran the streets and at least one occasion admits to robbing someone in them. When he tells the story he has a sheepish grin that would make most Westerners with a moral compass hesitant to believe he has any remorse for the deed. The fighter sometimes he had to be fetched by his at the request of his first trainer in order to get him to come to the gym.

     Despite a 195-18 record, his amateur career was somewhat of a flop, overshadowed by the accomplishments of other Russian fighters like Matt Korobov and Artur Beterbiev. Now, “Krusher” is having the last laugh. The truth is that Kovalev’s style did not lend itself to the amateur style point system or the short number of rounds. In 2012 Kovalev began training with John David Jackson. Jackson’s connections are what finally brought Kovalev to the fame that his style of fighting deserves. Those connections helped to get him a fight in front of Kathy Duva. Kovalev dominated his opponent in his usual fashion and Duva had a contract waiting for him when he got out of the ring. He has winning world titles and by flattening top name opponents on HBO ever since. He is truly a fighter’s fighter.

Styles Make Fights

     In the ring is a different story. Kovalev is a fan friendly fighter. You don’t have to understand much about the nuances of the sweet science to appreciate a guy who comes forward with an incredible stout jab, freezes his opponents and lands big power shots. Only four men have been able to go the distance with him. Like Mike Tyson, he instills genuine fear in his opponents before the opening has even sounded. His power is quite possibly unmatched in the light heavyweight division.
 

     One long-time champion of the division, Adonis Stevenson, has been avoiding him like the plague. Stevenson, who Sergey calls “Chickenson,” even went as far as to sign with HBO rival Showtime to ensure that he would not have to clash with the “Krusher” inside of the squared circle.

     Andre Ward, on the other hand, is a defensive minded fighter. A hit and not be hit style that drives some fans to claim that they will not even watch his fights. He takes a slow methodical approach, waiting for his opponent to make a fundamental mistake and then he capitalizes on it. It is almost reminiscent of fellow pound for pound great Floyd Mayweather. The two fighter’s knockout percentages are almost identical, but unlike Floyd’s fights, the consequences for getting hit at 175 lbs is much more dire.
 

     Not all fans appreciate defensive wizardry at the highest levels of pugilism. It is understandable. As the saying goes it takes “two to tango.” As we have seen with other great defense first fighters such as Bernard Hopkins and Floyd Mayweather if the opposition refuses to take any chances there will not be a whole lot of actions. These are the type of fights that leave fans with a sour taste in their mouths and a feeling that they have wasted 36 minutes of their life. 

All The Makings of a Classic

     Boxer versus brawler is a kind of generic term that gets thrown around. Another way to put this fight is knockout artist versus point man. Neither one of those terms gives each fighter enough credit. They are both beyond great at fighting to what their skill set dictates. So how will this one go? It should be pretty interesting. Much more so than other fights that get this type of label. 

     Both men will do what they always do in the ring. Kovalev will come forward the entire fight and look to make Ward feel the power that he possesses in both hands. Conventional wisdom would say that he wants to make this an inside fight. Start working the body early to deteriorate Ward’s footwork, rendering him an isolated target and then look for a big right. Ward will be looking to only outland the Russian and conserve energy for the later rounds. Counter, move and then counter again. For every body shot that Kovalev lands “S.O.G.” needs to make him pay for it with a head shot, or possibly two. 

     Both men are going to look to establish their jabs early. Kovalev will have to land his jab to get inside and Ward will have to land his jab to keep the monster puncher at bay. Whoever establishes their jab first and maintains that edge will probably win the early rounds of the fight. Going into the later rounds the jab will be paramount to Kovalev’s success. If Ward can avoid damage to his body at the beginning of the bout, his jab may not be as important in the later rounds to obtain a victory. As the fight goes one Kovalev’s paced should slow down a bit and allowing Ward more of an opportunity to circle and counter for the duration. 

     Neither one of their game plans will be followed to the “T.” The other’s skills will simply not allow it to. The fight will be much more a war of skills rather than a war of wills. The biggest variable in the equation should be Kovalev’s power. If Sergey makes a mistake he probably pays with a one-two combo and it is back to the drawing board. Ward makes a mistake, and it is lights out. It cannot be stressed enough that Ward’s quickness must hold up for 12 rounds. Andre Ward has grown into 175 pounds quite well and looks very comfortable at the weight, but Kovalev should be the bigger man. 

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

     While the majority of fans watching from around the world will be going for Kovalev, the American is the favorite. Vegas and their wiseguys had the betting odds opened up at -125 for Ward. As of this writing, the line stands at -140. Kovalev is a slight underdog at +110. That suggest that the professional gambler’s money is coming in on Ward. For hardcore fans, this will be the biggest fight since Mayweather versus Pacquiao. Everyone seems to have an opinion one way to the other about this fight. There should be a lot of more casual gamblers laying money down at the window closer to fight night and we might see the line get a little closer to where it opened at. Unlike the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight, this is almost sure to excite. “Krusher’s” style and his unwavering search of a knockout all but insure it. If you do not buy this fight or go somewhere to watch it you will no longer be allowed to call yourself a fight fan. Outside of Gennady Golovkin versus Saul Alverez, there is really not a more fitting fight for a pay-per-view in the sport. So shell out your dough and invite some friends over because this should be a fight that we will talk about for the rest of time.