By Charles Jay
I don’t know enough about Sergey Kovalev as a human being, but I’m assuming he’s a swell guy. Andre Ward is a fighter who is potentially a very good representative of the sport of boxing, if only enough people out there in the general public knew more about him. He shows you how articulate and analytical he can be in his occasional appearances as a commentator on HBO. And on Saturday night he can demonstrate his expertise right there in the ring for boxing bettors and fans of all ages as he takes on Kovalev for what is more or less the consensus light heavyweight championship of the world, taking place at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on pay-per-view. For the record, WBA, IBF and WBO titles will be on the line.
Neither of these fighters has tasted defeat as a professional. Ward is 30-0 with 15 KO’s, while Kovalev is 30-0-1 with 26 KO’s. If you wanted to generalize, you would say that Kovalev is the puncher – indeed, one of the more devastating punchers in the world, perhaps, on a pound-for-pound basis – while Ward is the boxer; the artist, if you will. That obviously presents the contrast in styles that makes this one of the better fights of the year, but when you add in the fact that Kovalev has some boxing skills and Ward has some genuine “pop” in his punch, it takes things to a new level.
Usually fighters who achieve world-class status tend to fight less frequently, but with Ward there were other factors thrown in, including squabbles of a contractual nature with promoters, so he went through a period where his activity was spotty, to say the least. In fact, he has fought just three times since November 2013.
In the boxing betting odds that have been posted on this fight by the folks at America’s Bookie, Ward is the favorite:
Andre Ward -175
Sergey Kovalev +145
Over 11.5 Rounds -200
Under 11.5 Rounds +160
Ward is a really good general around the ring; he moves well, usually hits what he is aiming at, and has a way of keeping his opponent off-balance. He’ll go to his left or to his right with equal adroitness, and understands how to use the jab to create distance, and he will throw combinations when the opportunity arises. If he was a baseball pitcher, he’d be the kind of guy who could “paint the corners.”
Does he have some power? Yes, he does. He is a converted southpaw, so he can bring the left hook. He might remind some people of Virgil Hill. But he throws the right hand better than Hill. And he is a better all-around boxer than Hill, at least in the opinion of this reporter.
If you are the kind of fighter who operates in such a manner in which you are looking to set up for one big shot, you stand a chance at getting eaten alive by Ward, because while he doesn’t have to run, he doesn’t have to engage to beat you either. He’ll just cut you up, little by little. He’s a technician, plain and simple.
The other side of the coin is that a guy like that, who is used to being in control in most of his fights, against a certain level of opposition (and I might add, who has fought relatively infrequently) can often become a lot less effective when he is really pressed. And from what I have seen from Kovalev, he has the ability to press this guy. Now, sometimes fighters keep coming and coming forward but they aren’t throwing enough punches. As far as Kovalev is concerned, he has power in both hands, and, to use boxing vernacular, he “isn’t afraid to use it.”
So what I’m saying is that if Kovalev wants to sit on that one big punch, he could find himself “sleepwalking” after a while against Ward. But if he is as busy as I have seen him at times, he is going to put enough pressure on to make Ward uncomfortable. Someone who fights like Ward is, in a manner of speaking, slowing down the fight, just like a football team might do when they are running the ball and running clock. He wants to make use of his expert ability to maintain his distance, keep Kovalev out on the end of his jab, throw his combinations when the opportunity presents itself, confound Kovalev once in a while by going southpaw, and keep him off-balance and unable to plant his feet to land many punches that are solid.
Kovalev could conceivably win a decision here, although one would have to believe that the game plan on the part of Ward is to outpoint his Russian opponent. Can Kovalev be industrious enough to make Ward work for three minutes of every round? If so, he can gain an edge. He could also test Ward’s chin. Remember, we have seen Ward, for the most part, at 168 pounds. And only half his wins have come inside the distance. So can he keep Kovalev from coming forward with impunity?
Great questions. I would favor Kovalev just a little bit, but as we continue the Charles Jay / America’s Bookie Challenge, I am much more interested in the distance proposition (over 11.5 rounds), which is priced at -200 at the moment.
(Charles Jay writes boxing analysis for AskTheBookie. He spent nearly two decades in the boxing industry as a matchmaker, agent. color commentator and manager of former cruiserweight champion Robert Daniels)