By Ian S Palmer
One of the most anticipated rematches in recent boxing history will be taking place at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas this Saturday, June 17th when unbeaten Andre Ward of Oakland, California takes on Russia’s Sergey Kovalev for Ward’s WBO/IBF and WBA Light Heavyweight Championships. Ward took the titles in a highly controversial unanimous decision in Vegas back on November 19th by scores of 114-113 across the board. The 12-round bout can be seen on pay-per-view in North America while British fans can catch the action live on Sky Sports 1.
The 34-year-old Kovalev has an impressive mark of 29-1-1 along with 26 Kos to his name and has fought 126 rounds since turning pro in 2009. His draw came against Grover Young in 2011 after the fight was stopped in the second round due to an accidental foul and Young couldn’t continue. Kovalev has a 72.5-inch reach and is 6-feet tall. As his record indicates, he’s basically a KO artist with an 81 per cent knockout ratio and has enough power in his fists to drop opponents with both body and head shots. He’s an exceptional offensive boxer who also has a pretty good defence and a solid chin.
Kovalev likes to establish his snapping jab and usually punches in flurries rather than depending on one big shot. He’s beaten the likes of Isaac Chilemba, Jean Pascal (twice), Bernard Hopkins, Blake Caparello, Gabriel Campillo, Darnell Boone and Nathan Cleverly. The Russian is a good boxer/puncher, but can also get frustrated in the ring by an elite boxer, which is what Ward is. Kovalev won’t hesitate to slug it out with Ward since the American isn’t known for his power, but he also needs to make sure he doesn’t underestimate that power by just walking in.
The 33-year-old Ward is undefeated and also a contender for the best pound-for-pound boxer on the planet. He has a perfect record of 31-0 with 15 Kos and this will be just his fourth outing as a full-fledged light heavyweight. Ward is 6-feet tall and has a reach of 71 inches, which means he’s the same height as Kovalev with a slightly shorter reach. He’s fought 230 rounds since turning pro in 2004 and isn’t known as a big power puncher with his knockout ratio currently being 48 per cent. The American also has a wealth of amateur experience as he was a gold-medal winner at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece.
Ward’s an excellent technical boxer, but to be honest, most of his contests can get quite boring because he’s usually a bit too good for his opponent and lacks one-punch power. This isn’t to underestimate or take anything away from Ward though as he has all of the skills required to be a Grade A world champion. He’s beaten some top-notch opponents over the years such as Kovalev, Carl Froch, Chad Dawson, Arthur Abraham, Mikkel Kessler, Edison Miranda and Sakio Bika. He has solid, but not overwhelming power and is basically the complete package when it comes to being an excellent overall boxer.
Kovalev took control early in the first fight and dropped Ward in the second round. However, much like Wladimir Klitschko did when he decked Anthony Joshua in April, Kovalev let his opponent off the hook by not showing a killer instinct and going for the knockout. You can bet both Kovalev and Klitschko won’t make that mistake again if they’re faced with the same situation. Kovalev let Ward back into the fight at the American started to utilize his superior boxing skills to climb back on the scorecards. Still, it was a very close call which could have gone either way.
I thought Ward would win the first bout since it’s unlikely Kovalev was going outbox him. Kovalev’s only chance was to stop him and only has himself to blame by not going for the knockout, especially after Ward hit the canvas. Kovalev doesn’t want to get into an all-out slugfest right from the get-go either. What he does want to do is press the action and force Ward onto the back foot all three minutes of every round. Kovalev needs to land something solid early on again, but needs to make sure he doesn’t leave himself open for Ward’s effective counterpunches. Ward will again utilize his mobility and boxing skills to try and rack up points and will only go for a stoppage if he obviously hurts Kovalev. I believe Kovalev is determined to go for a stoppage this time and have a feeling he’ll win his belts back.