Monday, June 12, 2017

The Boxing Glove Big Fight Preview: Ward vs Kovalev II: Repeat Or Revenge

By Peter Silkov

In what is undoubtedly one of this years most eagerly anticipated fights, and one of boxing's most intriguing rematches for some time, Andre Ward (31-0, 15koes) meets Segey Kovalev (30-1-1, 26koes) on June 17th, in an effort to prove who is the premier boxer at 175 pounds. This is Ward's first defence of the WBA, IBF, and WBO world light-heavyweight titles that he took from Kovalev last November, after being given a decision, that many think he didn’t deserve. In their first fight, ‘the Krusher’ looked to have won the first 6 rounds pretty clearly (including scoring a 2nd round knockdown) with Ward coming more into the fight in the last half of the contest, but not doing enough to win a decision, especially with Kovalev having strong 10th and 12th rounds.

Photo: HBO
 After the fight, a poll of the media found that out of 63 sources, 46 scored the fight for Kovalev, 16 for Ward, and 1 scored it a draw. It was a match that saw Kovalev score the better more solid punches, while Ward looked to stall and frustrate ‘The Krusher.’ Much of Ward's work was centred around not letting Kovalev work and then countering with some light punches of his own. While it is true that Ward did show some good boxing skills at times, he never seemed to dominate at any part of the contest. In addition to this, Ward's excessive holding, which started after he was floored in the second, marred what was otherwise a good fight, and went a long way to breaking up Kovalev's rhythm as the fight went on. In the end it can be said that, if Ward indeed deserved to win the fight (which this writer doesn’t feel he did), it was more due to what he didn’t allow Kovalev to do, rather than what he actually did himself.

Kovalev has said himself that he was over trained for the first fight, and was fighting on an empty tank after the 5th round. This might well be one of the reasons why he seemed unable to stop Wards spoiling tactics as the fight went past the halfway mark.

 The rematch in seven days time promises to be a fascinating fight. With both men saying that they will do a better job this time, it could well be one of those rematches, which surpass the original. Certainly ‘The Krusher’ will be looking to exert far more pressure upon Ward in this fight than in their first contest. Despite his noted power, Kovalev is more a boxer than an out and out slugger, but in his first encounter with Ward he may well have made the mistake of being too patient, and boxing too much, when more high intensity pressure was what was really
needed. After he knocked Ward down in the 2nd round, Kovalev thought that he had plenty of time to catch Ward again, but ofcourse this didn’t happen. Perhaps partly due to the stamina problems which he has alluded too since. This time Kovalev will be looking to capitalise very quickly if he has Ward hurt at any time. If it is true that Kovalev was overtrained in the first fight, then this could be very bad news for Ward, who had his hands full with ‘the Krusher’ in November. If Kovalev is stronger and fitter this time round then Ward himself will have to up his game quite considerably if he is to retain his title.

For the defending champion, this fight offers a chance to put the record straight and silence the doubters. There are still many who feel that Ward is not a genuine champion as he gained the championship through a dubious decision. For a man who is hailed by some as the best boxer in the world ‘pound for pound’ the controversy surrounding November's match is an embarrassment and annoyance.

Photo: The Independent
The run up to this rematch has seen an increase in the bad blood between Ward and Kovalev, and has included the exchange of various insults and innuendoes on both sides. This is a fight that both men are determined not to lose, perhaps even more so than in their first meeting.

One worry for Kovalev might be that like the first fight in November, the judges, and referee are all from America. With the fight once more hosted in Las Vegas (only this time at the Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino, rather than the T-Mobile Arena) so once more, Ward will have a distinct home advantage. While one would not like to question the integrity of the officials concerned in this rematch, it is curious that such a big world title fight, between two fighters of such opposite nations, is not balanced by neutral judges. Certainly it is hoped that referee, Tony Weeks, manages Ward's penchant for holding far better than referee, Robert Byrd, did in November.

There are strong indications that this rematch could surpass the first fight for excitement and spectacle. If Kovalev is much improved and fitter than last November he will force Ward to fight harder than he did in the first fight. A more active Kovalev will be much harder to contain than in the first fight, and Ward will be forced to be more active himsel,f and rely less upon his spoiling tactics. The big question for Ward is... can he fight better than he did in November? Ward himself will try to make the fight a carbon copy of their first encounter. Like it or not, if the fight goes the distance, and is close and competitive, then Ward will be a heavy favourite to get the nod of the judges once more. Another close and controversial decision is very possible. ‘The Krusher’ has to try and take things into his own hands and make himself a clear winner. He certainly seems to have the power to hurt Ward, but does he have the power to stop or knockout Ward.

Much depends upon who can improve most from the first fight.

I think this is a fight, which Kovalev needs to win by stoppage, as I just don’t see him gaining a decision over Ward in Las Vegas. Hopefully however, my cynicism is wrong, and if the fight goes the full 12 rounds, then we will see a fair point's verdict, given to whomever it is that deserves it. 

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