By Paul Mason (@KOBoxingSets)
This Saturday (17th June) sees two premier Pound for Pound list operators meet for the second time, as Andre “S.O.G.” Ward (31-0, KO15) tackles the Russian wrecking ball Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev (30-1-1, KO26) for the WBA (Super) IBF, WBO, and Ring Magazine Championships at Light Heavyweight. The Mandalay Bay events centre in Las Vegas is the venue. Sky Sports televise live in the UK, while HBO is the broadcaster in the USA.
The first fight was much tighter and entertaining than expected, in the magnificent T Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, as Ward eked out a 114-113 victory on all three scorecards, in a fight that literally could have gone either way. It certainly wasn’t a robbery or “home cooking” as team Kovalev have protested ever since the decision was announced, but it was a fight that divided opinion, and its good the return happens immediately following their November 2016 meeting. Ward was stunningly dropped in the second round, which led Kovalev’s handlers to believe that was the difference in the fight and their man should have won. Rounds were difficult to score and I couldn’t make a solid case either way.
Andre Ward turned professional in 2004, after striking Gold for the USA at the Athens Olympics in the same year. Ward was a heavily decorated amateur, and it is said that he hasn’t lost a paid or unpaid contest since February 1998 as a thirteen year old. He stopped Chris Molina in two rounds at the Staples Centre on his professional debut. After six straight wins, Ward met Darnell Boone in Portland, Oregon. Ward was knocked down for the first time in his career in the fourth, but recovered to take a unanimous decision by one, two and four points. Ward moved to 20-0 without much incident, boxing in such places as St Lucia (Roger Cantrell, W TKO5) and The Cayman Islands (Jerson Ravelo, W TKO8). After beating Shelby Pudwill in September 2009 (KO3) Ward finally looked to break through after being selected to take part in a six man tournament on Showtime to crown one undisputed Super Middleweight Champion. This was alongside establish World level operators in Mikkel Kessler, Jermain Taylor, Arthur Abraham, Carl Froch and Andre Dirrell.
Ward entered the Super Six World Boxing Classic as an unknown but rated quantity. It only took one fight to confirm his credentials, when he met the respected 42-1 Dane, Mikkel Kessler for the WBA (Super) Super Middleweight Title. In a fight that Kessler was favourite to win, Ward mauled and bullied his way to victory. An accidental head butt opened a cut over Kessler’s right eye in the tenth round, which is what caused referee Jack Reiss to stop the bout in the eleventh and send it to the scorecards for a technical decision. Ward won widely to be crowned Champion. Tournament substitute Allan Green then lost every round against Ward in his first defence, and Ward followed this up with a near shut out in a none tournament Title defence against Sakio Bika. Ward moved on to the semi-finals of the tournament, and was fast emerging as the favourite for the trophy. He met Arthur Abraham and easily widely outpointed the German based Armenian in California.
The final pitted Ward against Carl Froch, a man who had bounced back from defeat against Kessler by schooling Abraham in Finland and enduring a harder than expected twelve round tussle with Glen Johnson in the Semis. Froch couldn’t quite get to grips with the slippery Ward, and lost out unanimously, making Ward the Super Six Champion, as well as picking up Froch’s WBC Title, and retaining his WBA crown in the process. Ward followed this up by meeting Chad Dawson, the Light Heavyweight World Champion, who came down in weight for the fight. Ward dropped Dawson in rounds 3, 4 and 10 before the referee stopped the fight in the tenth. Ward was then due to meet Kelly Pavlik, but sustained a shoulder injury, keeping him out of action for fourteen months and the fight was scrapped. Ward was stripped of his WBC title in this time for failing to defend.
Ward spent most of 2013 recovering from injuries, and feuding with promoter Dan Goossen, over the inclusion of a co-manager in Ward’s promotional contract. The case has been to court or arbitration on 3 separate occasions. Each time, Goossen was deemed in the right. Ward defended his WBA and Ring titles against unbeaten Edwin Rodriguez in Ontario, California in November 2013 with a wide unanimous decision in a scrappy fight where both boxers were deducted two points each by referee Jack Reiss and told to clean up the contest. Ward then spent the whole of 2014 on the sidelines due to contractual issues, but Goossen passed away in September 2014 in the midst of the feud, leaving Ward’s career further in jeopardy. Ward came back again in June 2015. Liverpool’s Paul Smith was selected as the opponent for a 172lbs catchweight contest. Smith inexplicably came in 4.4lbs. over the agreed limit and was walloped to defeat in nine rounds via stoppage. Ward had won every round until this point. Ward finally vacated the WBA Title at Super Middleweight to concentrate on chasing the big fish at Light Heavyweight.
Ward made his Light Heavyweight debut, again in his home town of Oakland, against Sullivan Barrera. Barrera was down in the third, and again Ward widely won on the cards. The road to Kovalev was paved in his following fight, when Ward gained a WBO ranking in August 2016 by winning every round against Alexander Brand in Oakland to win the WBO International Title. He then met Kovalev later that year.
Sergey Kovalev also had a decent unpaid career, racking up a reported 195-18 record and winning domestic titles. His progress was halted due to the emergence of Artur Beterbiev, which forced Kovalev to leave the national team and turn professional in 2009. In a low key start to his career, Kovalev boxed in various out posts across the USA, and racked up nine straight stoppage wins before he too struggled with the wily Darnell Boone. Kovalev squeezed past Boone via split decision, by one point on two scorecards, and losing on the third by one point. Sergey then moved to 16-0 before Grover Young blotted his record, earning a technical draw after being unable to continue in the second following an accidental foul. Next in a brutal fight in December 2011, Kovalev stopped Roman Simakov in his native Russia in seven. After being counted out, Simakov lost consciousness and was removed from the ring on a makeshift stretcher. He underwent brain surgery but never regained consciousness and died three days later.
Kovalev then stopped old foe Boone in two rounds in June 2012, and three more third round stoppages, including one over former contender Gabriel Campillo, earned “Krusher” a shot at the World Title. Welshman Nathan Cleverly was unbeaten in 26 and the WBO Light Heavyweight Champion, but was no match on the night for Kovalev. Cleverly was down twice in the third and stopped in the fourth, and couldn’t handle the Russians power shots. Kovalev was then seemingly on a collision course with WBC champion, Adonis Stevenson, and he fought on the same bill as the Canadian in Quebeq. Kovalev knocked out Ismayl Sillakh in two, while Stevenson stopped Britain’s Tony Bellew in 6. The Stevenson fight hasn’t materialised, and this is much due to Stevenson himself being reluctant to meet the best in the division.
Kovalev carried on regardless, knocking out Cedric Agnew in seven in March 2014, and stopping Blake Capparello in two in August. This set up a big fight with the legend that is Bernard Hopkins. The then 49 year old Hopkins came into the fight as the WBA (Super) and IBF Champion, and Kovalev put his WBO title on the line too. Hopkins was dropped in the very first round but managed to take Kovalev the full twelve rounds for the first time in his career. The Russian took a very wide unanimous decision. Sergey followed this up by stopping Jean Pascal in Canada in eight, and knocking out the limited Nadjib Mohammedi in three. Kovalev then re-matched Pascal and went one round better, stopping the Haitian in seven this time. He then had a homecoming fight in Russia, outpointing the awkward Isaac Chilemba unanimously after dropping him in the seventh. This then led to a mega fight with Ward.
And so to this Saturdays bout. I can see Ward being smarter and cuter this time, making for a less entertaining spectacle than the first contest. For this not to happen, Kovalev will need to force the pace and make Ward work more than he normally would. I can’t see Ward making the same mistakes and for that reason I think he will win handily on the cards.
The undercard is relatively bare, apart from the long awaitied return of Cuban Amateur starlet Guillermo Rigondeaux (17-0) defending his WBA (Super) Super Bantamweight Title against Moises Flores (25-0).
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