Andre Ward vs. Sergey Kovalev 2: Preview, predictions, start time, odds, tickets
Light heavyweight kings square off for a second time Saturday hoping for a definitive ending
It has become incredibly rare in recent years to find two boxers universally ranked in the top five pound-for-pound, who compete in the same division and -- wait for it -- are willing to fight each other.
It's even more rare when they get to do it a second time with just as much at stake.
Seven months after Andre Ward scored a controversial victory by unanimous decision over fellow unbeaten Sergey Kovalev, the world's best light heavyweights will do it again on Saturday, June 17, at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas (HBO PPV, 9 p.m. ET). Tickets for the fight are still available on Stubhub.com for around $63 to get in the door.
Kovalev (30-1-1, 26 KOs) attempts to prove that the trio of judges who scored the first bout 114-113 in favor of Ward. The native of Russia, who cried robbery in defeat, in hopes of removing the judges from the equation.
The fight also offers Ward (31-0, 15 KOs),for getting up off the canvas and making adjustments to outpoint Kovalev, a shot at a second victory against quite possibly the most dangerous fighter in the sport.
Let's take a closer look at how these two fighters match up.
Ward vs. Kovalev II tale of the tape
|Fighter||Andre Ward||Sergey Kovalev|
S.O.G. (Son of God)
31-0, 15 KOs
31-1-1, 26 KOs
WBA, WBO, IBF light heavyweight
Mikkel Kessler (TD11, 2009), Carl Froch (UD12, 2011), Kovalev (UD12, 2016)
Nathan Cleverly (TKO4, 2013), Bernard Hopkins (UD12, 2014), Jean Pascal (TKO8, 2015)
Ward (UD12, 2016)
What's at stake?
While both fighters were elevated to a degree from their performance in what was a dramatic and skillful fight last November, many of their skillets canceled each other out, which produced a tactical chess match instead of a career-defining fight.
Still, the opportunity to be called the sport's pound-for-pound best boxer remains very much in play entering the rematch, especially if the victor can do so in a much more convincing fashion than the first time around, which featured plenty of close yet uneventful rounds over the second half.
From a more tangible sense, Ward's unbeaten record will also be on the line, along with the trio of 175-pound titles he lifted from Kovalev. Despite the fact that WBC titleholder Adonis Stevenson continues to hold hostage the lineal championship he won by knocking out Chad Dawson with one punch in 2013, the winner of Ward-Kovalev II will also be able to call himself the best light heavyweight in the world thanks to Stevenson's sluggish matchmaking.
Kovalev will also have one last shot at restoring the destructive aura of invincibility he built in recent years. The contentious nature of the scorecards from their first fight gave him a mulligan of sorts, one that a second straight loss to Ward wouldn't be able to retain.
Who has the edge?
1. Power: If Kovalev isn't the single most destructive puncher in the sport, he's certainly the meanest inside the ring. Although he tends to do most of his damage from a finishing standpoint with his long right hand, his stiff jab is very much a weapon in its own right. Kovalev has proven an ability to end fights with one shot and alter opponent's fortunes with even a glancing blow. Ward was never a big puncher at 168 pounds but is accurate enough to make opponents pay. Advantage: Kovalev.
2. Speed: Kovalev is more athletic than he gets credit for and proved in the first fight that the gap in speed wasn't all that large. Still, it's Ward, who moved up from super middleweight in 2015, who enters with the faster hands and feet, supported well by his technical advantages. Advantage: Ward.
3. Defense: While Ward is more naturally inclined offensively than decorated risk minimizers like Floyd Mayweather and Guillermo Rigondeaux in recent years, the 2004 Olympic gold medalist remains one of the top defensive fighters of his era. He's quick, incredibly smart and does well to rely on his footwork to avoid opponents opportunities to plant and throw. He's also strong enough to prevent bigger fighters from taking advantage of him on the inside. Kovalev is very responsible defensively for a slugger and patient enough in his stalking attack to avoid the kind of reckless behavior which welcomes counter shots. Advantage: Ward.
4. Technique: Ward hasn't lost a fight of any kind since his teenage amateur days and great technique has always been the backbone of his success. From the accuracy of his punches to his timing and positioning, Ward is an artist with very few peers over the past eight years. He can also score cleanly from just about any angle or distance. Kovalev, meanwhile, has done well to balance out his game and showcased his pure boxing pedigree in a dominant victory over Bernard Hopkins in 2014. Advantage: Ward.
5. Intangibles: Kovalev's power will always be a game-changer that is in play from the opening bell in Round 1 until the fight ends. It's a wild card that Ward can simply not match. But like he showed in the first fight, there isn't an active fighter better at adapting to what his opponent is giving him and making the type of mid-fight adjustment to block his path to success. In that sense, Ward's boxing IQ is off the charts and he proved, along with showing his toughness, that he could figure out the key to Kovalev's lock and slowly disarm him of his weapons. Ward puts opponents in a position where they need to do something they have never done before in order to beat him and can win a fight against any style. Advantage: Ward.
Regardless who you believe won the first fight, it's difficult to contest that Ward forced Kovalev to fight at a pace and distance that was uncomfortable to him. How much of that, however, had to do with Kovalev's claim that he overtrained, which left him void of energy after Round 5, is a question the Russian will have to answer in the rematch.
Ward shook off an early knockdown and weakened Kovalev to the body in the first fight. And he stayed out of trouble by crowding Kovalev, which slowly took away his jab and right hand, while also exposing his opponent's inability to fight on the inside.
Veteran referee Tony Weeks will be the third man in the ring for the rematch, which could play into Ward's strategy considering Weeks' historically liberal stance on infighting. Weeks isn't quick to break up clinches, which allowed Marcos Maidana, for example, an avenue to success in his first fight against Floyd Mayweather that disappeared in their rematch.
Ward won't be the bigger fighter against Kovalev, but he's both strong enough and intelligent enough to know that slowing down the pace of the fight -- especially if things get hairy -- and tying Kovalev up after landing a single punch is a default option he can lean on. It's a strategy that did wonders for Wladimir Klitschko over the second half of his career and needs the right referee to enable.
If Kovalev has more energy in the rematch, which he claims will be the case after bringing in a new strength coach, the key to his success in swaying the judges will be activity. And should his jab disappear like it did in the first fight, so will his chances of winning a decision.
Going to the scorecards, of course, is something Kovalev would prefer skipping out on altogether. He has the thudding power to do so, which was on display when he floored Ward in Round 2 with an overhand right. But it's more likely a stoppage for Kovalev would come in the early rounds before Ward can make an adjustment, which makes the balance of how aggressive he comes out extremely important.
If Kovalev fights at a quicker pace, with a more nasty edge and is willing to take chances, and then he still doesn't finish Ward, the second half of the fight could very well mirror their first meeting as Ward is the wrong opponent to play chess with.
Pick: Ward survives an early storm to win a more convincing, yet very competitive unanimous decision.
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