Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev ready to face off again in fight of the year candidate

Boxing on TV: The two best light-heavyweights in the world fight in Las Vegas

Martin Hines
Saturday 17 June 2017 14:32
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Ward and Kovalev are the two best light-heavweights in the world
Ward and Kovalev are the two best light-heavweights in the world

One of the biggest fights of the year takes place tonight in Las Vegas when Andre Ward puts his WBA, IBF and WBO light heavyweight titles on the line against Russia’s Sergey Kovalev. Ward and Kovalev fought 12 gruelling rounds last November in their first fight, and their rematch is being touted as a potential classic.

Andre Ward remains one of the biggest enigmas in world boxing despite his many accomplishments. On the surface, he has done it all. An Olympic Games gold medal, multiple world titles across two weight divisions, a flawless 31-0 record and an intense intelligence all add up to create a phenomenal athlete, but he has consistently failed to achieve a significant reputation as a must-see fighter.

Perhaps the starkest account of his quiet reputation came when Anthony Joshua fought Wladimir Klitschko earlier this year at Wembley Stadium. Ward was filmed sitting next to promoter Jay-Z at the fight, but was photoshopped out of the picture by one cheeky fan who replaced his face with Barry Chuckle. Few noticed the inaccuracy until several hours later.

Ward was knocked down in the first encounter between the fighters

But boxing isn’t comedy, and Ward isn’t a man for jokes. Despite being the betting favourite ahead of his first bout with Kovalev, the undefeated American did not take his opponent lightly, and ultimately won the close bout by unanimous decision. Ward was knocked down by Kovalev in the second round and struggled to deal with the surprisingly fluid motions of the heavy-handed Russian.

The 33-year-old soaked up the pressure however, and began to feel his way into the fight from the middle round onwards. As Kovalev continued to move forward and engage, Ward’s own punches became sharper, his movement lighter and his attitude more positive. The final decision of a Ward win proved to be controversial, with Kovalev particularly irate following the announcement of the result.

Kovalev’s loss was the first of his professional career, but he remains convinced that technically and logistically he won the fight. The Russian has been a cerebral beast throughout his entire life, but has shown recently that he is as susceptible to emotion as any other human. Kovalev walked out of a press conference because of his annoyance with Ward, and though he contains frightening power and immense confidence, one has to wonder if his feelings will affect his performance tonight.

Ward is undefeated in his 31 fights

The questions will be swirling round his head even before the fight begins. Will he believe in the impartiality of the judges, does he have faith that this time he can stop Ward, and has he learnt enough over the past six months to deal with the man considered to be the best fighter on the planet?

November’s fight eschewed fireworks for fascination. There was no guts and glory, but instead two talented workhorses trying to out-jab, out-move and outwit their opponent. Tonight’s extravaganza could follow a different route. Rematches can result in yet more tactical battles, or in improved knowledge of apparent weaknesses. Ward/Kovalev II is billed as ‘No Excuses’, and with plenty of preparation plus the added bonus of 12 rounds already completed, we have to hope that a clean fight is finished with a decisive result.

The bookmakers have Ward a narrow 4/6 favourite, with Kovalev a 5/4 underdog. Odds this close reflect the competitive nature of the bout, and the sheer ambiguity of what may happen. Can Kovalev assert his early dominance once again, find the right hand often and stop Ward? Or will the American utilise his jab and movement from the opening stages? Genuine top level 50/50 bouts are rare in boxing, so tonight is a chance to marvel at the closeness.

In less warming news, a former Andre Ward victim gets the chance to fight for a world title yet again this evening. Despite not having beaten a fighter of any note since June 2013, Paul Smith has somehow wormed himself into another world title position. Whatever information Smith has on the boxing elite must be quite startling, because it makes zero sense as to why he keeps getting opportunities.

Kovalev's loss in the original match was the first of his career

Putting aside his lack of domestic, let alone international-level wins, Smith is dull in the ring, and frequently disdainful outside of it. Putting aside a victory over shopworn Tony Dodson, Smith’s nine wins since May 2011 have come against opponents with a combined 134-142-12 record. Yes he went 12 rounds with a past-prime Arthur Abraham in two of the most boring world title fights in living memory, but he has consistently failed when he has stepped up on any level.

You can’t decry a man for making a living, and this is definitely a case of not hating the player not the game, but when you compare Ward vs Kovalev with Paul Smith vs WBA super middleweight champion Tyron Zeuge, it’s like eating a filet mignon with a Capri-Sun.

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