Andre Ward does not hit that hard, but he is difficult to hit cleanly. Even if you don’t think he beat Sergey Kovalev in November, he was at least close because of that ability to evade the worst a punch has to offer.
Ward was decked in the second round, but by the second half of the fight he fought like he had figured out Kovalev, and took the decision by a point on all three cards. This newspaper had Kovalev winning by a point, but Ward earned respect here.
Since he’s such a cerebral fighter with that ability to adjust, might Ward have an easier time with Kovalev in their rematch Saturday after having spent 12 rounds surveying Kovalev’s tendencies with that outstanding sweet-science brain?
We’ll find out when they square off at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas (on HBO pay-per-view).
“(Andre’s) IQ speaks for itself,” his longtime trainer, Virgil Hunter, said. “The worst mistake you can make is to underestimate an opponent’s IQ. We take it all the way to the top, whoever we’re fighting.
“The mindset is you’re the best in the world. You’re the best that ever did it. You don’t want to stop the bar at eight when you can get to 10.”
And what was the punch that played such a big role for Ward in November? A very quick left jab. You hear it all the time - boxing’s most important punch. Ward, of Oakland, is smart enough to believe it.
“The jab is a lost art today,” Ward said. “Skilled inside fighting is a really lost art and a lot of guys don’t want to be there. They want you at range. They want you in a certain place and if they can’t have you there, then you see a totally different fighter.”
Which is what Kovalev was in the second half of their fight seven months ago at T-Mobile Arena, when Ward rallied. Kovalev said he was gassed because he over-trained. Could be Ward’s craftiness played a role, as well as all the holding, about which Kovalev’s promoter Kathy Duva afterward said, “The ref (Robert Byrd) wasn’t doing his job.”
Again, we’re not talking about a guy who doesn’t know how to win a fight. Ward (31-0, 15 KOs) knows how to better than most. When we hear Kovalev’s trainer talk, we wonder if Team Kovalev is taking the right approach to this second go-round. Are they trying to get better, or are they laying all their eggs in the basket that says they won the first fight, so they don’t have to?
“Honestly, if you look at it, Sergey is not going to have to do much more than what he did because he proved to the fans in the first half of the fight that he can win it at Ward’s own game,” said trainer John David Jackson. “Now what he needs to do is be more aggressive and effective in the second half of the fight the way he did in the first half of the fight.”
What Kovalev, of Russia, needs to do is figure out how to get through Ward’s defense, period. If he doesn’t, Ward is going to out-box him over 12 rounds and win a decision about which no one can complain.
Kovalev (30-1-1, 26 KOs) wants to get back the three light heavyweight championship belts he lost to Ward in the worst way. If he tries to get them by going into this too angry because he doesn’t think he deserved to lose them, that’s a mistake against Ward.
He is mad, though. When he was asked for a prediction last week, that was clear.
“I don’t have a prediction,” Kovalev said. “I just have one goal - to beat all (expletive) from him because he doesn’t deserve the belts and status of a champion. He now is really high, his nose, and walking everywhere and don’t see the people around him.
“I want to put him back in his place.”
I don’t like the idea that Floyd Mayweather Jr. (49-0, 26 KOs) and Conor McGregor are going to tangle Aug. 26 in Las Vegas. If you read this space in late March, you’d know that. But the fight is going to happen, so it’s time to report on what we are hopeful doesn’t turn out to be the ridiculously one-sided bout most are predicting.
One thing is certain, McGregor is no wimp. Ask Nate Diaz. During a conference call Wednesday evening officially announcing Mayweather-McGregor, UFC president Dana White was asked about McGregor’s fighting spirit. White sang his praises
“It’s absolutely true,” White said. “And I think you can’t help but feel it, and it’s what makes ... when you’re a true fight fan, you don’t mind hearing about the money and all that other stuff if it’s a guy that loves to fight and is willing to challenge himself against anybody out there, you know, and fights all out.”
White was asked what will happen if McGregor forgets himself in the heat of battle reverts to MMA rules and starts throwing kicks, etc. White discounted that notion.
“That will not happen,” White said. “First of all, obviously, that is absolutely in the contract, number one. And, number two, this is a boxing match under the Nevada State athletic commission under the rules of boxing.
“When you talk about a guy of Floyd Mayweather’s level and value in the sport in the things like that, I mean the lawsuit if that ever happened would, you know, Conor likes money, man, and Conor would depart with a lot of money if that ever happened. So, yes, that will not happen.” Showtime will televise on its pay-per-view arm.