Ward vs Kovalev II: The Fight City Picks

Given how suspenseful their first encounter was; given that the combatants are, by universal consensus, among the top five boxers on the planet; given that some very real and deeply felt animosity exists between the two — given all of this, the rematch between Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev for most of the light heavyweight title belts should be an absolutely huge event. Alas, it is indisputable that the buzz surrounding Ward vs Kovalev II is decidedly of the low wattage variety. Now happening under the long shadow cast by the announcement of the huger-than-huge Floyd vs Conor circus, the truth is there are few better bouts that boxing can offer right now than this one. Thus, this should be one of the year’s must-see matches, but judging from the lack of hype and the low volume of the barely existent social media chatter, it’s not.

But perhaps this shouldn’t be a major surprise. When we reflect on the fallout from the initial encounter last November, we must confront the fact that while Ward vs Kovalev I was an intense and highly competitive contest, it was also marred by a final verdict that left most fans dissatisfied, a fact validated by the boos the crowd at the T-Mobile Arena offered in response to the official result, as well as the fact that fully 75% of media members polled afterwards scored the bout in favour of “Krusher,” most by a margin of three or more points. Once again, instead of highlighting the performances in the ring and the excitement of a hard-fought battle, boxing instead drew attention to its perennial dysfunction and its inability to separate winners and losers with conviction.

One can’t help but think that there’s a lesson to be learned here, that we might draw the obvious link between less-than-satisfying conclusions and a lack of excitement surrounding a rematch which should be cause for keen anticipation. But of course this is asking too much of this deeply flawed sport. Significant measures to improve officiating in boxing are clearly not a priority when a simple request to have neutral judges at ringside (ie. from countries other than the United States), something we’ve seen many times in the past, is quashed.

All we can hope for then is a contest which is at least as riveting as the one we saw seven months ago, plus a final outcome that is truly definitive, but this remains only a hope. And given how competitive their first meeting was, as well as the fact both men are more than capable of bringing something new to the ring this time around, evaluating and prognosticating Ward vs Kovalev II is just as daunting a task as it was when they first locked up.

But this will not deter our merry band from making their picks on who is going to prevail Saturday night. Choosing winners is essentially guesswork, but here at The Fight City we’re talking highly educated guesses. And then there’s video picks collected by Manny Montreal from trainers and actual prizefighters, including picks from two men watching this match with great personal interest: Eleider Alvarez and Adonis Stevenson. The result is a plethora of predictions which may or may not help you make your own pick for a fight that should be more eagerly anticipated than it is. Herewith, The Fight City picks for what could, and should, be one of the best and biggest fights of 2017, Ward vs Kovalev II:

No one can possibly accuse me of being an Andre Ward fan, and yet my scorecard had S.O.G. the winner by a razor-thin margin. I don’t believe in re-watching fights with the explicit purpose of re-scoring them, since it’s inevitable your updated score will be influenced by all the vitriol spewed on social media following fight night and all the articles you’ve read since. The better option is to have the fighters throw down again right away, which is what we get Saturday night.

Contrary to what Ward has pointed out, Kovalev saying he was tired during the second half while also claiming he was robbed by the judges is not a contradiction. If anything, it should worry Ward that Kovalev thinks he won handily on a night where he says he performed far from his best. However, it will be up to the Russian to back up that statement, and he’ll have to do so while fighting a master boxer who already had the chance to study him for 12 rounds. Moreover, Ward already knows what it feels like to be punched in the face by the Krusher, so unless Kovalev has prepared something new to surprise Ward with, he’ll have to get lucky to land something big. Meanwhile, Ward only has to avoid mistakes, and perhaps up his activity rate a bit, to get a clear win in front of three American judges. Thus, the pick is Ward by points in a bout slightly easier to score than the first one.     — Rafael Garcia

I’ve asked so many people about this fight I’m not even sure anymore. Whichever way it goes, I just hope we get a clear answer. If Kovalev wins, the chances of him facing off against the winner of Adonis vs Alvarez are interesting to me. On the other hand, if Ward wins, Montreal might get a Ward vs Artur Beterbiev showdown. Bottom line: Kovalev’s a hunter and last time he came close, but he didn’t bag his prey. This time I’m betting he comes better prepared and ready to make the kill.       — Manny Montreal

During the first half of their previous meeting, Ward was continually caught on his heels by Kovalev’s heavy jab, which was thrown either as a lead, or following a right-hand feint or cross. Kovalev also prevented Ward from working when he got inside by locking up his head and arms. But all the wrestling, along with Ward’s body punching and multi-functional “up” jab, eventually took its toll on Kovalev, who became less effective as the bout progressed.

The winner of Ward vs Kovalev II will be determined by adjustments. What exactly those adjustments will be, however, is anyone’s guess. If I were to take a stab at it, I’d say Ward might be tighter with his footwork and box more in a circle. He may also look to counter more off of blocks, parries and upper body movement. Ward proved an elusive target when he stood his ground, blocking and ducking Kovalev’s punches, as opposed to backing straight up where he was quickly closed down and sent reeling. Of course, Ward will want to shorten the range more often so that he can nullify Kovalev’s long game and throw bent-arm punches to head and body; Ward’s short left hook is probably his most potent weapon, but its effectiveness is contingent on distance.

Ward celebrates his controversial win.

For Kovalev, he must maintain distance and somehow deter Ward from wanting to fight inside. He can’t afford to wrestle with Ward round after round. If he does, he will wear himself out again. John David Jackson may have shown Kovalev a few tricks on the inside, but proper in-fighting takes years to master, so I seriously doubt Kovalev will be able to actively compete with Ward at close-quarters. Instead, I think Kovalev and Jackson will have focused their efforts on how best to take advantage of Ward as he moves inside. Ward likes to slip or duck under the jab to close the gap, so Kovalev could pre-empt this by aiming lower with his jab, or by feinting the jab to draw the slip and then coming underneath with the uppercut. I suspect Kovalev will also target Ward’s body more with the jab this time.

Kovalev might try and take matters into his own hands — and out of the judges’ — by pushing harder for the KO, but doing so could instead play into Ward’s hands, especially if Kovalev’s emotions get the better of him. Still, if the fight does end in a knockout, realistically there is only one man getting it. Ward is physically very strong, but he only has discouraging punching power at 175, whereas Kovalev has one-punch, fight-ending power. And although Ward got up off the floor after tasting Kovalev’s power last time, the right hand that sent him there wasn’t delivered cleanly as Kovalev’s arm wasn’t near full extension on impact.

All things considered, I think we might be in for another closely contested 12 round battle. I picked Kovalev to win by decision last time and I scored it 115-112 in his favor. But historically, it’s the superior technician who tends to fare better in rematches, and I sense this one will follow suit. Ward by decision.        — Lee Wylie 

Andre Ward already answered one of the match-up’s biggest questions by showing he could get up after taking Kovalev’s power. If “Krusher” is going to stop Ward this time, he needs to land with more consistency, and that is something I just can’t see him doing. Which means the rematch has “points decision” written all over it. Last time I picked Ward by unanimous decision, though the match was closer than I expected. I see another fairly close call on the cards this time in a fight that will be engrossing rather than dramatic. Kovalev’s aggression will likely see him claim he was robbed again, but I think Ward will walk away a deserving points winner without the controversy of the first fight.

— Matt O’Brien

As much as I thought Kovalev deserved to get the nod in the first fight, I am not confident in his ability to make the necessary adjustments the second time around. Ward has more versatility as a fighter and will come in with a better gameplan for the rematch. Ward by decision.       — Jamie Rebner

Conventional wisdom suggests that Andre Ward should be able to pick up from where he left off against Sergey Kovalev, which has led many to believe that S.O.G should be able to negate the Krusher’s right hand, control the action with his powerful jab, and bother the Russian with cagey in-fighting. While Kovalev can certainly improve on his first performance, Ward now know what it means to taste his power, and he’s proven he can get up and bully the bully — even if he still deserved to lose last November. This time, Ward gets it right from the opening bell and wins a deserved and competitive decision.  — Zachary Alapi

The extreme dislike between Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev seems real, but whether or not that leads to an explosive rematch is another story. Unless Kovalev is so blinded by emotion that he charges forward in a way that simply cannot be stopped, I have a feeling Ward will be more wary of what he’s up against this time and box more intelligently from the outset. I’d be very interested to see how Ward handles a legitimate defeat, but I suspect that won’t happen. Ward by deserved decision.      — Patrick Connor

Andre Ward showed what he was made of by turning around as bad of a start he probably could have imagined against a stronger, more physically imposing foe, making the necessary adjustments to win a close, if not controversial, victory over Sergey Kovalev. To Kovalev’s detriment, he isn’t the kind of fighter that can make those same adjustments after years of wantonly beating on opponents who gave little to no resistance. To my mind, the chances are Kovalev cannot bring something to the rematch Ward hadn’t already seen. I also feel Kovalev may not be able to control himself after months of seething anger and racial tirades towards Ward and he might expend more energy than last time. Either way, Andre Ward is a fighter you shouldn’t let have a second look at you and it will show as he’ll win a controversy free decision and solidify his claim as boxing’s pound-for-pound best.         — Danny Howard

I’m picking Sergey Kovalev to get his revenge after another chess match kind of fight this Saturday. I believe Kovalev showed a lot of respect for Ward’s intellect last November. Ward was able to confuse Sergey by adjusting brilliantly and executing an effective body attack in their first meeting. I believe he will have his moments again this Saturday, just not enough of them.

Fighting angry is usually a bad idea, especially when fighting an opponent as smart as Andre Ward. But in my opinion, an angry Kovalev will refuse to fight Ward’s kind of fight. Therefore I see him charging aggressively, thinking less, and using his own intellect to provide answers for Ward’s adjustments and acting on them quickly. The fight will go 12 rounds again; Andre Ward will taste the canvas, again. The difference will be that the tides won’t be turning this time around. I see Kovalev winning by a clear decision. Yet again, the always crafty Ward could make my prediction look foolish, and it won’t be the first time he does so.    — Alfonso Jasso

This time around Kovalev and his camp will fight with a bit more desperation as they realize that they probably cannot win a decision. Kovalev also knows that he can drop and hurt Ward and he will be more aggressive throughout the fight. Expect a more brutal affair from both sides. Kovalev by TKO.         — Chris Connor

First things first: I don’t for a second believe Hunter’s assertion that they’ve trained to knock Kovalev out. Sure if it comes, it comes, but I think Ward will stay true to form and look to fight smart and frustrate his opponent while Kovalev will be more intent on keeping things at range. I’ll be surprised if we see any major deviation from the outcome of the last fight. I think Ward is savvy enough to avoid being knocked out and he knows the risk of being too greedy. I think Kovalev will try to assert himself more with the jab, pace himself and be measured and patient. For me it depends on how much of him flagging last time was bad prep and how much was Ward’s sneaky body work.  I feel Kovalev knows what worked last time; he knows what he needs to do better this time, and Ward by contrast has to hope his own arsenal is sufficient and that Kovalev can’t improve enough. I’m taking a little risk here and saying Kovalev on points in another close fight.             — Damien Burton 

I’m one of the few who thought Ward clearly won the first one. To make things even worse for myself, I’m favoring him to win again. Though I have to admit that Kovalev being out for blood is somewhat frightening. Still. Ward’s skill, and perhaps the partial preference judges may have for his technical style, will carry the night for him.
— Sean Crose

While his image as a ruthless and incredibly powerful KO artist belies this, the truth is Kovalev, by nature, is a rather conservative boxer, more a methodical and patient stalker than a run-and-gun destroyer. If he senses he can move in and overwhelm an opponent, he’ll do so, but otherwise he likes to take his time and patiently break his opponent down punch by punch. I think he knows he was a bit too patient and reserved the first time around and he’s not going to make the same mistake twice. At some point he’s going to hurt Andre, and when he does, unlike in the first fight, he’s going to unleash hell with an intense and sustained attack. Kovalev by TKO.    — Robert Portis

An angry Kovalev addresses Ward before leaving yesterday’s pres conference.

I expect Ward vs Kovalev II to be somewhat similar to their first clash. I thought Kovalev got the best of Ward, even though the judges ruled differently, and I feel he will do so again in the rematch. I certainly expect Ward to have his moments but, as Kovalev proved in the first contest, he can be successful with his jab, which is better than Ward’s and when the two get close, Kovalev’s power is clearly a legitimate factor. I do not expect Ward will have that surprised look on his face after the scorecards are read this time. Kovalev by decision.             — Thad Moore

Talking with various boxing people at different events, the consensus is this is Ward’s fight to lose. And the logic is difficult to dispute: “S.O.G.” is the more versatile fighter who can better manage the tactical adjustments that come with a rematch. But I think Kovalev is being underestimated. After all, in the opinion of many, including myself, he got the better of Ward in the first fight. Yes, it was highly competitive with two or three “swing rounds,” but at the final bell one fighter was certain he’d won, while the other was pleasantly surprised when the verdict went his way. I believe the significance of this is being overlooked. My take is the mental advantage lies with the Russian, who knows he can hurt Ward and is certain he deserved the win last November. Meanwhile Ward is under more pressure; he must up his game significantly to justify expectations and demonstrate his superiority. I envision a more active and aggressive “Krusher” imposing his will on Saturday night and methodically breaking Ward down. Kovalev by decision or late round TKO.        — Michael Carbert  

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