By John J. Raspanti
On November 19, at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nev., two undefeated fighting machines will face off in the ultimate "Show me what you got" fight.
This is what boxing is all about--two fighters, equally gifted, in a 50-50 match.
Both are undefeated. Both are champions. Neither has come remotely close to losing a boxing match in years.
Kovalev, 33, turned professional in 2009. His amateur career had been a good one—highlighted by capturing a gold medal at the World Military Championships in 2007. He knocked out 16 of his first 18 opponents, but his pro career seemed stuck in neutral until he was signed by promoter Kathy Duva three years ago.
He picked up his first world title in 2013 by pummeling Nathan Cleverly in four dominant rounds.
Kovalev’s most impressive victories have been over future Hall of Famer Bernard Hopkins,who was expected to tame the man dubbed "Krusher," and former champion Jean Pascal, whom Kovalev sent to Dreamland twice.
Even at age 49, Hopkins would be far too crafty for Kovalev. He’d use his superior technique to frustrate the champion. Sounds good, right?
A minute into the fight, Hopkins found himself on the canvas, courtesy of a right hand. Kovalev won every round, showing a versatility that many thought he didn’t possess. The beatdown was the worst ever suffered by Hopkins.
Ward, the 2004 Olympic gold medalist, hasn’t lost a fight since he was 12. His management team brought him along slowly.
Experts questioned his move to compete in the Super-Six World Boxing Classic in 2009. Better known fighters like Carl Froch, Arthur Abraham, and WBA super middleweight titleholder Mikkel Kessler, were considered the favorites to win the tournament.
Many considered Ward an afterthought.
He went into the ring facing Kessler as a decided underdog. A minute into the fight, Ward’s superiority was evident. Kessler looked for answers but ate punches for 11 rounds until the fight was stopped due to a bad cut over his right eye.
Ward would go on to defeat Sakia Bika, Allan Green, and Abraham. He met Froch for the Super-Six trophy in Atlantic City, NJ,in 2011. Ward boxed circles around the Nottingham battler, winning an easy 12-round decision. In 2011, Ward squared off against the reigning light heavyweight champion of the world Chad Dawson.
He stopped Dawson in 10 rounds.
Kovalev was asked during a recent media conference call if he considers Ward the best fighter he’s ever faced.
“We’ll find out on November nineteenth,” replied Kovalev. “I don’t know, but I think so, yes.”
Ward, 32, was asked the same question back in September.
“Everybody knows what he brings to the table,” said Ward. “He’s the champion. He’s defended his championship. So, he’s the real deal. Obviously, I see weaknesses and different things that we’re going to exploit or we want to exploit.”
Styles make fights.
Ward and Kovalev are true opposites.
Kovalev (30-0-1, 26 KOs) wears boxers down. He’s methodical and deadly. He’s not flashy. Kovalev is the quiet hitman waiting in the wings to strike. His punching power is scary. It’s his great equalizer. He can knock out a guy with either hand, but his right hand is like dynamite.
Ward (30-0, 15 KOs) is the most technical fighter in the game. He’s also likely the most intelligent. He maneuvers opponents and pops them with stinging punches. He makes it look so easy at times that his foes seem hypnotized. His inside work is second to none. He likes it in close. His boxing brain is as powerful as Kovalev’s punch.
Kovalev’s trainer, John David Jackson, thinks the timing of the fight gives Kovalev an advantage.
“He’s a bit slower of foot and a little bit slower of hand,” Jackson told Boxing News 24. “He’s still good, but we’re getting him at the best time. It’s not the prime Ward.”
Jackson is not alone in this assessment. Ward did appear to have lost a step in his most recent fights.
Ward doesn’t agree.
"When you look at yourself early in your career, there’s a lot of extra movement,“ Ward remarked in an interview on www.badlefthook.com.”I think I’m just evolving into a very efficient fighter. I’m moving when I have to move. I feel like I’m as good as I’ve ever been.”
Kovalev’s defense is average at best. He struggled at times in his most recent outing, a unanimous decision over crafty Issac Chilemba, who was picked especially for his style that somewhat resembles Ward’s.
Pascal was able to tag Kovalev with lead right hands, something that Ward, who was working the bout for HBO Championship Boxing as a commentator, must have noticed. But Kovalev also floored Chilemba, and sent Pascal back to Canada with a headache.
Ward’s defense is a major strength. His footwork is outstanding. He avoids punches by leaning slightly to his right or left.
Can Ward avoid Kovalev’s deadly punches all night?
Can he outmuscle Kovalev on the inside?
Can Kovalev out-box the great boxer?
Will the Ward who fights on November 19 be the same guy who walked away with the Super Six trophy five years ago?
Darnell Boone has been in the ring with both men. He fought Ward in 2005 and lost by decision— flooring the heavy favorite for the only time in his career. Four years later, he gave Kovaev fits, dropping a split decision.
Boone likes the notion of the “Krusher” defeating Ward November 19.
“I’m going with Kovalev,” Boone told me via social media a few weeks ago. “From what I’ve seen, Ward isn’t used to the weight (one hundred and seventy-five pounds, instead of one hundred and sixty-eight). He didn’t fight the right guys to get ready for that type of fight. He sat in the pocket too long. He was still crafty from the waist up, but not from the waist down. You don’t want to get hit by Kovalev.”
A sound opinion, but I’m going with Ward.
Ward’s ability to throw punches from odd angles will bother Kovalev.
Kovalev will hurt Ward a few times with head shots. His power could be a game changer. But Ward appears to have an edge on the inside.
I see the ultra-competitive Ward doing more down the stretch to win the fight by decision.
Kovalev vs. Ward “Pound For Pound”, a 12-round mega-fight for the WBO/IBF/WBA Light Heavyweight World Titles, takes place Saturday, Nov. 19, at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nev. The event will be produced and distributed live by HBO Pay-Per-View beginning at 9:00 p.m.
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