In November of last year the Boxing world was treated to a highly anticipated battle for the unified WBO/IBF/WBA Light-Heavyweight world championship as undefeated champion and “Knockout Artist” Sergey Kovalev defended his crown against undefeated former Super-Middleweight world champion Andre Ward at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, NV. It was a rare time in the recent history of the sport that a bout described as a “Big” or “Super” fight among both Boxing fans and experts lived up to the hype that preceded it.
An argument could be made that it is somewhat of a rarity in today's sport to see an encounter between two top stars that did not have a long period of time where Boxing fans had to wait to see it come to fruition while those two stars faced other opposition. It is equally rare even when the element of rematch clauses are involved to see a rematch of a fight that was regarded by many as a Fight of the Year candidate between two stars take place so soon after the original showdown. The rivalry between these two men is a rare exception.
The first encounter between Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev saw plenty of action where both fighters had periods of effectiveness. As this rematch approaches, it is crucial in my eyes that both fighters look to duplicate those moments while trying to limit their opponent from having opportunities. Readers may recall this observer’s coverage of the first encounter, where I felt Sergey Kovalev was particularly effective in the first half of the fight as he was able to apply significant pressure on Ward and limit the challenger’s lateral movement and hand speed.
Kovalev was able to win the first four rounds on my scorecard, highlighted by a knockdown of Ward in the second round with a flush right hand, due largely to how effective he was in pressuring the challenger as well as landing the cleaner and more effective punches. As the bout progressed however, Ward was able to shift the momentum in his favor by using his movement to offset Kovalev’s pressure as well as making going to the champion’s body a focal point of his offense. Ward was able to win rounds five through nine on my scorecard with this approach and with the two fighters trading momentum in the final three rounds of the twelve round championship bout, Boxing fans were left with the very definition of a “Close Fight.”
At the end of the bout I had arrived with a scorecard of 114-113 in favor of Kovalev, but having scored six rounds a piece in rounds. It was no surprise to see a difference of opinion as the three official judges scored the fight in favor of Ward by the same score. This was a fight that was open to interpretation as to who got the upper hand. Even though I personally felt Kovalev got the upper hand in the first half of the fight, the combat was fought at such a measured and tactical pace that there were rounds that could have gone either way depending on one's perspective as to who got the better of the action.
As is the case with practically every “Close Fight”, there were some who described the outcome as “Controversial” and/or brought into question the subject of potential corruption that in their minds may have played a role in the decision. This observer was not one of those who felt there was a “Controversy “, but rather focused on the benefit this fight gave to the sport in saying that in an era where Boxing fans are asked to pay ever-increasing pay-per-view prices to see the sport's top/elite stars compete where more often than not the fights do not live up to the hype that preceded it, much less the price to see it, this was one that lived up to expectations as well as hype.
With the rematch between Ward and Kovalev drawing near, what does each fighter need to do in order to be successful? How can each duplicate their success from the first encounter?
For the former champion Sergey Kovalev, who will be attempting to both regain his unified world championship as well as avenge his only professional loss, it is crucial that he pressure Ward from the outset as he did in the first fight. Although he was successful for most of the first half of that fight, I felt that Kovalev made two tactical errors that ultimately worked against him.
Although he was successful in pressuring Ward, Kovalev did not apply the type of pressure that pushed Ward backward toward the ropes. This along with Kovalev's inability to cut the ring off from Ward where it would have theoretically limited his movement became a disadvantage for Kovalev as the fight progressed. Despite the success he had particularly in being able to dictate a tactical pace in the first half of the first encounter, I feel Kovalev needs to show the instinct that has made his career. The instinct of a seek and destroy “Knockout Artist.” Kovalev must turn this rematch into a fight early and must cut off the ring from Ward consistently in order to be successful.
In contrast to the former champion, Ward must attempt to duplicate his performance over the second half of the first fight. What worked so well for Ward after he recovered from the knockdown Kovalev was able to score in the first encounter was how he utilized his movement and timing to outbox Kovalev. Ward executed an attack to Kovalev's body in that fight that was not necessarily eye-catching, but it was able to offset Kovalev as he came forward, allowing Ward to move and avoid getting caught on the inside, but most importantly this approach allowed Ward to gradually get himself back into the fight on the scorecards after being at a deficit in the first half of the bout.
Those who are fans of movies as yours truly is are probably familiar with the cliché that films that are sequels very seldom are as good or even outdo the movie that preceded it. The same holds true in regard to the sport of Boxing as there always seems to be a segment of fans who will feel disappointed as regardless of who comes out on top and regardless of what the circumstances of the outcome might be, rarely does a rematch live up to the anticipation that precedes it or the action of a first encounter.
Rather than go into a long detailed point of view of the exceptions that do exist throughout the history of the sport where a second encounter lived up to the hype and in some cases led to a third or even more encounters, I will say that as the first fight was a classic scenario of a fighter known for his punching power against a pure boxer, this second encounter presents the classic scenario of circumstances, which warrant a rematch. A battle between two of Boxing’s top stars that evolved into a great fight. An encounter which produced varying opinions as to who won, and one where some pointed to an element of what they saw as a controversial decision. Two fighters, who each have something to prove.
For Andre Ward, an argument can be made that he wants to avenge a victory by producing a clear a decisive win in the rematch and to hopefully in the process win over those who felt he lost the first fight. For the former champion Sergey Kovalev, the motivation is obvious. This fight represents an opportunity to not only regain his unified crown, but to also avenge the lone loss of his career and one might argue average what was seen as an injustice in the eyes of some.
Whether or not the sequel to the first encounter between these two men does outdo it's predecessor remains to be seen. It is refreshing in this observer's eyes however, to see an immediate rematch to a fight that I simply said following the first encounter “Great Fight, Close Fight, Rematch Warranted.” In an era where the best interests of both the Boxing fan as well as the sport as a whole aren't always taken into consideration, this rematch should be viewed as a win prior to the two fighters doing battle for the second time.
Regardless of who comes out on top this time around, it is my hope that when all is said and done that the sport, Boxing fans, and those of us who cover the sport and/or are involved with Boxing in varying capacities, who all serve as advocates for the sport as well as the fighters who compete in it, will truly be able to celebrate this win. Boxing and by extension all of combat sports are after all truly elevated and given a boost when the best interests of the fans who tirelessly support the sports both with their passion and their hard earned money as well as the best interests of the long-term benefits of the sports themselves as a whole are considered. We will see what is in store in Andre Ward-Sergey Kovalev: Chapter 2 on Saturday night.
“And That's The Boxing Truth.”
Ward vs. Kovalev II takes place tomorrow night (Saturday, June 17th) at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, NV. The fight can be seen in the United States and Canada on a pay-per-view basis on HBO Pay-Per-View for $64.95 HD/$54.95 Standard Definition beginning at 9PM ET/6PM PT Contact your local cable or satellite provider for ordering information. For more information about HBO Sports, HBO Pay-Per-View, and HBO Boxing please visit: www.hbo.com/boxing. In the United Kingdom and Ireland, the fight, as well as the undercard can be seen on Sky Sports 1 beginning at 2AM (Sunday, June 18th Local U.K. Time.) Check your local listings for time and channel in your area. For more information about Sky Sports please visit: www.skysports.com.
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