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It’s a common gripe among boxing fans that the sport’s biggest and best fights don’t get made often enough, or at the very least take far too long to come together.
However, that complaint will be put to rest for at least one weekend, as two of the best pound-for-pound boxers in the world—Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev and Andre Ward—square off in a massive, pay-per-view light-heavyweight title bout at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Saturday.
While other fights might draw more viewers and garner more media attention, from a pure boxing standpoint, there might not be a better fight to make in the current landscape of the sport than Kovalev-Ward.
Both fighters are undefeated and have beaten excellent competition over the course of their careers. There is also an intriguing contrast in styles, with Kovalev a premier slugger who rips through his opponents with ease, and Ward a level-headed technician capable in both offense and defense.
Isaac Chilemba and Maurice Hooker highlight the HBO undercard, and two-time Olympic gold medalist Claressa Shields will make her professional debut on the free-to-view support slots that will be live-streamed on YouTube.
Kovalev vs. Ward Fight Info
Date: Saturday, November 19
Time: 9 p.m. ET (main card), 7 p.m. ET (free undercard)
TV: HBO (PPV)
Live Stream: YouTube (free undercard)
Tale of the Tape Kovalev Ward
30-0-1, 26 KOs Record 30-0-0, 15 KOs
84% KO Percentage 50%
114 Rounds 218
33 Age 32
6’0″ Height 6’0″
72.5″ Reach 71″
Orthodox Stance Orthodox
FREE Sergey Kovalev vs Andre Ward Live
Kovalev is putting his WBA, IBF and WBO light heavyweight belts on the line in this bout. After dominating the super-middleweight ranks, Ward doesn’t have a strap on the line in Las Vegas, but he is no underdog here.
There are arguments to be made for both men. Kovalev is a knockout machine who dispenses wall-crumbling punches while offering little in the way of a discernible weakness in defense.
His 84 percent knockout rate is a testament to the ease with which he rips through opponents. Kovalev’s boxing record is littered with bouts that saw his opponents crumble within the first four or five rounds, including recognizable names such as Nadjib Mohammedi and Nathan Cleverly.
Though he failed to stop Chilemba in July, Kovalev did send the Malawian to the canvas for only the third time in his career.
The only other fighter to go the distance with Krusher since he became an established boxer was Bernard Hopkins, but Kovalev earned a shutout on the cards. Simply surviving to the final bell might stand as one of the more impressive feats of the American fighter’s long and storied career.
Final-bell fights aren’t Kovalev’s style, but he did seem to learn something from going the distance against Chilemba and Hopkins, per Boxing News’ John Dennen:
I got some experience from my fight against Bernard Hopkins. He showed that never give up. That you should to fight all 12 rounds and hope for your win. I think my last fight against Chilemba, it was like a similar fight you know, because Chilemba’s [style is] a little bit like Andre Ward. But Andre Ward is Andre Ward, a little bit different and stronger, smarter, undefeated and more motivated than Chilemba. I’m interested what he will bring November 19 to the ring.
FREE Sergey Kovalev vs Andre Ward Live
Kovalev’s technique is polished and his power is devastating, so any extra insights gleaned from a rare foray into the later rounds should serve him well on Saturday night.
Armed with an array of power punches, Kovalev is definitely Ward’s toughest opponent to date, not that it’s prompted the Oakland-born boxer to change his approach ahead of this match, per Robert Morales of the Long Beach Press-Telegram: (h/t the Los Angeles Daily News):
Mentally, it’s honestly the same to me. Obviously, there’s a lot at stake and it’s a different challenge moving up in weight, pay-per-view, all of those things make it a little bit different. Whether it’s Alexander Brand or Sergey Kovalev, I approach every situation the same way.
Ward is the epitome of equanimity inside the ropes, sometimes to the detriment of his star potential.
In his tuneup win over Alexander Brand, a gangly, awkward fighter, Ward outclassed his opponent in every way, but he didn’t press or try to overwhelm his opponent at any point. The moment simply didn’t call for it.
Ward’s stoic nature and process-oriented approach will likely serve him well against Kovalev, who has the surging power that will quickly switch a fighter over from frontal-lobe thinking to the chaotic backup generator that is the fight-or-flight response.
Bleacher Report’s Lyle Fitzsimmons expects Kovalev to bring pressure early. He wrote:
Come Saturday night, Andre Ward will be facing the same behemoth with the same toolbox.
And in order to do more than simply survive 12 rounds, a la Hopkins, he’s going to need to break from the gate with far more offense.
Given that he’s fighting a man unaccustomed to taking shots from a burly light heavyweight, Kovalev is likely to press the fight and try to rough his man up from the start. Ward, on the contrary, will be forced to use his superior movement and hand speed to get through unscathed and begin to build an advantage on the scorecards.
His ring smarts will also come in handy when probing for a weakness. Ward’s trainer, Virgil Hunter, believe’s Kovalev has at least one tell.
“Kovalev’s right hand is impressive, but he tips it off,” Hunter said, per the Los Angeles Times’ Lance Pugmire “I haven’t seen a Thomas Hearns shot. It’s usually an accumulation of punches that get his knockouts.
“And you’re not going to accumulate punches on Andre Ward.”
Of course, Jackson would tell you that the accumulation isn’t quite necessary, but one has to think Ward could see Kovalev’s best shot coming and do enough to diffuse at least some of the power with the right maneuver.
Indeed, Ward’s defense will need to be at its best if he is to defeat Kovalev. Any gambit the American employs to gain an edge on offense must be carefully and precisely deployed, lest he get caught in an open position.
Kovalev doesn’t necessarily have to crush Ward to earn a victory. If he can consistently make better inroads on offense and dish out more visible damage, it could be enough to win a close fight.
The Russian has shown in his longer fights he also knows how to build on an advantage. If he stuns Ward a few times early, he could yet win on points.
Kovalev will also need to keep his wits about him in this bout, whether it’s avoiding frustration borne of Ward’s elusiveness or anger from his opponent’s supposed dirty tactics. The Russian has said he “will kick him if he does something dirty to me,” per the Telegraph’s Gareth A. Davies, so there is that to look out for.
Ward is the relative newcomer to the light heavyweight division, having only fought twice at this weight, but he looked no worse the wear for it. His move up to the division was preceded by a layoff from the sport of almost two years.
So if there’s a nit to pick, it’s that it has been some time since Ward’s been in a truly high-profile scrap. Then again, the preparation and poise remains the same, so it might not matter at all.
Though it’s difficult to predict who will emerge victorious from this bout, one thing is for certain: It will be a career-defining bout for both men, one that will propel the winner to the top of the boxing world and deliver the loser the first bitter taste of professional defeat.