Five short weeks from now the boxing community will be gearing up for an intriguing fight. Undefeated Light-Heavyweights Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev (30-0-1, 26Kos) and Andre “Son Of God” Ward (30-0-0, 15Kos) will be close to stepping into the ring at T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas to fight for Kovalev's collection of 175lb titles.
Many pundits and fans will also crown the winner of the November 19 bout the top pound for pound boxer in the world today.
Kovalev, from Russia, and the holder of the WBA “Super,” IBF and WBO Light-Heavyweight world titles is a career 175lb fighter. Turning professional in 2009 the hard punching Russian, now based in Florida, won his first title in August 2013 when he travelled to Wales and destroyed home favourite Nathan Cleverly, winning by 4th round technical knockout to capture the WBO belt. He added the WBA “Super” and IBF versions by convincingly outpointing Bernard Hopkins in November 2014.
“Krusher” has defended his haul of belts 4 times since seeing off the challenge of crafty veteran Hopkins. Sergey annihilated Jean Pascal twice in Montreal, demolished Nadjib Mohammedi in Las Vegas and most recently scored a unanimous decision over Isaac Chilemba in July in a slightly under par outing in his home country.
All these title wins and defences would be dwarfed by a win in this upcoming encounter.
California native Andre Ward is best known for his outstanding campaign in the 168lb division. Turning pro in 2004 after winning Olympic gold in that year's Athens games “Son Of God” negotiated his first 20 fights successfully and found himself with a place in the Super-Middleweight division's Super Six competition which ran from 2009-2011.
Ward's opening Super Six contest really put him on the map. Matched with WBA “Super” title holder Mikkel Kessler of Denmark he entered the contest as the underdog. Andre executed his effective game-plan to perfection and took a unanimous technical decision after 10 completed rounds. The scorecards were needed early as Kessler was ruled unable to continue due to cuts sustained. Although Ward was ahead handily at the time of the stoppage Kessler complained about Ward's tactics of holding and hitting and what he believed were intentional head-butts.
After the Kessler fight Andre rolled through the Super Six tournament, lifting the trophy and adding Carl Froch's WBC title after defeating Froch via unanimous decision in the the December 2011 final. Since that night 5 years ago Ward has only gloved up 5 times – a combination of promotional issues and injuries the reason for his inactivity. An impressive dismantling of Chad Dawson in 2012 and a comfortable unanimous decision, earlier this year, over previously unbeaten Cuban Sullivan Barrera in Ward's first outing weighing fully 175lbs were his standout performances over this time period.
Having eased himself into the Light-Heavyweight division Ward is now stepping up to take on the man many have looked to avoid.
The old cliche tells us that “styles make fights,” prompting the questions – will the styles of these combatants blend to produce a thrilling spectacle and which elite boxer will be able to establish dominance on fight night?
Sergey Kovalev stands 6 feet tall and has a 72.5 inch reach. As his record shows the 33 year old Russian has dynamite in his fists. Don't categorise him as just a rugged banger though. Kovalev has smart footwork, able to cut the ring off effectively to unleash his power shots. He also uses his jab, both to the head and body, very effectively to set up the concussion inducing punches that follow. When “Krusher” is on the front foot facing him must be a nightmare as unless an opponent can find something to back him up with it; usually is just a matter of time until the stoppage arrives.
Andre Ward, also a 6 footer, has a wing span of 70 inches. The boxer from the USA is 32 years old and going into the fight knows from a technical standpoint he is superior to Kovalev. As has been touched on earlier Ward does not mind mixing things up and indulging in some untidy rough-housing in order to get the job done. It will be interesting to see if he has the strength to employ these tactics when the fight goes inside – and indeed if Kovalev allows him to work in this manner. This aspect of Ward's game makes him a fantastic defensive fighter who can be difficult to look good against.
In a tick box exercise of boxing fundamentals Ward does most things slightly better than Kovalev. Their jabs are about equal though so whomever can establish this in the fight may end up with the foundation for having their hand raised at the end of the contest. Kovalev is by far the more powerful puncher so even if things are going Ward's way this will keep Sergey dangerous for the entire time he is in there.
So will the styles fuse and make for an entertaining fight? Difficult to say but it would be in Ward's interest to make it a technical boxing match, a fight that may be labelled ‘boring' by some observers, to neutralise Kovalev's jab and power thus giving himself the best opportunity to win. Kovalev I'm sure will look to establish his style very early in the fight, get on the front foot and pressure Ward, forcing the American to open up and keep it clean in order to get back into the argument. A dominant fast start from Kovalev would perhaps mean that the contest develops into one that is easier on the eye.
This attack heavy with freakish power versus speed, sharp skill and excellent defence contest is fascinating and while there is no way an all out toe to toe war is on the cards here there should be enough action to interest fans of all styles of boxing in this fight.
In conclusion, Kovalev v. Ward is one of the rare occurrences in boxing where two widely regarded top 5 pound for pound fighters face off. It is an important bout, the outcome will shape the direction of the Light-Heavyweight division for some time to come and enhance the winner's legacy. In my book this is a 50/50 fight, no way am I predicting this one, which should appeal to both hardcore and casual fans of the sport. The clock is ticking down to November 19 in Las Vegas and I for one can't wait to watch this one unfold.