When Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev step into the ring Saturday night, there won’t be any love lost between two of the world’s best pound-for-pound gladiators. After last year’s controversial decision, in which Ward narrowly beat out Kovalev on the judges’ scorecards after sustaining the fight’s only knockdown in round two, Kovalev is out for blood. Kovalev walked into the final presser before the fight (and subsequently stormed out of) with an all-black baseball cap on that simply said “WAR”.
Well fight fans, get ready for the second battle of Kovalev vs. Ward. This fight promises to be a battle of smarts and will. While Andre is clearly the better boxer, Kovalev possesses superior power and knockout ability. Ward needs to prove that his superior boxing skills are what helped him win the first fight and what will ultimately carry him to victory in the rematch.
Here are the keys to victory for Andre Ward:
- Start Fast and Be the Aggressor
In Kovalev/Ward I, Andre Ward landed an average of 6 out of 22 (27%) punches in rounds 1-6, but increased his output over the last 6 rounds landing 13 out of 34 (38%). Conversely, Kovalev landed on average 9 out of 36 (24%) punches in rounds 1-6, and increased both his output and total punches landed in rounds 6-12 where he landed 12 out of 43 (29%) punches on average. For Ward to win this fight, he must start faster and land the cleaner shots. Kovalev is out for blood and from the sound of the opening bell, he’ll be very aggressive and try to overwhelm Andre, but Ward can slow Kovalev down if he matches his aggression and fights smart. If Ward uses his jab, which he did effectively in the first fight, landing 32.7% versus Kovalev’s 19.8% then he should be able to control the pace of the fight and make it more suitable for him to be victorious.
- Avoid Sergey’s Power
Everyone knows Sergey Kovalev has hands of stone. He’s knocked down or knocked out each of his last 10 opponents including Andre Ward, in Round 2. Kovalev’s right hand is “krushing” and Andre needs to avoid being hit with it at all cost. Ward needs to circle the ring away from Kovalev’s straight right, and make sure he keeps his hands up when throwing his jab. Kovalev has one-punch knockout power, and if he’s able to rattle Ward early, I don’t see this being a repeat of the first fight. Kovalev will not take his foot of the gas or gas-out (he claimed to have over-trained for their first fight, which caused him to run out of energy during the second half of the fight).
Ward is a defensive magician — in the same echelon of Mayweather, Hopkins and Whitaker. He understands angles, how to slip punches and effectively counter. Andre admitted after the first fight that his defense was not as sharp as he would have hoped. You best believe that Ward and Hunter spent a large part of their camp focused on defense. Ward’s defensive abilities have the potential to frustrate Kovalev, forcing him to take more risk and opening himself up to Ward’s superior countering ability. Watch Ward in the early rounds to see if he brought his A-game on defense. This will be a strong indicator on how the fight will go.
- Have a Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C
Virgil Hunter and Andre Ward have established multiple fight plans for this fight as they have done for most Ward fights. Ward’s ability to execute in-fight adjustments effectively will be key to keeping Sergey guessing. Ward needs to give Sergey different angles and looks, throwing punches from different angles and pivots. If Ward can adjust his game plan as needed, then this fight will be all but a wrap for Andre.
With all that said does Ward have with it takes to be victorious tonight, or will the power and aggression of Kovalev be too much – tune in tonight on HBO PPV at 9pm.