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Kovalev vs Ward: Fight preview and analysis

Sergey Kovalev meets Andre Ward in the most highly anticipated fight of 2016.

Sergey Kovalev vs Andre Ward

Sergey Kovalev

Sergey Kovalev v Jean Pascal II Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

Record: 30-0-1 (26 KO) ... Streak: W14 ... Last 5: 5-0 ... Last 10: 10-0 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 6’0" / 72½" ... Age: 33

Notes: One of the best fighters in the sport will meet ... one of the best fighters in the sport. That’s what this fight is. What a world, huh? It’s almost like this is something we all want to see way more often.

Kovalev has shown magnificent punching power in some fights, and has a mean — even sadistic — streak when opponents personally offend his senses. (Ask Jean Pascal.) He’s also an underrated boxer, with good skills and a sort of meat-and-potatoes approach. What he does is fairly basic a lot of the time, but it works, because he’s got the thunder to back it up. You can’t get lulled by him, or you can be knocked out really quickly.

But Kovalev is not Andre Ward, and he’s not going to outbox Andre Ward. We saw Isaac Chilemba take Kovalev all 12 rounds with an often cautious approach in July. Chilemba, a crafty veteran boxer, is not Ward, either, but he was a fitting tune-up. Kovalev had to see someone like that to prepare for Ward. There’s no doubt that he and John David Jackson have done their best to address any questions that fight left lingering.

For the most part, Kovalev, like Ward, has been unchallenged as a pro, and certainly since ascending to the upper levels. Chilemba gave him his toughest test since 2010, when Kovalev won a split decision over prospect checker Darnell Boone. The second time they met, Kovalev stopped Boone in two rounds, and since 2013, he’s been running roughshod. Chilemba won a few rounds, but was never in any real danger of winning the fight.

Ward is a whole new level. This is the first true elite-level opponent that Kovalev has faced thus far, and will be his biggest challenge. As such, it’s hard to predict a winner. Is Kovalev every bit as good as we think, or does Ward, a master in-ring strategist, see something he can and will exploit?

Andre Ward

Andre Ward v Alexander Brand Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

Record: 30-0 (15 KO) ... Streak: W30 ... Last 5: 5-0 ... Last 10: 10-0 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 6’0" / 71" ... Age: 32

Notes: Andre Ward is the best 168-pound fighter there’s ever been. I’ll stand by that. OK, maybe not the best — the Roy Jones Jr who briefly fought as a super middleweight was probably better, but Ward is the greatest 168-pound fighter ever. The only real competition is Joe Calzaghe, and please understand, I respect Joe Calzaghe and think he was a hell of a boxer. But Ward, in my view, did more at the weight than anyone ever has, and was rarely so much as truly challenged in any fight.

His move up to 175 has been more "modern" in its matchmaking. He’s fought Paul Smith, Sullivan Barrera, and Alexander Brand, Barrera the toughest matchup of the three, and ultimately a fight Ward won on cruise control. The key has simply been getting him back in action, actively fighting once more, and build to The Big Fight, whatever that fight may have been.

It’s Kovalev. And Kovalev is a tougher matchup, by a good bit, than Smith, Barrera, or Brand. The good news for Ward is he barely showed a spot of rust in any of those fights, and now he’s going to be truly revved up and ready to go, having fought in March and August of this year to get himself appropriately prepared for the biggest on-paper test he’s had since Carl Froch in 2011.

Of current fighters, Ward is perhaps the greatest technician in the sport. That doesn’t mean he’s simply the most skilled fighter. Ward has great skill level, no doubt about that, but even more than that, he’s crafty, he’s smart, and he can be ruthless. He’s not afraid to bend a rule or two if he feels it’s necessary. In many ways, he is a sort of combination Mayweather/Hopkins, for the two fighters he gains most comparison to in today’s world. He has the amateur pedigree and pure athletic skill of Mayweather, and the rugged demeanor of Hopkins, but with perhaps a more even temperament than either of them. Andre Ward is a special boxer. And he gets another chance to prove that on Saturday.

Matchup Grade: A+. Matchups in modern boxing don’t come any better than this one. The man who ruled 168 with an iron fist has moved up to 175 pounds, gotten a few fights under his belt, and now faces the best light heavyweight in the world. There is absolutely nothing to not like about this fight. It’s significant, pits two of the best in the world, and I think quietly has the chance to be a good action fight, to boot. We talk about black eyes on boxing all the time. Consider this one a big dose of the ol’ enswell.

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