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Kovalev vs Ward: Three Things to Look For in Mega Fight
2016 has been anything but a marquee year for the fight game. Thankfully, it is ending on a good note as we have one of a few solid matchups to close out the year happening this weekend.
On Saturday, November 19, 2016, the Light Heavyweight clash between Sergey Kovalev (30-0-1, 26 KOs) and Andre Ward (30-0, 15 KOs) for Kovalev’s WBO, IBF and WBA world titles will most likely result in the winner being recognized as the pinnacle of boxing.
Many view this fight as the age old “boxer vs. puncher” archetype, though it will be a little more complex than that. Ward is technically gifted, having shown the ability to make adjustments on the fly. He bested a variety of styles in the Super Middleweight tournament proving that he can adapt to any opponent. He is more strategic than most in the ring, because he cannot rely on punching power alone to get the job done.
While the “boxer” description for Ward is more accurate, Kovalev, on the other hand, is more than just a puncher. He is a fundamentally sound boxer, though his approach may be subtle, and he is very effective in maximizing his strengths while concealing his weaknesses. His punching power is intimidating and is the greatest equalizer to any unfavorable circumstances.
Ward’s foray into the Light Heavyweight division has not been as impressive as his run at 168 pounds. Considering the inactivity due to injury and the legal issues with his former handlers; Ward seems as highly motivated as he’s ever been. Kovalev’s success has continued without a hiccup.
But questions have emerged, as recent opponents have frustrated the champion when things did not go as smoothly as planned. Kovalev is undoubtedly as motivated as Ward is, as they both know what’s at stake. Winning this fight will valorize the victor’s career.
As we gear up for the big fight this weekend, here are three things to look for once these two step inside the ring.
1. Battle of the Jabs
Photo by Alexandr Safonov/Championat
Though Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev are stylistically different, a commonality they share–which is directly responsible for both fighters’ success–is their devotion to their jabs. Everything they do in the ring is predicated on the efficacy of their jab.
As stated previously, Kovalev is fundamentally sound, with a textbook style jab. It sets up his entire offense. It’s rare that he leads an attack with power shots.
Kovalev strategically uses his jab as a range finder while walking his opponent down, or to maintain distance while setting up his powerful overhand right.
He also adds variety; sometimes throwing the jab to the body or doubling it up to give his opponent different looks.
These tactics usually result in his opponent focusing on defense–instead of punching–allowing him to find and attack vulnerabilities in their guard. It gives Kovalev the chance to land something meaningful, which could change the momentum of the fight or possibly end it.
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Ward also relies heavily on the jab, constantly pawing at his opponent throughout his fights. Like Kovalev, Ward also uses his jab to measure distance, because the ability to close in on his opponent is a huge advantage for him stylistically.
His best work is done fighting in close quarters. This is possible because the pawing jab allows Ward to temporarily blind his opponent without really making contact. It gives him the opportunity to move closer, while simultaneously exposing vulnerabilities to attack because his opponent can’t see behind Ward’s glove.
In addition to determining range, that pawing movement allows for his jab hand to return back to a defensive stance, in the event his opponent decides to punch.
Because both fighters rely so much on the jab as a foundation for much of what they do inside the ring, the fight will most likely be determined by the fighter with the most effective jab.
Photo by Vincent Ethier
In addition to the jab, footwork is another huge component you should watch for. Like the jab, both Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev use their footwork differently. Kovalev’s footwork is more so used for defense, while Ward uses his to attack his opponent from different angles.
Kovalev is not the most defensive minded fighter. He rarely moves his head when in the punching range of his opponents. He has an inch and a half reach advantage over Ward. Because Kovalev’s arms are so long, with proper footwork he should be able to punch comfortably without being in range of Ward’s punches.
When the Oakland-native defies that range, Kovalev will use his long legs to back up and re-establish the range he is most comfortable with. When he can maintain the perfect distance, Kovalev also uses his footwork to cut the ring off, walking his opponents into the ropes or the corners of the ring.
Ward’s high boxing IQ allows him to use his footwork in several ways. The speed of his feet and his balance always keeps him in the perfect position to punch. Ward’s speed advantage will allow him to move in and out of range comfortably. Because Kovalev’s arms are so long, it’s in Ward’s best interest to get inside.
If Ward can successfully close in, it will smother the Russian’s punches and allow Ward to attack him when he backs up, exploiting Kovalev’s lack of head movement. When backing out, Ward will be set up to counter an aggressive Kovalev. In addition, Ward’s lateral footwork will allow different punching angles, confusing the front-and-center styled Kovalev.
This is why footwork is something to keep an eye on. Whoever has the most effective footwork will indicate who is in control and dictate the pace of the fight at the time.
3. Sergey Kovalev’s Big Right Hand
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Sergey Kovalev is a huge puncher with power in both hands. He didn’t earn a nickname like “Krusher” by smashing beer cans against his forehead. Though he has a powerful left hook, much of his offense is set up around his signature right hand. Kovalev will be looking to land this punch early and often.
His ability to do, so might determine the outcome of this fight. Ward is preparing for this, so it shouldn’t be an easy task for Kovalev. If it isn’t, the great thing about having one punch knockout power, means that no matter how dire the circumstances are for Kovalev, he can change the outcome of the fight. This is a huge advantage for Kovalev, as long as he doesn’t rely on it so much that it stagnates his offense, a la Randall Bailey.
Make sure to watch for how effective Kovalev is with his right hand because it has the possibility to play a huge part in the outcome.
As you watch on Saturday, be sure to pay attention to whose jab is the most effective, whose footwork is the sharpest, and how often Kovalev is landing the right hand.
It might help to determine who is winning the fight and whether the fight will go all 12 rounds or not. Most of all, enjoy it, because it’s been rare to get two fighters at the peak of their craft in the same ring at the same time.