Editor’s note: Tim Burgess will be providing occasional fight coverage for Houston Sports and Stuff. Follow him on Twitter @timburg
By TIM BURGESS
It isn’t always easy to be a boxing fan. While our friends who are UFC fans are getting great matchups featuring fighters at the top of their divisions, boxing fans get posturing and negotiation. It’s the biggest problem with the sport: there is no figure or body whose job it is to look out for its best interest, so everybody looks out for themselves while trying to make the most money.
This mentality led to Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao negotiating for five years before producing a dud of a fight. It has led to Canelo Alvarez blatantly ducking Gennady Golovkin, robbing fight fans of what would be the biggest fight that can be made in the sport right now. This mentality has given fight fans exactly zero of the matchups they’ve clamored for so far in 2016.
But that all ends this Saturday night from Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena.Fans finally get one of boxing’s best possible matchups when Sergey Kovalev and Andre Ward step in the ring. It pits Kovalev, a feared Russian slugger, against Ward, the former Olympic gold medalist who literally hasn’t lost a fight since he was a kid. It’s close to a 50/50 fight as well: oddsmakers have Ward as a -145 favorite and Kovalev +115. All three of Kovalev’s light heavyweight title belts will be on the line.
.While both fighters are feared, and both have exactly 30 victories without a defeat, Kovalev and Ward are quite different in and out of the ring. Ward plays the mental game, using defense, angles and well-timed clinches to get in his opponents’ heads. Out of the ring Ward doesn’t seem interested in the showmanship that sells pay-per-views. He is generally soft-spoken and keeps his words as calculated as his moves in the ring.
Kovalev, on the other hand, is known for his mean streak inside and outside the ropes. He has perhaps the most powerful one-punch right hand in the sport, and has knocked out 84% of the fighters he has faced in his career. In a 2015 fight against Jean Pascal, Kovalev rocked Pascal with a shot and then openly laughed as he struggled to say on his feet.
Despite Kovalev’s almost unrivaled power, he is also an unheralded technician: He used his incredible combination of power and skill to cruise to a shutout victory over light heavyweight legend Bernard Hopkins. Out of the ring, Kovalev has a willingness to say whatever he’s thinking. He has referred to other boxers multiple times as “piece of sh–,” and called light heavyweight rival Adonis Stevenson “Adonis Chickenson” and quacked like a duck at him from inside the ring following a Kovalev victory.
While the matchup is a true delight to boxing dorks like myself, its pay-per-view numbers probably won’t reflect how excellent the fight will be. Neither Kovalev nor Ward have headlined a PPV before. Fight fans tend to buy fights of fighters from their nationality, and Kovalev doesn’t have a huge population of Russian-born fight fans in the United States to fall back on.
Ward, an American, had a lot of his hype derailed when he spent nearly two years out of the ring in a contract dispute with his promoter. Since returning to activity Ward has faced the likes of Alexander Brand, Sullivan Barrera and Paul Smith; none of which are the kinds of fighters that have brought buzz back around Ward’s career. If you’re a casual fan that felt the sting of Mayweather/Pacquiao and haven’t purchased a pay-per-view since, this is the best main event to come along in years and is worthy of your money.
Boxing is still a sport in which fighters and promoters look out for the best interests of themselves, often robbing fans of the most exciting match ups. It’s likely to always be that way. But for a few hours on Saturday, when two of the top-10 pound for pound fighters step in the ring we can all have the pleasure of forgetting that.
BELT IT OUT
Kovalev holds three of the four major light heavyweight championship belts. He’s only missing the WBC belt held by Adonis Stevenson. Kovalev and Stevenson have been unable to make a unification fight because of issues between Kovalev’s promoter Main Events and Stevenson advisor Al Haymon. Ward is the former unified super middleweight champion of the world but moved up to the light heavyweight class following his hiatus from the sport.
SOMEONE’S “0” HAS TO GO
Ward’s record is 30-0. Kovalev is 30-0-1, with one technical draw. The draw occurred five years ago when Kovalev knocked out his opponent but officials ruled the shot that ended the fight accidentally ended up below his opponent’s ear.
There isn’t much to look forward to here, unfortunately. Neither Kovalev’s promoter Main Events nor Ward’s Roc Nation provided much to get excited about on the undercard. Take a look at the opening matchup of the TV card when middleweights Curtis Stevens and James De La Rosa square off. Stevens is a flawed fighter, but one of the hardest punchers in the sport, so there could be fireworks early.
Sergey Kovalev by unanimous decision. I made the mistake of doubting Kovalev against a defensive fighter in Bernard Hopkins. All Kovalev did that night was win every round on every card. I won’t make the mistake of doubting Kovalev again.