Ward’s light-heavyweight prospects boosted after unconvincing Kovalev homecoming
Lee Gormley | July 12, 2016
Odds tip in Ward’s favour after Kovalev outing
Former super-middleweight kingpin Andre Ward is set to finally go toe-to-toe with unified light-heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev on November 19th, and the American challenger will have been encouraged by what he witnessed from his future foe’s recent homecoming bout.
Both undefeated fighters will square off at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas towards the end of the year, in what is one of the most anticipated match-ups of 2016, but it’s the former 168lbs unified champion that has edged ahead as favourite.
Current WBA, IBF and WBO champion Kovalev (30-0-1, 26 KOs) came up against tricky Malawian Isaac Chilemba in his warm-up bout for the November showdown, but the dominant Russian could only secure an unconvincing points win on the return to his homeland.
The unbeaten 33-year-old knocked Chilemba down in the seventh round but was frustrated for the majority of proceedings on home soil, producing the poorest performance of his three-year reign as champion to see Ward (29-0, 15 KOs) edge ahead as the odds-on 4/5 front runner with Coral for success later this year.
Kovalev blames illness for stale showing
Knockout specialist Kovalev looked to be heading for his 16th stoppage victory in the seventh, but a defiant Chilemba was able to hold on and ultimately become only the fourth fighter to take ‘Krusher’ the distance in his career.
It was of course an emotional return to the DIVS Sports Palace in Ekaterinburg, only his third ever bout in his home country, with this having been his first outing there since the fatal fight with Roman Simakov in 2011.
Kovalev was visibly emotional after his latest outing and reportedly gave his fee for the fight to the family of his sadly deceased former opponent, with the champion then highlighting illness during training camp for his underwhelming showing in this unanimous points win.
“There were obviously some moments during the training with regards to my health, because I got a cold and I didn’t say anything, so the information wouldn’t get to Chilemba and might work against me,” outlined Kovalev.
“So myself and my trainer worked hard to overcome this stage and prepared for the fight.”
Chilemba the perfect warm-up for Ward
The hard-hitting Russian is now evens to overcome Ward in their scheduled November megafight after outpointing Chilemba, but he believes his latest opponent was perfect in helping him prepare for that upcoming showdown.
“My promoter and manager chose a fighter that is similar to Andre Ward’s style, so that I will be prepared for the fight with Ward,” he stated.
“When they told me that my opponent will be Chilemba because his style is similar to Andre Ward’s style, I was asking myself what’s so similar to his style?
“Their height is different, so at first I didn’t see much, but after the fight I realize that, in fact, he does have similar style to Andre Ward’s: waiting out and counter-attacks, he is not going in much, he waits in defence and waits for the right moment.”
Ward is regarded as one of the finest technicians in the sport, being able to intelligently control the distance and pace throughout bouts, and Kovalev’s recent outing will only encourage the Oakland native ahead of his assault on the light-heavyweight division.
Ward prospects boosted before own warm-up
The 32-year-old comfortably overcame Cuban Sullivan Barrera in his debut at 175lbs in March, having previously ruled at 168lbs, when earning a clear-cut unanimous decision, and he will next face Colombian Alexander Brand as a tune-up on August 6th.
Next fighting on the same date that this year’s Olympic Games begin, the 2004 Athens Gold medallist takes on a 39-year-old opponent who has just a single defeat on his CV, having lost an eight-round split decision to current WBC super-middleweight champion Badou Jack in 2012.
Ward will need to get business done against Brand in order to make the Kovalev megafight a reality later this year, with this set to be his second and last fight at the new weight before going face-to-face with ‘Krusher’.
Having seen how his future opponent stuttered in his respective warm-up outing, Ward will be keen to avoid any similar setbacks and is confident of realising his target of moving up and cleaning out the division.
“It’s a tall task and moving up in weight in general is not an easy thing to do. It’s not something that can’t be accomplished, it’s all locked in,” said the undefeated contender. “I’m coming for all the belts, it’s not going to be easy to get them, but it never is!”
The former super-middleweight master is regarded by many as the most proficient fighter on the planet, and, after hopefully dealing with the threat of South American Brand, victory over Kovalev in November would undoubtedly cement his position as the sport’s pound-for-pound star.