HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney discuss Andre Ward's unanimous decision victory over Alexander Brand and his forthcoming fight with Sergey Kovalev on November 19.
Photos: Will Hart
By Kieran Mulvaney
At least now the preliminaries are over.
As Andre Ward said after his victory over Alexander Brand, as he stood next to light-heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev, “I had to get past this step. He got past his step.” And now, after Ward followed up Kovalev’s July 11 win over Isaac Chilemba with an easy defeat of Brand in Oakland on Saturday night, the path is clear for Ward and Kovalev to clash on November 19.
Chilemba put up somewhat more resistance than expected in Russia last month, despite being knocked down and losing anywhere between eight and ten rounds. Brand, too, on one level exceeded expectations, inasmuch as he not only avoided an early stoppage but in fact made it all the way to the final bell; but Chilemba at least is a top ten light-heavyweight. Brand, frankly, is not; his lack of quality was glaring, and although Ward dominated and certainly made his hometown Oracle Arena crowd happy with his determination to bring the contest to an early close, he’ll surely be deeply disappointed with himself that he was unable to do so.
Ward, 30-0 (15 KOs), was always in control and never troubled by what Brand threw at him. How could he be? While the Californian is, at his best, one of the sport’s prime exponents, Brand was raw, slow and wild, winging punches in his opponent’s direction but without any of the finesse or skill needed to land much of anything. At times, Ward looked contemptuous of Brand deigning to think he could land a punch or two, shaking his head as he stepped out of the way of the Colombian’s lunges. But to his immense credit, Brand, although hopelessly outclassed, never once stopped trying. Nor did he ever even contemplate folding his tent or taking the easy way out, despite the fact that Ward, especially after the early rounds, stepped toward him and landed repeated flush punches on his jaw.
After taking a few rounds to measure up Brand, 25-2 (19 KOs), Ward began to crank up the pressure in the fifth. He landed a hard left hook at the start of that round, then followed with a right. He turned southpaw halfway through that frame, and once he did so, he found success with powerful straight left hands. He switched back to orthodox in the seventh and landed left/right combinations. A big right hand in the eighth swiveled Brand ninety degrees. But the only time Brand hit the floor was when he swung wildly with a left in the ninth, missed and fell over.
Ward kept trying to finish him off, but Brand, his right eye cut and swollen, stubbornly clung on to the bell.
“This guy was hard to knockout, man,” said Ward afterward. “He didn’t want to get knocked out, he was throwing punches from crazy angles.” But he looked forward to what lay ahead. “I’m going to be light heavyweight champion of the world,” he insisted. Kovalev seemed unconcerned. “Let’s do it on November 19.”
Photo: Will Hart
By Kieran Mulvaney
The last time Andre Ward was a day or two away from fighting in front of his hometown Oakland crowd, he seemed at turns tense and drawn, as if he were slightly struggling to make the light heavyweight limit, or was perhaps uncertain as to how he would perform in the ring after having fought just twice in the previous three and a half years.
A little over four months later, he has seemed more relaxed, his cheeks a tad fuller, his body strong and ripped as he weighed in right on the division limit of 175 pounds. Perhaps his better mood – if indeed it is more than the product of an observer’s imagination – is the result of his having had the experience of going 12 rounds with Sullivan Barrera in March, of having shaken off the ring rust and poor timing that was evident until he settled into his groove and ultimately dominated a previously undefeated opponent.
Or perhaps it is a function of knowing that, in Alexander Brand, he faces what on paper is the most minor of tests on Saturday, that there is nothing in the 39-year-old Colombian’s resume that suggests he poses any kind of threat to one of the best pound-for-pound boxers on the planet. Nor is that dispelled by seeing the two together: Brand, several inches shorter, appears to be at a considerable physical disadvantage, as well as facing shortcomings in skill and experience.
Ward has been talking a good game and saying the right things, about how “I need to take care of business” and how he cannot afford to look ahead and past his most immediate opponent. But most of the other inhabitants of Planet Boxing have been doing just that; Brand’s role here is not to act as spoiler but to provide enough rounds to help Ward refine his timing so he can be in the best possible form entering his November 19 clash with Sergey Kovalev.
Kovalev, who recently overcame his own final hurdle – admittedly, with somewhat more difficulty than anticipated – in the form of Isaac Chilemba, will be ringside on Saturday night; assuming all goes to plan and Ward emerges victorious, there seems a reasonable likelihood that the Russian will enter the ring postfight and the two men will face each other on camera for the first time. It won’t be the last; and, with all due respect to Brand, it is Kovalev whose clash with Ward will be the one that truly excites.
Weights from Oakland:
Andre Ward 175 lbs.
Alexander Brand 173.2 lbs.
With Floyd Mayweather Jr. retired, Andre Ward assumed the mantle of boxing's consummate boxer-puncher, a man who makes opponents miss and makes them pay with laser-guided missiles. Even after a career-long 19-month layoff Ward showed against Paul Smith that his technical prowess remains state of the art. On Saturday, 39-year-old Colombian Alexander Brand, who is making the first big leap up in class since losing a split decision to future WBC super middleweight titlist Badou Jack four years ago, will serve as the latest canvas upon which Ward will display his art. If the wild-swinging Brand has his way, he'll produce a piece that will reflect the volatility and chaos of Jackson Pollock. If Ward wins, a showdown with Sergey Kovalev awaits.
Maintaining the Beat: Ward defied conventional wisdom in June 2015 when he dissected, then decimated former two-time title challenger Smith in scoring a ninth-round TKO. As usual, Ward was the model of efficiency as he landed 39% of his total punches, 29% of his jabs and 59% of his power shots while absorbing 18% overall, 14% jabs and 29% in return. His jab was superb (44.7 thrown/12.9 connects per round) and he kept Smith in single-digit connects in every round (his best was eight in rounds six and eight) while Ward dipped below 20 connects just once (18 in the seventh). The raw numbers were illustrative of Ward's dominance (231-47 overall, 111-27 jabs, 120-20 power) and proved beyond doubt he still merited his spot near the top of the pound-for-pound parade. Nine months later he made his light heavyweight debut against Sullivan Barrera and his comprehensive decision win established his spot as a top contender. His numbers weren't as dominant (166-111 overall, 66-46 jabs, 100-65 power) but that's only because Ward threw nearly 22 fewer punches every round (38.6 vs. 60.2). The accuracy gaps better illustrate Ward's command (36%-15% overall, 28%-12% jabs, 44%-19% power). A look at Ward's stats from his last 9 fights: Ward's +15.3 plus/minus rating #3 among CompuBox Cat. Leaders. If you believe Money's retired, then Ward's #2, trailing only Santa Cruz (+15.8) and Ward has faced the better overall opposition than Santa Cruz. Ward lands 7 jabs per round (LH Avg.: 4.9). Opponents landed just 9 punches per round (LH Avg.: 16.3) and just 6.1 power shots per round (LH Avg.: 11.4). Opponents landed 22.7% of their total punches (LH Avg.: 30.9%) & just 27.6% of their power shots LH Avg.: 38%). Brand opponents (Bektemirov & Jack) landed 42.3% of their power punches.
Step-Up Stumble: When most U.S.-based fans last saw Brand, he won a split decision over the 16-0 Medzhid Bektemirov that should have been unanimous given his ring generalship. Brand overcame a first-round knockdown by out-speeding the plodding Bektemirov and playing the numbers game well (69.2 punches per round to 32.2). The connect gaps were narrow (Brand led 95-85 overall and 28-18 jabs while tying at 67 power connects) but only because Bektemirov led 26%-14% overall, 14%-7% jabs and 35%-22% power. Before that, Brand's last high-level opponent was against future 168-pound titlist Badou Jack. Brand's Mayorga-like swarming caught Jack off guard in the first three rounds (he out-landed Jack in rounds two and three) but after that Jack found enough of his game to register connect advantages of 132-110 overall and 50-21 jabs to off-set Brand's 89-82 power connect lead. Jack's accuracy gaps (35%-22% overall, 23%-13% jabs, 52%-27% power) and his excellent jab (27 thrown/6.3 connects per round) trumped Brand's volume (62.5 per round to Jack's 46.8). Against the 17-9-1 Wilmer Gonzalez (KO 2) Brand could do little wrong as he led 40-5 overall, 13-2 jabs and 27-3 power. In the second and final round Brand was 22 of 89 overall and Gonzalez's 1 of 34 and for the fight Brand was hit by 6% overall, 4% jabs and 12% power while landing 24%, 17% and 31% respectively. No one should expect a repeat of that against Ward.
Prediction: Ward and Brand were slated to meet on the Alvarez-Cotto undercard but a knee injury canceled that fight. There is a reason why Ward specifically asked for Brand for his final tune-up before facing the "Krusher": Brand's style dovetails perfectly into Ward's strengths. Ward will end the fight at the moment of his choosing, but after this third straight lay-up he will be forced to confront his first genuine day of reckoning since the Super Six final nearly five years ago.
Photo: Will Hart
By Hamilton Nolan
Customarily, the title of Best Pound for Pound Boxer in the World is a flashy affair. Not so at this moment in time. Floyd Mayweather, who was somehow able to rake in nine-figure purses while conducting himself as a defensive specialist, is retired; Manny Pacquiao, the flashy all-action "good guy" so beloved he could one day end up President of the Philippines, is at the tail end of his career – a recently announced return from retirement notwithstanding. The true and honest pick for their successor as the very best pure boxer on earth could very well be Andre Ward. But nobody is making too much noise about it, and everyone harbors a tiny suspicion that the man who has not lost since he was 12 years old may have already seen his best years. We’ll find out very, very soon.
Andre Ward has signed a deal to fight Sergey Kovalev in November. If he wins that fight--going up a weight class to defeat the scariest light heavyweight knockout artist in the world--the world will be comfortable crowning him pound-for-pound king and successor to Mayweather, allowing him to pursue the remainder of his career in the lucrative role of Prince of Boxing. There are just a few reasons why that may prove to be challenging to even the great Andre Ward. One is Kovalev himself. Another is the size leap. Another is the fact that Andre Ward is 32 years old with a relatively modest 29-0 record and recently went 20 full months, including the entire year of 2014, without fighting anyone, due to management and injury issues. This is not to say that Andre Ward is definitively rusty, or that his peak boxing years are definitively behind him. It’s just to say that those things might be the case. Add to that the fact that in the past year he has only fought Paul Smith, who is not a world class fighter, and Sullivan Barrera, who is not a world class fighter, and now, in what will be his final tune-up fight before Kovalev, he is fighting Alexander Brand, who is not a world class fighter. The last real world class fighter that Andre Ward beat (masterfully, it should be said) was Chad Dawson, in 2012, at 168 pounds. In less than four months he will fight Sergey Kovalev, a world class fighter, at 175 pounds. You can see how this may, possibly, prove to be a challenge.
Both Pacquiao and Mayweather, welterweights, had blinding speed and clear physical gifts to go with their skills; Pacquiao’s gifts were mostly offensive and Mayweather’s were mostly defensive, but the greatness of each could be perceived after watching them for just a moment. Ward’s gifts are far more subtle. Watching him for a round or two does not always reveal the depth of his talent. His speed is not blinding and his power is not overwhelming. His greatest gift is decision-making. At any given moment, he is always making the right choice. This starts as almost imperceptible and, over the course of a fight, adds up to domination. Every tiny mistake an opponent makes pulls Ward closer to victory. To an even greater degree than Mayweather, Ward is the thinking man’s champ.
Which is wonderful, unless you are the sort of fighter who takes a 20 month layoff. That can tend to dull the very sort of sharpness necessary for proper decision-making superiority. The only way that an intelligence-driven fighter like Andre Ward can ensure that his fast mind has not gotten rusty is to test it against the highest level of opposition. Last March, against Sullivan Barrera, who is a good but certainly not great fighter, Ward won in a fashion that was solid but far from exquisite. On August 6, against Alexander Brand, he will need to be utterly dominant in order to reassure the world that he is ready for the many dangers that Sergey Kovalev brings.
Brand boasts a 25-1 record that is less impressive than it looks. Twenty four of his fights and wins were in his native Colombia, against opposition I guarantee you have not heard of; his lone loss came in 2012 to Badou Jack, who is coincidentally the only decent fighter he has ever faced. The step up to a man like Andre Ward is akin to being given a place in the Super Bowl after eking out a win in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. It’s a leap. Brand is a good enough puncher who can knock you out if you let him, which is unlikely in his next fight. His balance is awkward; he tends to flail at times; and he often allows himself to adopt a shoulder roll defensive posture without the requisite shoulder roll defensive skills. He should be, in other words, completely dismantled by Andre Ward. It is not necessary for Ward to win by knockout. But it is necessary for him to so thoroughly exploit every weakness in Alexander Brand’s game as to demonstrate to him that he has no business being in the same ring with Andre Ward, unless he retires and becomes a referee.
Anything less will do nothing but whet Sergey Kovalev’s appetite for blood.
HBO Boxing unofficial scorer Harold Lederman discusses Andre Ward vs. Alexander Brand. Ward vs. Brand happens Saturday, Aug. 6 live on HBO beginning at 10:35 pm ET/PT.
HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney break down Terence Crawford's dismantling of Viktor Postol at the MGM Grand.
Photos: Will Hart
By Kieran Mulvaney
Viktor Postol was supposed to be Terence Crawford’s toughest test, and while it was one he was favored to pass, the expectation was that it would be a challenge, that the Nebraskan would be forced to dig deep and answer questions that had not to this point ever been posed to him in the ring.
In the end, Crawford not only passed the examination, he aced it, dominating Postol over 12 increasingly one-sided rounds that left the Ukrainian looking lost long before the torture reached its eventual end.
This was not because, as some sought to suggest in the immediate aftermath, Postol was overrated, that his career-defining victory over Lucas Matthysse had flattered him because the Argentinian was nearing the end of a career of tough fights. The man from Kiev was – and remains – a legitimate quality boxer, one with a lengthy jab and an awkward style that would prove at worst an ordeal for pretty much any other opponent in or around the 140-pound division.
The fact that Postol could barely lay a glove on Crawford was not because he was in some way inadequate. It was because Terence Crawford proved at the MGM Grand on Saturday night what his recent performances had more than suggested: that he is a very special talent indeed.
Not that the first few rounds offered much indication of the quality of either man. Both fighters are known for a tendency to start slowly, and so it proved here. There was much bouncing of toes, much circling and feinting but little of any consequence landing for either man. Postol’s vaunted jab was not landing, but the mere fact that he was pawing his lengthy left hand in Crawford’s direction was enough to keep the American at range. The exploratory punches that Crawford (29-0, 20 KOs) did send in Postol’s direction fell short, but he was always probing, constantly moving, measuring the distance, testing Postol’s responses, gathering information, setting himself up for the rest of the fight.
In the fourth, he showed that he had accumulated much of the knowledge that he needed, and that now he was ready to put that knowledge to work. A straight left from the southpaw stance landed on Postol’s jaw, as did another. Postol reached with a right hand and Crawford cracked him with another left. The Crawford gameplan was now evident: force Postol to throw a right hand and then counter him with his faster punches.
At the start of the fifth, however, Crawford didn’t wait for Postol to throw first. He came flying out of the corner, landing a cuffing right hand that pushed the Ukrainian briefly to a knee for a knockdown. Postol shook his head in frustration at receiving a count from referee Tony Weeks, but there was no doubt about the next knockdown in that round, which came after Crawford feinted in response to a Postol right and landed a hard left that forced Postol (28-1, 12 KOs) to touch his glove to the canvas. Crawford’s constant movement had Postol utterly befuddled and unable to find a target for his jab; at the end of the sixth, Postol even dropped his hands to his side in frustration.
By the seventh, Crawford was completely comfortable, even beating Postol to his jab, attempting to bait him on to counters, rarely exciting but utterly dominating, turning in a performance that was increasingly – for all the positive and negative connotations that implies – Mayweatheresque. At times, even the strongly pro-Omaha contingent among the announced 7.027 crowd booed the lack of action, only for Crawford to spy an opening and flash a left hand that buckled Postol’s knees and had the fans cheering anew.
Again and again, the pattern repeated: Postol, too slow physically and increasingly broken emotionally, followed Crawford around the ring, afraid to commit to punches, but occasionally falling victim to his natural impulses, launching a hopeful right hand anyway and promptly being punished by the hard counter that he knew would be coming. Adding insult to injury, one brief Postol attempt to show some aggression in the eleventh resulted in his landing a pair of rabbit punches that earned him a point deduction from Weeks.
He opened up finally in the twelfth, knowing by now that he was hopelessly behind on the scores; Crawford’s response was to stick his tongue out at him, dare Postol to hit him, and then land a right hook and a left hand, and then another, tearing into his utterly beaten opponent as the final bell sounded, at which point the Nebraskan raised both hands to the sky and beamed the smile of a clear victor.
If anything, the judges’ scorecards – 118-107 twice, and 117-108 – might arguably have been a smidgen generous to the dominated, and no longer undefeated, Ukrainian, who had no excuses afterward.
“He was too fast,” Postol admitted. “He surprised me.”
“They said he had the best jab in the game, in the division,” sneered Crawford, “and I took his jab away. It wasn’t my toughest fight at all.”