HBO Boxing Insiders offer their predictions for Saturday's bout between Sergey Kovalev and Andre Ward on HBO pay-per-view (9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT):
Kieran Mulvaney: Kovalev UD
I can see almost any scenario unfolding. I'm even one of those who think that Andre Ward might even hurt Sergey Kovalev. Ward's obviously the more skilled fighter and five years ago I would have predicted him to win fairly easily. But I'm just not sure that he's that same Andre Ward anymore. For that reason I think Kovalev is going have enough to be able to outbox him and outfight him.
Eric Raskin: Ward W12
This is a fight about which it's nearly impossible to say with confidence who will win and how it will go, but I think the most likely scenario is that Ward's boxing brain and ability to neutralize opponents and make mid-fight adjustments will separate him as the bout goes along. I can envision Kovalev landing his booming right hand a time or two in the early rounds, and the fight being about even at the midway point. But then Ward will really start to zero in and dictate the range and the pace, Kovalev will begin to press and make some mistakes and it will be Ward pulling away to a unanimous decision by scores in the 116-112 range.
Gordon Marino: Ward UD
I think Ward's speed, elusiveness and, above all, unpredictability will blanket the Krusher's power. Also, there are a lot of openings in Kovalev's defense and S.O.G. will be able to capitalize on them.
Hamilton Nolan: Ward W12
I'm picking Ward by decision. Not too long ago, he was the best pound-for-pound fighter next to Floyd Mayweather. Nobody really knows how all his inactivity is going to affect him in a real tough test. But he is a brilliant and complete fighter when he's all there. Kovalev has scary power and is a good enough boxer but he's very straightforward and Ward has the skills to shut him down -- assuming those skills didn't rust too much. (Generally I wouldn't pick against a guy who hasn't lost in 20 years until I see him lose with my own eyes.)
Nat Gottlieb: Ward SD
Ward is a far superior boxer to the power-puncher Kovalev. Don’t expect Ward go to war with Kovalev. He's likely to box circles around the Russian, without doing much damage. I think Ward will land enough punches to win a decision.
Oliver Goldstein: Ward UD
Sergey Kovalev hits harder -- much harder -- than Andre Ward; he's also far less pleasant. At the same time I'll wager that he's not as clever, quick, composed, talented or as nasty as Ward, who has long shown a capacity to fight to the very edge (and then some) of the rulebook. This, I think, could prove a long night for Sergey.
Carlos Acevedo: Ward W12
At his best, Kovalev is a stand-up stalker who applies murderous pressure without being overly aggressive. The key to this destructive style is his jab. But if his sluggish performance against Isaac Chilemba last August is any indication, Kovalev is vulnerable to junk artists. And no one can spoil like Andre Ward. In that sense, this looks like a bad style matchup for “Krusher.” One weakness Ward will look to exploit is the fact that Kovalev, who often falls in after launching a combination, seems reluctant to throw left hooks in ring center. By relying mostly on a jab-right-hand combination, Kovalev will make it easier for Ward to work his shifty razzle dazzle on the perimeter. And because Kovalev often brings his jab back to his waist -- and leaves it there as he advances -- he is susceptible to right hands of every variety. On the inside, Kovalev will likely be at a disadvantage against Ward, whose knack for "pretzeling" opponents is legendary. While Ward is grinding away in the clinches, Kovalev will have less of a chance to kickstart his high-powered offense.
But Ward has shown so little over the last few years that gauging his current form is nearly impossible. A recent series of exhibitions against limited and relatively unknown opposition (Paul Smith, Sullivan Barrera and Alexander Brand) barely counts as live-fire, and the dangerous rigors of the ring cannot be reproduced with blanks. A few years ago, Ward probably would have found Kovalev one-dimensional enough to grapple and potshot his way to a unanimous decision. In 2016, it may be a harder task to achieve, but one, perhaps, not yet out of reach.
Michael Gluckstadt: Kovalev KO11
I've gone back and forth on this one more times than I can count, and right now the difference-maker in my mind is a sports cliché I hate to even utter: heart. Andre Ward is a brilliant fighter who could very well posses the highest ring IQ in the sport right now. But he's spent the last few years enmeshed in unnecessary promotional disputes and tangling with lackluster opponents. Simply put, I'm not sure he still really wants to be a fighter.
Sergey Kovalev hurts people. It's what he's built to do, and thank God he found a productive outlet in which to do it. At some point in a fight this evenly matched both fighters are going to have reach down deep and decide if they want to continue. I'm sure Sergey Kovalev will keep pressing forward, but I can't say the same about Andre Ward.