HBO World Championship Boxing returns with a light heavyweight matchup between Sergey Kovalev and Eleider Alvarez. Ahead of Kovalev vs. Alvarez, rising star Dmitry Bivol takes on Isaac Chilemba. Catch all the action Saturday, August 4 at 10 PM ET/PT on HBO.
HBO Boxing Insider Kieran Mulvaney interviews both Jorge Linares and Mercito Gesta ahead of their lightweight title fight. The Linares vs. Gesta co-feature happens ahead of Lucas Matthysse vs. Tewa Kiram on Saturday, January 27 at 10:30 pm ET/PT on HBO Boxing After Dark.
HBO Boxing Insider Kieran Mulvaney interviews both Lucas Matthysse and Tewa Kiram ahead of their welterweight battle on Boxing After Dark. Matthysse vs. Kiram happens Saturday, January 27 at 10:30 pm ET/PT.
HBO Boxing Insiders Kieran Mulvaney and Eric Raskin provide a preview of Andre Ward's upcoming rematch against Sergey Kovalev.
Ward vs. Kovalev 2 happens Saturday, June 17 live on Pay-Per-View beginning at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT. Order the fight here.
Photo: Ed Mulholland
Last November's fight between Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev was supposed to identify the world's top light heavyweight. Instead, Ward's razor-thin, off-the-floor unanimous decision ignited one of the hottest scoring debates in recent years. However, it also spawned this rematch, and if the stakes aren't already high enough, Ward-Kovalev 2 will be only the second fight since The Ring began pound-for-pound ratings that its Nos. 1 and 2 fighters will meet head-to-head (Julio Cesar Chavez vs. Pernell Whitaker in 1993 was the other).
While both men are likely to be enshrined in Canastota, this match could determine which man will be remembered as the superior fighter. Then again, if Kovalev wins, this fight may well be the middle chapter of a trilogy.
Fight No. 1: The raw numbers favored Kovalev (126 vs. 116 overall and 78 vs. 61 power to Ward's 55 vs. 48 lead in landed jabs), but the percentages belonged to Ward (34% vs. 27% overall, 33% vs. 20% jabs, 36% vs. 34% power) as well as the second half of the fight, when Ward surged from landing six of 22 punches in the first six rounds to 13 of 34 in rounds 7 to 12.
Kovalev also accelerated in the second half (from nine of 36 in the first six rounds to 12 of 43 in rounds 7 to 12), but Ward's ability to slow the pace to his liking (28.1 punches per round for Ward to Kovalev's 39.5) and his better performance in the last half of the fight gave him a psychological and strategic edge that Kovalev couldn't overcome. The round-by-round breakdowns are telling because each man won six rounds in overall connects and landed power shots, while Ward forged a narrow lead in jab connects.
Given the narrative, it is surprising that the 10th round was Kovalev's best statistical round in terms of total connects (21 of 58 overall), not the second round when he scored the knockdown (16 of 49). As for Ward, the ninth was his best (17 of 38 overall). Another key to Ward's finishing kick was his power punching accuracy. In the first seven rounds, he never got above 36% (he was 14%, 0%, 30%, 27%, 36%, 25% and 25% in those rounds), but in rounds 8 to 12 he surged to 50%, 50%, 58%, 36% and 37%.
Conversely, Kovalev was consistent with his power accuracy as, aside from his 17% performance in Round 3, he ranged from 25% to 42%. Perception is a powerful tool for a boxer, and the overriding perception was that Kovalev was slowing down while Ward was surging. That probably allowed the Bay Area native to win enough close rounds to get the decision.
Inside the Numbers: In his last 11 fights, Ward has amassed a +15.1 plus/minus rating, which ranks No. 3 on the CompuBox Categorical Leaders list. In addition, Ward landed 37.7% of his total punches during that time (No. 4 on the list), 30.2% of his jabs (No. 3) and is one of only four fighters in boxing to land 30% or more of his jabs. Opponents land just 8.6 punches per round against Ward, half the division average, and only 5.9 power shots per round, nearly half the division average. Kovalev landed 10.5 total punches per round and 6.5 power shots per round in the first fight. Ward's opponents land just 22% of their total punches -- 8.6% lower than the division average -- and just 26.7% of their power punches (11.1% lower than the division average).
Kovalev amassed just a +0.8 plus/minus rating primarily due to his last six opponents landing 36.7% of their power punches. However, opponents landed just 7.8 total punches per round against the Russian -- less than half the division average of 16.1 per round -- and just 4.4 power punches per round (No. 3 on the list). Ward landed 9.7 total punches per round and 5.1 power shots per round vs. Kovalev in the first fight.
Prediction: The bitter feelings from the first fight will probably not carry over into the ring because both men are cerebral fighters. Ward has been this way throughout his career while Kovalev, once a free-swinging slugger, has diversified his game under trainer John David Jackson's tutelage. With 12 rounds against Kovalev under his belt and plenty of footage to analyze, Ward, who will now be given 12 fresh rounds to implement his findings, will carefully counter-punch and frustrate Kovalev en route to a wider win.
Photo: Ed Mulholland
By Gordon Marino
In boxing, it is rare to have the best fight the best while they are still at their best, but we have just that on Saturday night in the rematch between Andre Ward (30-0, 15 KOs) and Sergey Kovalev (30-1-1, 26 KOs) at Mandaly Bay in Las Vegas on HBO Pay-Per-View (9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT).
Ward, aka the “S.O.G.” ("Son Of God"), will defend the light heavyweight crown that some say he robbed in his unanimous but controversial decision over Kovalev in November 2016.
In their first fight, Kovalev dominated the early stanzas, even notching a dramatic knockdown in Round 2 with a counter right that escaped Ward’s usually impeccable radar. However, after the midway point, Ward managed to negate Kovalev’s major weapon and score enough blows to convince three judges and some of the reporters in press row that he deserved the nod.
The punch counts were close with Kovalev landing more power shots and Ward planting more jabs. The Russian was the busier boxer; Ward the more accurate. There were many head scratching rounds for those scoring the action.
Still, the general consensus is that after about 18 minutes of exchanging leather, Ward, a master at adaptation, figured out Kovalev’s program. And now that the Bay area boxer understands Kovalev’s style, the rematch should be a continuation of the second half of bout No. 1.
John David Jackson, Kovalev’s trainer, does not agree, saying, “We won the first fight and there is not much more that Ward can do this time around.”
The dean of the sweet science, Bernard Hopkins, sees a lot of himself in Ward’s ability to hit without being hit and in his knack for neutralizing his opponent's offensive strengths. Nevertheless, B-Hop believes that Kovalev will make meaningful tweaks to his violent craft.
Hopkins, who lost a unanimous decision to Kovalev in 2014, stresses that there are few fighters with heavier hands than the Russian. “Sergey’s jab feels like a right hand from an orthodox fighter," said Hopkins. "It is that hard.”
In a recent conversation with Hopkins, I criticized Kovalev for failing to bend enough on the inside, but Hopkins countered, “With his jab and reach, Sergey has no business trying to fight on the inside. He has to be the matador. When the bull comes in you have to stick him and move to the side. Right from the first bell, Kovalev has to land that jab enough to make Ward conscious of it, to make him have second thoughts about rushing in.”
Actually, Kovalev was painting Ward with brain-rattling jabs up until the halfway point of their November fight. Then something happened and Ward was able to get inside, slip Kovalev’s shots, ram his body and tie up his lanky foe.
Boxing commentator Teddy Atlas has observed that when fighters are frequently clinching, they are making a silent pact to take a breather. Last go-around, it was Ward who practiced the Hopkins-like punch and grab. However, Sergey could have kept him outside with his jack-hammer jab or when Ward did break the perimeter, Kovalev could have stepped back or to the side and found other ways to refuse the invitation to wrestle.
Remember, just because Kovalev is the harder puncher, it does not follow that he has superior overall body strength. Jackson complained, “The wrestling drained a lot of Sergey’s energy. He can’t do that this time around. All Sergey has to do when Ward is inside is keep his elbows in and hands up. If Ward goes to the body, he’ll leave himself open.” And with Sergey's power, that could lead to a rough -- or early -- night for his opponent.
Kovalev sneers that Ward’s ability to climb back into the first fray had nothing to do with Ward and everything to do with the fact that from the fifth frame on, Kovalev was feeling flat. Jackson maintains because of over-training his man came into the fight with only half a tank. “In addition to everything else we were doing, Sergey would run 14 miles a day. For what? Boxing is not a marathon.”
Virgil Hunter, Ward’s trainer for the last 24 years, did epic motivational work in getting his mentee back into the contest after Ward was hurt badly in the second round. Asked about the changes in strategy that Ward made in the first fight and how those might be developed on Saturday, Hunter was mum, but he did say, “The big change was that the dog in Ward finally came out.” And Kovalev, the great intimidator, was not prepared for that dog.
Both fighters and their brain trusts had excuses. Hunter revealed, “Andre had a cyst on the back of his right knee. Early in the fight, he came to the corner and said that his knee was stiff, that it was hard to move, to feint and turn on his punches.” Since then, the cyst has been removed and Hunter predicts that we will see a more mobile and aggressive Ward on June 17.
In their first encounter, Ward repeatedly bent and speared Kovalev with a jab to the body. With that traditional punch, a fighter has his legs under him and as a result is in perfect position to come up and explode a right with maximum force. It was an integral part Mike Tyson’s repertoire.
Either out of indifference to Ward’s power, or imagining that the judges were not registering jabs to the body, Kovalev did nothing to avoid the incoming left. Over 12 rounds, Ward’s jabs and hooks to the body sapped Sergey’s energy and disturbed his timing. On Saturday, Kovalev cannot let Ward use his body like a heavy bag with impunity.
From the amateurs on, boxers learn to bring the right behind the jab. The constant practice with the 1-2 creates a muscle memory that makes it difficult to switch up and start the fistic drumbeat with the right hand. Ward, however, revealed that going way back he has always mixed it up, always practiced at throwing a right then a jab along with the usual jab (right hand). As a result, Ward boasts one of the premier right hand leads in boxing. Though not as often as he would have liked, Ward managed some head-snapping lead rights against Kovalev in their first meeting.
For that reason and others, on his improvement checklist, Sergey needs to include lifting his left. He has a bad habit of dragging his left hand back low after he jabs. Worse yet, he drops his right when he jabs, leaving a window for Ward’s best punch, his cobra quick left hook.
Though he is no Hector Camacho, Kovalev boasts good footwork. He is usually adept at cutting off the ring, even against light-footed foes; but in the second half of the first fight, Kovalev often seemed to be aimlessly following Ward around, just trying to land his right hand. But if he is going to deliver his Suzie–Q, Kovalev has to slide over as Ward moves to his right.
According to CompuBox, Kovalev let fly with almost 500 punches. That wasn’t bad, but Jackson stresses that the combination to unlocking Ward “is more combinations not more punches.” In November, the Krusher failed to bring the left hook behind the right. And going back to his early career, he resorted to head-hunting, oblivious to targets beneath the chin. If Ward goes under or smothers the left hook to the head, Kovalev needs to bring that same punch to the body. Finally, the uppercut is one of the Krusher’s cruelest weapons, but he left it on the shelf in their first fight. He should remember to bring it along this time around.
Ask Kovalev the tired boxing question -- what does this fight mean to you? -- and you will get a sincere, one-word answer: “everything.” Press Ward and he’ll respond that it is just another big fight. However, despite his quiet demeanor, Ward has a heavyweight ego. The 31-year-old who has not lost a bout since 1998 is eager to punch out any questions about who is the best 178-pound pugilist on the planet.
Though the outcome of their first contest left many doubts, there is no doubt that between these two highly skilled boxers Ward has the edge in speed and mobility, Kovalev in power. But who has the mental advantage?
Kovalev says, “I am hungry and I am angry.” With the visage of a hitman, the hardest-punching light heavyweight since Bob Foster promises Ward, “I will kick you ass.” Smoldering anger in the world of the ring can work one of two ways. It can motivate a fighter to take risks and keep moving forward through blizzards of pain and punishment. On the other hand, blood in the eye can also be poison, exhausting a fighter and causing him to telegraph his blows, as in Marvin Hagler’s 1987 attempt to decapitate Sugar Ray Leonard. Kovalev is taking this fight very personally, threatening Ward, “I will destroy you. I will end your career.” That is bad intentions squared.
Act One revealed that Ward does not scare. He recalls that between his amateur and pro careers, “I have fought 50 Kovalevs.” All talk. If mental muscle is measured by control of your emotions, then Ward would seem to have the bigger biceps. When Kovalev fumes, Ward incites, “Get mad. I want you to get as mad as you can get.” He may just get that wish.
Photo: Ed Mulholland/Top Rank
By Eric Raskin
Terence Crawford could shadowbox in Omaha and draw 10,000 fans. The Nebraska native has headlined the CenturyLink Center four times and worked his hometown fans into a frenzy in each of his four victories there. But there’s some uncertainty about what he can do in New York City, where he'll face Felix Diaz on HBO World Championship Boxing this Saturday at 10:15 p.m. ET/PT.
Crawford resonated nicely the first time he fought there, drawing a sellout crowd of 5,092 in the small room at Madison Square Garden last February. This Saturday night he steps up to the big room, the main arena, where Muhammad Ali fought Joe Frazier, where Roberto Duran and Felix Trinidad and Miguel Cotto heard the roar of nearly 20,000 diehards. To crib from a handful of musicians, this ain’t somewhere in middle America, where it’s the heart that matters more. This is where dreams are made. Where you prove you can make it anywhere. Where Terence Crawford, the rising star attraction, is put to the test.
And it’s where, if Felix Diaz has anything to say about it, Terence Crawford, the fighter, is put to the test as well.
Crawford vs. Diaz straddles two worlds: It’s a star showcase, designed to gauge and then increase the visibility of a man who might be partially counted on to carry boxing in America over the next several years; it’s also a real fight, one in which a legit lineal title is on the line and the challenger is an Olympic gold medalist who’s never lost as a pro in this weight class (junior welterweight).
Not insignificantly, it’s a fight that challenger asked for, called for, almost begged for.
“I called out Terence because Terence is the best in the division,” Diaz said on a recent conference call. “It is a big opportunity for me to fight at Madison Square Garden against him. … I am definitely motivated that I am being overlooked and that I am the underdog. But I have my own plans.”
In 2008, Diaz became the first boxer (and only the second athlete, period) from the Dominican Republic to win an Olympic gold medal. But as a pro, he’s operated somewhat under the radar. The southpaw has fought only 20 times in eight years, and never for a major title before. He made a big leap against Lamont Peterson in 2015 and came up just short, losing a majority decision on his opponent’s home turf, but he bounced right back with a close win over previously unbeaten Sammy Vasquez. At 19-1 with nine KOs, Diaz, on paper, doesn’t look much different than Dierry Jean or Thomas Dulorme or any number of other B-level fighters Crawford has breezed through. But a closer look at the NYC-based Dominican’s skill set – his blend of boxing know-how and steady pressure – suggests Crawford could be pushed on Saturday night. And the champ seems to recognize that.
“It’s gonna be a real fun fight,” the Nebraskan said. “I’m real excited for this fight. I’m real up for it. … He’s got the skills, he’s a good fighter, he is an Olympic gold medalist, and this is the fight that a lot of people were calling for, and we are here now.”
Crawford respects the challenge – but he’s the prohibitive favorite for a reason. Diaz is a southpaw, which might give him an edge against some opponents. Not this one. Crawford is a switch-hitter who instinctively senses the perfect times to go lefty and open up better angles for delivering his offense, particularly his money-shot straight left hand. He possesses exceptional footwork that also makes those angles possible. Crawford (30-0, 21 KOs) can’t be rattled in the ring; his body may be 29 years old, but he has the mental wherewithal of a much older fighter.
Since “Bud” beat Yuriorkis Gamboa in a 2014 Fight of the Year contender to establish himself as one of the sport’s must-watch warriors, he’s gradually inched his way up the pound-for-pound lists. When Crawford outpointed Viktor Postol last July, it was both a crowning moment and a mild letdown. Crawford claimed the lineal junior welterweight title that evening, but for the first time in quite a while, he took his foot off the gas down the stretch and left observers unfulfilled.
Diaz is out to take Crawford out of his rhythm and show Crawford’s backers what a real letdown for their man looks like.
“I know how good Crawford is,” said Diaz’s promoter Lou DiBella. “Felix knows how good Crawford is. The media knows how good Crawford is, but he is not God, he is not unbeatable. He’s had tough fights with guys like Gamboa, who was a little guy, and Diaz has a lot of the same attributes when it comes to pressure and style which could make it a very difficult night for Bud.”
Diaz doesn’t have Gamboa’s exceptional hand speed, but at 5-foot-5 against the 5-foot-8 Crawford, there are indeed similarities to the Cuban build-wise. Diaz isn’t hard to hit, but he doesn’t seem to mind it. If the 33-year-old Dominican is able to walk through Crawford’s heaviest artillery and keep applying pressure, this fight could get more stressful than any Crawford has had since Gamboa.
And that’s to say nothing of the baked-in stress of being the headliner and trying to fill boxing’s most famous arena.
“Obviously, we could have taken the fight to Omaha and had a massive sellout like we always do,” said Crawford’s promoter Bob Arum, “but we decided that we wanted to showcase Terence at the ‘Mecca of Boxing,’ Madison Square Garden. There is no place else in boxing – with all due respect to Las Vegas and other arenas – there is no place in boxing that has the symbolism and the history of Madison Square Garden.”
Crawford’s mission is to write his name in concrete among the best of his era. Diaz’s mission is to make sure he has to go through the jungle to get there.
Co-Main Event Preview: Beltran vs. Maicelo
One of the many who has tried and failed to upend Crawford, “Sugar” Ray Beltran, attempts to keep his “I can beat anybody not named Terence Crawford” tour rolling in the co-feature, as the Phoenix-based Mexican veteran meets New Jersey’s Jonathan Maicelo in a 12-round lightweight bout. Beltran (32-7-1, 20 KOs) would be undefeated over the last five years if not for running into Crawford. Last time out, on the undercard of Crawford’s fight with John Molina, Beltran took apart prospect Mason Menard, schooling and stopping him in seven rounds. Maicelo (25-2, 12 KOs) is on a four-fight win streak, but he’ll either need to find another gear or pray that the 35-year-old Beltran suddenly hits the wall if he wants to extend it to five.
Watch the teaser video for the anticipated rematch between light heavyweight titans Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev.
Ward vs. Kovalev 2 happens Saturday, June 17 live on HBO Pay-Per-View at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT.