Ward Vs. Kovalev II: Settling the Debate
Updated: Sep 8, 2020
Andre Ward -140 Vs. Sergey Kovalev
Mandalay Bay Events Center, Las Vegas, Nevada
June 17, 2017 6PM PDT
The initial dance between these pound-for-pound contenders last November left boxing fans and pundits alike split in their estimations of which fighter deserved to exit the ring the victor. Officially though, Ward secured a unanimous decision, along with the Kovalev's light heavyweight belts, as all three judges gave the Oakland native a one point edge.
On the eve of the initial match-up, OddsShark suggested Ward was favored by Las Vegas bookmakers, as reflected by a moneyline of -145 (vs. Kovalev's +115). To underscore how the first fight settled absolutely nothing, seven months, 12 rounds and a good amount of jawboning later, OddsShark reports exactly the same odds as the rematch approaches!
Our framework for handicapping boxing is fairly fundamental in nature. We weigh the advantages for each party, in categories such as youth, reach, power, speed, technical ability, boxing IQ and the ability to adjust.
By this assessment, Ward comes out on top. Andre is modestly younger and his advantage in hand speed was on full display in the back half of the first contest. However, Ward's impeccable technique, almost other-worldly boxing intelligence and ability to adapt on the fly are, in our estimation, the biggest advantages he will lord over his opponent this evening, and, we expect, keys to Ward maintaining his unbeaten record.
Specifically, we would not be surprised to see a concerted effort by Ward to take advantage of Kovalev's lack of efficacy fighting on the inside. Again, in last year's match-up, there was no shortage of Ward forcing the action in close in rounds six through 12; the judges were obviously impressed, as Ward won all of those rounds on all three cards.
Relatedly, Tony Weeks, the referee for tonight's action, has earned a reputation for not being overly anxious to interrupt the action. Rather Weeks seems to prefer to let the fighters themselves resolve clinches, where reasonable. Thus, Tony Weeks' selection to officiate tonight might play into Ward's strategy. Should Ward decide to stay closer to Kovalev, the challenger's punishing power jab -- which was formidable early in the first fight -- would also likely be neutralized.
Conversely, Kovalev sports a 1.5 inch reach advantage and is clearly the heavier puncher (as a pro, Sergey has KO'd 81% of fighters that have squared up against him). And as was illustrated in the second round of the first fight, when Kovalev dropped Ward for the first time in his career with an imperfect right hand, one punch from a bonafide puncher can immediately alter the landscape of a fight.
We note though that Kovalev still appears visibly disturbed by the outcome last autumn. We worry that this emotionality might impair his willingness and ability to execute trainer John David Jackson's game plan.
From a more macro perspective, history favors the winner of the first fight in rematches, another support for Andre Ward this evening. One review of a sample of early-2008 fights found that of loser of the initial fight found vindication in the do-over in less than 14% of instances studied. A separate examination of this topic concludes that over the long-term, the winner of the first fight holds off the challenger roughly two times out of three in rematches.
In his book GamblersAdvisory.com, Richard E. A. Dwyer offers a generalization that applies to handicapping Ward/Kovalev 2: this author expects a counterpunching fighter to prevail in the second match, if the counterpuncher bested an offensively-oriented boxer in the first bout, and if the rematch occurs within a year. This guidance too favors Ward to prevail.
Bottom line: We think the combination of Ward's quest for greatness and the lingering uncertainty from the first iteration of Ward vs. Kovalev offers adequate motivation for Andre to definitively set the record straight tonight. Further, and perhaps more importantly, we see Ward as possessing the physical and mental abilities to collect the win. On the other hand, while Kovalev's power affords him a puncher's chance to a pull off the unlikely, we are hard pressed to envision a viable game plan where Kovalev has a decided advantage over the whole of the fight. Back Andre Ward to win.