02 Jul Where Do Andre Ward And Sergey Kovalev Go From Here?
June 17th marked a fight with heavy legacy implications for Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev and Andre “S.O.G” Ward. Kovalev promised to knock out Ward during the promotion, and even vowed to end Ward’s career. Nothing was stable about Kovalev’s overall demeanor heading into the rematch against his bitter rival. He stormed out of the pre-fight press conference the day before the fight, and his reasoning was that he was tired of talking the talk and would show everyone on June 17th that he is the better man. Tensions surrounded Kovalev’s fight camp. Rumors circulated that Kovalev’s trainer, John David Jackson, was considering the idea of assisting Ward in camp. In an interview with HBO’s Jim Lampley, Kovalev criticized Jackson’s expertise. He said Jackson failed to give him quality advice between rounds in the first fight against Ward, and that Jackson is used primarily for training on the mitts. Kovalev and his camp lacked stability heading in to the rematch, which is vital for a fight of this magnitude.
After Kovalev’s controversial 8th-round TKO loss to Ward, Kovalev’s team and promotional staff is as hectic as ever. Kathy Duva, CEO of Main Events and Kovalev’s promoter, filed a protest to the Nevada State Athletic Commission that the final punch was a low blow, and the result should have been a disqualification instead of a TKO victory for Ward. Ward does not want to fight Kovalev a third time. WBC Light Heavyweight Champion Adonis Stevenson has steered away from fighting Kovalev for the past three years, and the pressure to fight him is not as strong as it once was. Kovalev’s best option at this point is to fight Stevenson, even if that means taking short money. There aren’t any big fights for him at cruiserweight, and Stevenson is the most notable opponent other than Ward at light heavyweight. Because of the loss to Ward, Kovalev won’t be the A-side in any negotiation for a Stevenson fight. But if he wants to convince the public that he is still a true threat in the sport, he needs to take down a top fighter in the division, like Stevenson. Fans would love to see Kovalev defeat him. Stevenson is not a fan favorite, as he has avoided the toughest competitors in the division ever since he earned the WBC belt following a TKO victory against Chad Dawson. A decisive victory over Stevenson could resurrect Kovalev from the current low point in his career. But Kovalev is clearly fed up with the politics of the sport, believing he was robbed of justice in his last two fights. In all likelihood, his best days are behind him. He had a tough upbringing in Russia, and has made more money than he could have dreamed of making. Retirement is a real possibility at this point.
Andre Ward is at an all-time high after stopping Kovalev in the 8th round. In his post-fight interview with HBO’s Max Kellerman, he mentioned the desire to take on bigger challenges, including fights in the cruiserweight and even the heavyweight division. Yes, the heavyweight division; this is not a typo. Ward spoke for an extensively in the post-fight press conference. This could suggest that he is also considering retirement, and was enjoying his last time on the podium. He alluded to the possibility of retiring following his razor-thin unanimous decision win last fall. He currently holds three of the four major world titles at light heavyweight, and can unify the belts by beating Stevenson. That is a difficult fight to make, though. Ward’s and Stevenson’s promotional staffs are not cordial with one another, to say the least. Both fighters believe they deserve the lion’s share, and such a negotiation process would be a nightmare for both camps. A clash between Ward and Stevenson may be the highest magnitude fight to make in the division, but won’t be easy to arrange.
With respect to Ward mentioning a move to cruiserweight, there aren’t any blockbuster fights at the weight. A fight for a cruiserweight title would certainly boost his already-impressive resume. If he wants to move up to cruiserweight simply from a legacy standpoint, it makes sense. By no means is cruiserweight boxing’s glamour division, but becoming a three-division champion is a notable feat.
Virgil Hunter, Ward’s trainer, suggested an eventual move to heavyweight and he believes his fighter could match up well against IBF/WBA Heavyweight Champion Anthony Joshua. He thinks Ward can outbox Joshua, and said he was completely serious. Joshua weighed in at 250 pounds for his fight with Wladimir Klitschko in late April. There is virtually no possibility of the fight happening due to the weight, size, and strength disparity. Ward wants to follow in the footsteps of all-time great Roy Jones Jr. In 2003, Jones Jr. made the move from 175 to challenge WBA Heavyweight Champion John Ruiz and beat him. Ruiz isn’t a memorable heavyweight champion, but Jones did the unthinkable by beating a much larger and stronger opponent. The most reasonable heavyweight champion for Ward to face is New Zealander Joseph Parker, the WBO titlist. Parker has rudimentary boxing skills compared to Ward, and is by far the smallest champion at the division. Ward would likely be favored against Parker.
Kovalev and Ward will never meet in the ring again. We witnessed a very odd rivalry, featuring two opposite personalities and two controversial and disputed fight outcomes. Boxing fans are going to speak about the rivalry for many years, and people will struggle to see eye-to-eye on the results of the two fights. While Ward is at the height of his career and is free to make any career decision he sees fit, Kovalev does not have many options to work with. Kovalev won’t make the kind of money he made in his last two fights, and the sacrifices of being a professional fighter may not be worth it anymore. Ward will continue to say Kovalev is full of excuses, and that he himself was the better man in both fights; Kovalev will remain adamant that he was treated unjustly by the boxing establishment. Despite these stark differences, both may be nearing the end of their respective careers.