By Andreas Hale
When Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev met in November. The tension and animosity between the two certainly wasn’t like it is now. Seven months ago there were two top five pound for pound fighters competing to be recognized as the best in the world.
But something changed that night.
An extraordinarily close fight where Ward managed to squeeze out a controversial decision despite being down on the canvas early turned an in-ring battle into a heated rivalry.
And now, when they meet again at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas on June 17th, there’s more at stake than just that top spot on the fictional pound for pound list. This is different. This is an intense feud that has become increasingly personal as we inch closer to their second meeting.
For the record, Kovalev took the loss pretty bad and has had nothing but the worst to say about Ward. For whatever reason, Kovalev has really had it out for the only man to own a victory over him. Maybe it is because of the way he lost or perhaps its because of how Ward handled himself in the post-fight and went as far as to suggest that he may not give Kovalev a rematch. But whatever flipped the switch on Kovalev has had him talking down to the Olympic gold medalist in public worse than he did with Adonis Stevenson.
“I hate him,” Kovalev said on a recent conference call. “I want to punish him.”
Keep in mind that Ward didn’t do anything to disparage Kovalev. But the former champion isn’t used to losing and is extremely passionate about making up for the loss.
“I don’t have a prediction. I just have one goal to beat Andre Ward and beat all shit from him because he doesn’t deserve the belt and the status of a champion. He now is really high his nose and walking everywhere and don’t see the people around him. I want to put him back in his place.”
Meanwhile, Ward has been the exact opposite of his opponent. Admittedly annoyed with Kovalev’s approach for the rematch, Ward clearly is looking to take the high road for as long as he can until the two step into the ring. For his part, Ward kept it clean and simple.
“I think the first fight was a great fight,” Ward said. “I think there was a lot of drama in the first fight, more drama than I wanted. And I think it was a tremendous fight. And I believe Round Two is gonna be a tremendous fight. You’ve gotta realize it’s not a video game – it’s real life. So you’ve gotta live it out, you’ve gotta fight it out, you’ve gotta play it out and you’ve gotta let it be what it’s gonna be.“
Obviously, the winner doesn’t have the sour taste of suffering a loss on his tongue. But, in Ward’s case, he’s never going to be much of a trash talker. He’s dangerously close to “killing him with kindness” until they are across the ring from each other on June 17.
But with all this heat, does that mean that we’re in for a better fight?
Trash talking is something that has existed in boxing for a number of decades. In some cases, it works (Muhammad Ali). As a means to get under the opponent’s skin, a trash-talking fighter will berate his opponent in hopes of making them fight uncharacteristically. But Ward doesn’t seem like the type that has ever paid much attention to what the general public thinks, much less his opponent. That doesn’t mean that Ward has no interest in shutting him up, because he does. However, the always-cool Ward is quite comfortable doing what Andre Ward does best when he’s faced with opposition. Adjustments are Ward’s specialty and he needed to make one early when he went down in the second round.
It’s going to be up to Kovalev to fight a different fight this time around. What that possibly means is more pressure and looking for the opportunity to step on the gas when he feels that his opponent is in trouble. Maybe he let Ward off the hook one too many times the first time they met. Or, perhaps he realizes that being more active can give him the edge in those narrow fights.
But one thing is for sure, Kovalev is going to be the one who needs to make this a different fight because, if it were up to Ward, he’d slowly take away Kovalev’s weapons and keep the fight from turning into the slugfest that his Russian opponent will surely be looking for.
Emotion is something that will certainly find its way into the fight. How both Ward and Kovalev deal with it will be most interesting to see. Ward’s cool and calm demeanor is going to be tested by a rampaging Russian with a chip on his shoulder. Ward wants to silence any skeptics and Kovalev is looking to silence Andre Ward with a debilitating punch that will cause him to fall like a sack of potatoes.
Either way, it’s hard to deny that there is more intrigue in the rematch than the first fight. Now, if we can only convince these fans to tune into a fight that features two of the best fighters it world.