By Andreas Hale
Andre Ward didn’t have to do it.
But he did.
After some back and forth with negotiations, Ward agreed to grant Sergey Kovalev a rematch that is set for June 17 in Las Vegas. This comes less than a year after their hotly contested showdown in November where Ward won a controversial decision.
Ward and Roc Nation sports could have gone in a different direction. For a moment, it appeared that they were strongly considering anything other than an immediate rematch. But, ultimately, they did the right thing and gave boxing fans a rematch they deserve considering how controversial the outcome of the last fight was.
Aside from giving Kovalev the opportunity to even the score, the promoters get the opportunity to push a fight that flew a bit under the radar despite having two of the top five pound for pound fighters in the world. That’s about as important as the fight itself.
When you go back to the last fight, the build certainly lacked something. Maybe it was because Manny Pacquiao and Jessie Vargas had fought in the same city on pay per view two weeks before. Or, it could have been the Thanksgiving holiday that was creeping around the corner that hurt the build to the fight. Either way, it managed to pull in just over 160,000 buys. Depending on how you look at it, it’s pretty good or pretty disappointing.
When you consider that it did around 10,000 buys less than Gennady Golovkin’s narrow decision win over Daniel Jacobs on March 18 – which has been critiqued as a disappointment by some – then you have to think that Ward-Kovalev was pretty underwhelming.
They have the opportunity to fix what went wrong heading into the rematch, that will again be broadcast as an HBO PPV. There’s an intriguing narrative attached to the return bout considering that many people though Kovalev won the first fight. And even though Ward won’t admit it publicly, he has the opportunity to remove any doubt by turning in a better performance than last time. Granted, pulling himself off the canvas in the first fight to claw his way back against one of the most prominent finishers in the sport should have proven a lot.
However, the term “robbery” has been thrown around pretty casually as it pertains to Ward’s victory. It’s a pretty unfair assessment because it really was splitting hairs in many of those rounds. But it remains the word of choice by many and it certainly has to get under Ward’s skin, no matter what he says to the media.
With those two narratives in place, it also helps that the pound for pound rankings are in complete disarray with the action that has taken place over the past few months. Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez’s controversial loss to Srisaket Sor Rungvisai on the undercard of GGG-Jacobs knocked him off the P4P perch. Golovkin had the opportunity to get a firm grip on the top spot but he was unable to turn in one of those vintage GGG bludgeoning sessions against a full capable (and severely underrated) Jacobs. Vasyl Lomachenko and Terence Crawford don’t possess the portfolio to stake their claim as the best fighter in the world. So, in some cases, Ward takes the top spot by virtue of default. He beat a top 5 pound for pound fighter and that’s something nobody on the fictional list has done.
Not only are Ward and Kovalev looking to prove who the better fighter is with “No Excuses,” they are also lobbying for the #1 pound for pound spot. Why is this fight such a difficult sell?
In Ward’s case, Roc Nation Sports clearly isn’t doing enough to enhance his visibility. The U.S. Olympic gold medalist in the 2004 Olympics should be far more popular than he is. Although his style may not be all that pleasing to a casual fan, Ward’s out-of-ring persona could gain a boost if he was seen more. What doesn’t make sense is that a company ran by Jay Z hasn’t used everything at its disposal to get Ward over the audiences. There should be commercials starring Ward. He should be in more films and TV shows (he did just fine in “Creed”). We should be seeing more interviews with outlets that aren’t the traditional magazines and websites.
Andre Ward shouldn’t be that difficult to sell, right?
As for Kovalev, he’s a Russian fighter with a highlight reel’s worth of knockouts. He’s pushed Ward to the brink of defeat already and most expect for him to do it again. His English has improved greatly since his stateside debut and he’s fully capable of engaging in an interview. He is essentially everything Ward isn’t both in and out of the ring and the fact they are opposites shouldn’t be difficult to sell to fight fans.
Oh yeah, was it mentioned that they are two of the top five pound for pound fighters in the world?
An American champion vs. a Russian opponent with the title for “best in the world” on the line is something straight out of a movie we’ve seen before (“Rocky IV”).
It’s almost incomprehensible that this fight is having such a difficult time being marketed to the masses as one of the most important in boxing. All of the ingredients are there; they just have to be mixed properly to churn out something that is easy for casual fans to digest.
Hopefully, Roc Nation and Main Events can figure out how to make sure this fight is as big of a deal to the casual fan as it is to the hardcore fan.