By Keith Idec
FRISCO, Texas – Andre Ward was impressed by Sergey Kovalev’s comeback early Sunday morning.
As an analyst for ESPN’s coverage, Ward watched from a ringside seat as Kovalev clearly out-boxed Eleider Alvarez in their 12-round rematch at Ford Center at The Star. Ward walked away from their fight convinced Kovalev’s knockout loss to Alvarez nearly six months earlier taught the three-time light heavyweight champion humility.
That invaluable lesson enabled Kovalev to finally listen to his trainer, this time Buddy McGirt. The former junior welterweight and welterweight champion trained Kovalev for the first time for this immediate rematch.
Their partnership resulted in Kovalev (33-3-1, 28 KOs) out-thinking and out-working Alvarez (24-1, 12 KOs) to convincingly win a unanimous decision.
“I thought Kovalev looked very good, very composed,” Ward told BoxingScene.com. “Alvarez didn’t press him enough to really tell if his conditioning was better. But at least his composure was better. [Kovalev] didn’t show too much pressure tonight, which was a good thing. Buddy McGirt convinced an older fighter to box, to work smarter in training camp, and not harder, and ultimately work smarter in the fight and not harder, and it paid dividends tonight.”
Kovalev ignored similar advice from former trainer John David Jackson before bouts with Ward.
In their first meeting, Kovalev faded during the second half of a fight he largely controlled over the first six rounds. Ward won a unanimous decision in that 12-rounder in November 2017 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
The undefeated Ward stopped Kovalev in the eighth round of their immediate rematch in June 2017 at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas.
Ward’s right hand hurt Kovalev in the seventh round and Kovalev looked like he was starting to fade. The controversial conclusion incited heated debates because referee Tony Weeks stopped their scheduled 12-round fight once Ward landed multiple questionable blows to Kovalev’s body in succession.
Kovalev feels he defeated Ward in their first fight. He also believes he was wronged by Weeks in their rematch.
The way Ward sees it, his rival was “out of excuses” once Alvarez upset him by seventh-round knockout August 4 at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City.
“Tragedy and setbacks and, in this case, devastating knockouts, will humble you,” said Ward, who retired in September 2017. ‘I think it forced him to listen to the next coach, which is Buddy McGirt. I think the other two coaches he had, with the little bit of knowledge I know, they were fine. But he didn’t listen. He was still ‘The Krusher’ at that time. He was no longer ‘The Krusher’ when he brought Buddy in, so he had to listen.”
McGirt and Teddy Cruz, Kovalev’s strength and conditioning coach, kept Kovalev from over-training for his second fight against Alvarez. The Russian knockout artist made that mistake before their first fight and numerous other times in his career.
Cruz and McGirt made sure he didn’t exhaust himself by putting in extra work following training sessions and made sure he ate the proper foods. Kovalev weighed in one pound below the light heavyweight limit of 175, yet still ate in breakfast and lunch before weighing in late Friday afternoon.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.