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Andre Ward vs. Sergey Kovalev Pick

Andre Ward vs. Sergey Kovalev Fight Preview and Prediction to Win
When: Saturday, November 19, 2016
Where: T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas, Nevada
TV: PPV
Weight Class: Light Heavyweights: 12 Rounds
Titles: WBA, WBO, and IBF Light Heavyweight Championship
By Loot, Boxing Handicapper, Lootmeister.com

Andre Ward, 30-0 (15 KOs), Oakland, California
Vs.
Sergey Kovalev, 30-0-1 (26 KOs), Kopeysk, Russia

Betting Odds: Andre Ward -115, Sergey Kovalev -115

Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev will battle it out in a tantalizing light heavyweight title bout in Las Vegas on November 19. Whenever two unbeaten fighters who have cleaned out their respective divisions tangle, it's a big deal. Those wondering who could beat someone like Ward would quickly think of Kovalev, while Andre Ward was often the first name people thought of when speculating on who could derail Kovalev. Combined, these fighters are unbeaten in 60 fights. As they say, someone's "O" has got to go. Casting a Kovalev vs. Ward prediction is no easy task.

Normally in a high-level matchup of this nature with two undefeated champions, I tend to go with the more complexly-skilled boxer, who in this case would be Ward. That tendency is cultivated after decades of watching the more-fearsome fighter not be able to translate that same success against a true master boxer. Foreman against Ali comes to mind or maybe even Jones-Toney to a lesser degree. The danger is that in identifying Ward as the master boxer in the equation, we could unwittingly cast Kovalev as the mindless slugger and that would be a miscalculation.

These fighters match up well physically and I wouldn't get too hung up in the physical dimensions of the fight. Ward is not all that experienced at 175 after a long title run at 168 pounds, but he is even lighter now than he was when he won gold in the Olympics back in 2004. Ward is 32, while Kovalev is a year his senior. Ward is an inch taller at 6'1," while Kovalev has an inch advantage in reach. The only thing to think about from a size standpoint is that Kovalev is a pretty big guy for a light heavyweight—rangy but robust at the same time. His size might give Ward a new look.

Surfing around the net, it's clear a lot of people are putting importance on Sergey Kovalev's July defense against Isaac Chilemba, a unanimous decision win for Kovalev. It seemed to bolster people's perception that Kovalev can be troubled by a boxer. And while that fight, in addition to his decision over Hopkins and an early-career split nod over crafty Darnell Boone could suggest that he struggles more with a boxing/moving style, I wouldn't be so quick to carve that into wet cement. Kovalev looking mortal against Chilemba also reeked of a fighter who has found great difficulty in luring top opponents into the ring trying to look more-vulnerable to attract someone like Ward to the table. And for the record, Chilemba is a really good fighter and a tough night's work for anyone.

At the same time, the style that is seen as tricky for Kovalev is something that the versatile Ward has in his bag of tricks. Ward is able to customize a style that best suits the situation. We've seen his box and move and we've also seen him get inside and win that way. That brings us to Ward's greatest asset as a fighter—his simple but all-important ability to win. Ward just knows how to manufacture and cultivate victory. With Ward, we're dealing with a fighter who has been fighting at the top levels of amateur and pro boxing since he was a kid. He has not lost since he was 13 years old. Amazing.

In other words, a fighter's ability to simply win can be an overlooked asset. People often times cite a fighter's speed, defense, power, ring generalship, or boxing skills as a fighter's best assets. While Ward has those traits in spades, what sets him apart is his ability to take whatever his opponent is doing and do one better. That's how you don't lose a fight in close to two decades.

Ward's inactivity needs to be addressed. Some may remember when Ali went into exile at 25 and returned at 28 and how historians say he was never the same. Ward had only two fights from 2012 to 2015. When he topped out as a super middleweight with his win over Carl Froch, he was 27. Here he is at 32, having fought four nothing fights since then. While his performances haven't shown depreciation and the prolonged rest might have helped after he cleaned out a very tough super middleweight division, how sure can we be that vintage Ward will surface in the ring on November 19? In terms of placing someone in the context of facing good fighters, Kovalev's recent record is more dependable of a gauge.

Again, casting Kovalev as the dutiful and plodding counterpoint to Ward's graceful boxing could be a mistake. Kovalev has a lot of experience, coming off a string of fights against top-notch opposition. He showed in the Hopkins fight that he is immune to some of the jive tactics that boxers try to employ on hard-hitting and aggressive fighters like Kovalev. He is no Pernell Whitaker perhaps, but he has a certain amount of know-how that should have him in good stead. He has pretty good feet and is actually pretty nimble for a power-puncher.

Kovalev hits hard. That seems simple enough, but his hands possess a certain amount of heaviness that is rare—clear and definitive. The question is if Ward can rip apart some of the tiny holes we've seen with Kovalev. And those holes are admittedly pretty small—going the distance with Hopkins, going rounds with Pascal, and then fighting 12 rounds with Chilemba in his last fight. There have been moments when we've seen Kovalev get nailed and you could maybe project that against a more complete and defensively-gifted fighter, he could find himself in trouble.

Against Ward, however, Kovalev will be fighting a champion who has everything. Name a positive asset for a boxer and Ward has it. Offensively, he is fluid and clever, capable of improvisation. He can fight from any range and hits hard and fast. He has an innate sense of where he stands in a fight with a clear vision of a path to victory he is able to stick to for 12 rounds if necessary. He is very disciplined and hard to rattle. It's actually quite amazing that he utterly cleaned out the super middleweight in the golden age of the division without really being pushed to his limits. Then again, it's not like we've seen Kovalev really have to dig super-deep for a win, either. The only difference is that Ward has seen his abilities translate vividly against elite fighters.

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As usual, Kovalev will be on his front foot, looking to launch his two-handed attack. His right might be his best punch. So Ward will be looking out for that. Ward will also have to deal with a fighter who can cut off the ring and who doesn't allow you to tie him up. The point is that whatever Kovalev can do, Ward has an answer for it because he's capable of doing everything. Ward won't keep his head in Kovalev's wheelhouse. That's what guys like Ward do—they come up with solutions. And when it comes to defense, Ward can do it all, whether it's the way he positions his body, blocking, ducking, etc. Could Ward even elect to smother Kovalev and try to back him up? Nothing is really out of the question for a fighter of Ward's caliber and versatility.

I see Kovalev as a more-dangerous fighter, but a more-simplistic one. He is pretty straight up and far less cerebral than Ward. He is less adaptable. In addition, he seems to hold up less over a tough 12-round fight than the implacable Ward. He has the equalizer and can hurt Ward and turn the fight with his power. He didn't get to this spot by accident, but like any fighter, there is a conceivable road to victory against him. At the end of the day, I see the more elaborate skill-set of Ward allowing him to cross the finish line first. At the same time, there is a certain trepidation in taking Ward and anyone making it sound like a slam-dunk has clearly not taken into account the full scope of danger represented by Kovalev. But I'm going with Andre 'Son of God" Ward by decision.

Loot's Pick to Win the Fight: I'm betting on Andre Ward at -115. Did you know... that you could be wagering on fights at discounted odds? There's a better than good chance that you're laying inflated odds with your book. Stop overpaying TODAY by making the switch to 5Dimes Sportsbook! You will be so glad that you did!

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