By Rishad Marquardt: Over the weekend, Las Vegas hosted the second installment in the Andre “SOG” Ward – Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev saga in which Andre Ward scored an emphatic 8th round TKO over Sergei Kovalev. As was true the first time round, this fight was going to be special. Two of the highest caliber fighters in boxing, both with glittering career records, both ranked at the top of the pound for pound lists, both fighting an opponent that would define how people would evaluate them after they hang-up their gloves.
The way the two were approaching the fight contrasted heavily. Ward has been partnered with his trainer Virgil Hunter since he was a young man and the bond between him and his team is palpable. Kovalev similarly had a hard upbringing but doesn’t seem to have had a figure akin to that of Hunter to guide him throughout his career. When suspicions that his trainer John David Jackson had been in contact with the Ward camp were presented to Kovalev, he responded by saying he didn’t care, that everything he was going to do would be done by himself anyway. He even went as far as to say that it would be him making the decisions during the fight in the rematch, not his trainer. Determining whether the difference of Ward having a mentor and father-figure being the cause for the different mental states of each fighter would be premature and work for a psychologist. However, based on the talk that took place between the two fights, that difference now looks in hindsight to perhaps be what gave Ward the edge, especially in the second fight.
Ward can be at times perceived as an arrogant man, but he often shows a profound dedication not just to working hard in training but also in striving to be an ethically and morally good person outside of the ring. For Andre it’s all about positivity and with the philosopher-like Virgil Hunter constantly uttering words of wisdom and morale into Andres ear since his youth, he came across as the more dignified, stable, balanced, and perhaps most importantly the more ‘at peace’ of the two. Kovalev, on the other hand came across as being angry, bitter, un-trusting, and carrying a detrimentally large chip on his shoulder. Before the fight, Kathy Duva and other analysts claimed that Kovalev fights best when he is angry and so him being really mad at Ward now is a good thing. That may well be true for most opponents but not for an intelligent fighter like Ward who has the mastery to turn his opponent’s traits against them.
The difference in mental state of mind seemed to be reinforced after the second fight had taken place. Once again we saw a composed Ward giving insights into how he did it and a Kovelev fuming at another result that didn’t go his way. Maybe Kovelev did have reason to complain in both fights, but his response and reaction hints that Ward would have the mental upper-hand no matter how many rematches they had.
This was a fight in which both fighters were in the most elite of leagues when it comes to technique and physical fitness. And yet ultimately, as is often the case in top level sport, the contest was won on a mental battlefield where Ward emerged as the clear victor.