By Allan Fox: Trainer Virgil Hunter says Andre “SOG” Ward has a specific backup plan that he’ll be implementing if he gets dropped this Saturday night in his rematch with Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. If the 33-year-old Ward (31-0, 15 KOs) gets knocked to the canvas by the hard hitting Kovalev (30-1-1, 26 KOs), then he’ll be using the same plan that he had in his first fight, says Hunter.
In the first fight last November, Ward used a combination of grappling and fighting on the outside. It still didn’t work well for Ward until round 7, when he began almost exclusively wrestle Kovalev on the inside. Kovalev appeared to win the first 6 rounds. Kovalev started to have problems when Ward began to hold and maul in the 7th. Kovalev still appeared to win 2 of the last 6 rounds, but the judges saw Ward blanking Kovalev in the second half of the fight. They didn’t even give Kovalev credit for round 10, which was a very strong round for him.
”A fighter like Andre that can adapt and feel you out,” said Hunter to Fighthub. ”I think you would put a little too much on the table to have an initial strategy, but we do have backup plans if he gets knocked down again. We have to go back to what he did in the first fight, take it one round at a time and, you know, come back.”
The backup plan that Hunter is talking about isn’t anything mysterious. I don’t know why Hunter isn’t just coming out and saying what the plan is because it’s so obvious. If Ward gets dropped again, he’s going to hold and maul just like he did in the first fight after he got knocked down. It’s as simple as that. Hunter is making it sound like he’s got some scientific strategy that he’s going to have Ward use. This is Einstein’s theory of relativity that we’re talking about. If Ward gets knocked down by Kovalev, then he’s going to grab and wrestle just like he did last time.
Ward is going to probably going to grab and hold all night anyway. But it’s interesting to hear Hunter talk about Ward’s backup strategy. I guess it makes it sound better to the boxing media, who may or may not be aware of how Ward fights. Ward is going to do what he did last time when he fought Kovalev. He’s going to hold or move around the ring. He’s not going to be stationary and try and fight Kovalev, because he found out last time that he’s not skilled or powerful enough to beat Kovalev using that approach. Ward can beat guys like Paul Smith and Alexander Brand by remaining stationary, but not Kovalev.
A lot is made about Ward’s ability to adapt, but it’s not as if he’s got a million different things he can do to adapt. Like in the past, the main 2 things that Ward does to adapt are these things:
1. Holding and grappling
2. Moving around on the outside.
Those two things are what Ward does to adapt. It’s not rocket science. It’s not something that any other good fighter doesn’t do. The difference is Ward does a great deal of talking and patting himself on the back by saying he’s adapting, but the reality he’s pretty much just got 2 things he does. He’s either fighting on the outside with his pot shots or he’s mauling on the inside. Ward’s main game is to pot shot with single punches that often impress the judges, who tend to focus on single punches rather than looking at the overall amount of shots that are being landed.
Kovalev was outworking and out-landing Ward last time. The judges ignored Kovalev’s greater activity and focused on Ward’s 2 or 3 shots that he would land in each round. Kovalev might as well have not been throwing any punches, because he wasn’t going to be given rounds in the second half of the fight due to the judges focusing more on Ward’s low punch rate.
“Well, we understand that. But what we want to do is make sure that he doesn’t get the flush punch,” said Hunter. ”You know, he might graze you with a glancing punch, it might be a rushed punch, you know, a punch – ‘get off of me’ as opposed to being planted, and zeroing in and boom, getting that shot.”
It’s going to be very hard for Ward to keep from getting hit flush in the fight by Kovalev. Ward was getting hit flush plenty of times in the last fight. Even in the later rounds, Kovalev was nailing Ward with shots from the outside and even while he was being held. You could see on Ward’s beaten up looking face after the fight that he’d been hit plenty of times by Kovalev. You don’t look like that if you’re not getting hit flush. The only ways that Ward can minimize the amount of shots he gets hit in the fight is if he moves around the ring in circles, and if he does a lot of holding. I suspect that we’re going to see a lot of each of those things on Saturday.
I don’t think it’s smart for Ward to move too much though, because it’s wasted energy by him. When Ward was moving around the ring in the first fight with Kovalev, he wasn’t doing anything. Ward was just burning up energy and looking his age. There’s smart movement and then there’s dumb movement. I saw Ward doing a lot of movement that seemed to have no purpose other than to stall out the rounds.
That might have been one of the strategies that Ward and Hunter had going into the fight. Burn up the time in each round with movement and holding so that the rounds are decided on a tiny amount of punches. It’s quite likely that was the main plan for the first fight, because Ward was stalling out vast portions of the rounds with seemingly aimless non-activity. The movement, holding and mauling limited Kovalev’s chances to throw punches. Kovalev still got the better of Ward when they were on the outside in every round, but he had to chase Ward and then deal with his wrestling.
”If people want to be honest about the fact, about the knockdown, when he got up there was 28 seconds left, wasn’t it? I think it was 28 seconds left,” said Hunter in talking about Ward being knocked down in the 2nd round by Kovalev in the first fight. ”He never landed another punch. So if he was hurt, how could he make him miss?”
It sounds like Hunter is being a little disingenuous in talking about why Kovalev couldn’t land any additional punches against Ward after dropping him. Once Ward got back to his feet, be lowered his head and bull rushed Kovalev and immediately held him. After the referee finally broke them apart, Ward backed up to the ropes and took some major shots to the head as the round was ending. Kovalev ran out of time. The reason for that is Ward held him during the crucial point right after the knockdown. The clinch must have eaten up at least 10 seconds before the referee finally broke them apart. Ward’s clinch was at the waist level due to him lowering his head like a Billy Goat and coming straight to the stomach area of Kovalev. Ward was literally bent over while holding onto Kovalev. There was little chance of Kovalev throwing punches with Ward wrapped around his waist.
The rematch this Saturday night is obviously going to see the same tactics used by Ward in the first fight. Supposedly his legs are a little better this time around, so it’s possible that he’ll move more. But like I mentioned earlier, when Ward is moving around on the outside, he seems to be just trying to stall out the rounds so he can limit the amount of shots Kovalev lands. When Ward does land a pot shot, he falls forward and immediately grabs Kovalev in a clinch to keep him from throwing anything back. Sometimes it works for Ward to punch and grab, while other times he gets nailed while trying to hold. If the referee does a better job of limiting how much time Ward holds, it could be a very hard fight for him to win, because he’ll be forced to move a lot more than last time. The referee that worked the first fight didn’t step in to break the long periods of holding that Ward was doing. If he had done that, there would have been a lot more action in the fight. Ward would have had to either fight more or move more. Either way, I think it would have favored Kovalev.
Hunter says Ward’s legs are better for this fight. We’ll have to see what that means. Even if Ward does move better, he’s not going to win the fight based on movement. This is the light heavyweight division. You’ve got to be able to fight to win. You can’t spoil for 12 rounds and expect to win every time. Ward got away with spoiling last time he fought Kovalev, but at some point the judges are going to score against Ward due to him not fighting. If Ward can’t handle fighting the good light heavyweights, then he either needs to retire or move back down to 168. I have a feeling that Ward will retire if he loses to Kovalev, because I don’t see him having much interest in fighting the likes of Artur Beterbiev or Adonis Stevenson.