WARd: Timing is Everything

By Caryn A. Tate on November 20, 2016
WARd: Timing is Everything
While it was a close fight, Andre Ward made the adjustments. (Al Bello/Getty Images)

Ward seemed to struggle for the first several rounds—not only from the knockdown, but with things that he normally figures out early on…

“Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves.”—Bruce Lee

LAS VEGAS, Nevada—Two years ago in the buildup to the fight between Sergey Kovalev and boxing legend Bernard Hopkins I picked Kovalev to win. Contrary to many opinions at the time, I didn’t pick Kovalev based on his power, or his youth advantage. I picked Kovalev to win based on his fantastic sense of timing.

In the lead up to the much anticipated Kovalev vs. Ward fight, when I would discuss the match-up with people, I expressed that, to me, what it boiled down to again was timing. Could Kovalev (30-1, 26 KOs) time Ward (31-0, 15 KOs) and catch him? Or could Ward disrupt Kovalev’s timing and rhythm, and control his momentum?

But on Friday, I spoke to famed boxing trainer and analyst Teddy Atlas, who gave me another viewpoint. “I don’t think Kovalev has the power everybody thinks he does,” Atlas said. “His level of opposition hasn’t been very good. I think Ward may lose the first few rounds, but then he’ll adjust.”

Turns out Teddy was spot on as far as how the rounds might go. Maybe about Kovalev’s power, too.

In a surprisingly close fight, Ward struggled for the first few rounds against Sergey Kovalev—for perhaps more rounds than we’ve seen him lose, or at least struggle during, as a pro. Kovalev knocked him down in round 2 and, though it may have appeared to hurt him, at first blush, when he arose he smiled and his legs were fine. After the fight, Ward stated, “It was a flash knockdown. I wasn’t hurt by it.” He went on to say, “I literally smiled when he knocked me down, I got up, and I think I should get some credit for that.”

Ward hasn’t hit the canvas since he fought Darnell Boone eleven years ago—ironically, on the same exact day as this fight (November 19).

For most of Ward’s career, when he has obviously struggled with an opponent, he adjusted early in the fight and lost at the most 2 or 3 rounds in a single fight. And these fights were few and far between—usually his wins have been complete shutouts when they’ve gone to the scorecards.

Against Kovalev, Ward seemed to struggle for the first several rounds—not only from the knockdown, but with things that he normally figures out early on: distance, timing, and being at least one step ahead of his opponent mentally. He wasn’t fighting on the inside early on, instead choosing to stay on the outside—Kovalev’s chosen distance, as he has always displayed a predilection for getting good range on his shots.

To his credit, Kovalev proved himself to be a better all-around fighter than most experts previously thought. While most of the talk about Kovalev centered around his power, the incoming light heavyweight champion showed in this bout that his repertoire is about a lot more than just power. He’s a smart boxer, and he came out in round 1 successfully throwing and landing first. This seemed to disrupt Ward’s momentum and set the pace for the first several rounds.

But this fight was billed as “Pound for Pound.” It was said nearly universally in the boxing world that the winner of this fight would become the pound-for-pound #1 fighter in the world. It was two of the best fighters taking each other on in their primes.

So it can’t in good conscience be taken back now that the fight is over.

While it was a close fight, Andre Ward made the adjustments—the key that he stated prior to the fight would make all the difference in the outcome—and began winning rounds consistently by the middle of the fight. Afterwards, Ward said his trainer Virgil Hunter told him early in the fight that he needed to win every round going forward. And that is just what Ward did.

Great fighters overcome. They overcome struggle, injuries, knockdowns, defeats, and near defeats. They find another gear and pull something out to make their victory happen. Andre Ward is no exception.

What was even more impressive than Ward adjusting and figuring out how to get on the inside with Kovalev was the fact that, as the rounds progressed, S.O.G. often stayed on the outside and outworked Kovalev from there. From the Krusher’s preferred distance. He outworked and outlanded him on the outside, and sometimes fought his way inside and worked Kovalev’s body as well. It was incredibly impressive for Ward to have made that specific adjustment against this specific opponent.

Like the Bruce Lee quote above, Ward adjusted to the “object” and found his way through it.

Perhaps because of his inside fighting game, or perhaps because he is such a throwback fighter and so good at all of the nuances of the sweet science, some people seem to consistently find something to complain about with Ward. This fight doesn’t seem to be any exception—rather than acknowledging that the new light heavyweight champion overcame one of the biggest struggles of his career, got up from a knockdown against perhaps the most vicious puncher in the division to win the fight on all three judges’ scorecards, some people seem to stubbornly choose to instead focus on the fact that Ward got knocked down, that it was a close fight, that they scored it for Kovalev.

I asked Ward after the fight about why inside fighting seems to be a bit of a lost art these days, and why it’s also lost on many boxing viewers. He stated that it boiled down to inside fighting not being taught enough, so most younger fighters aren’t learning it on their way up. His trainer, Virgil Hunter, began schooling Ward in inside fighting early in his career as a boxer, so that when he needed it—such as his fight with Allan Green or this fight with Kovalev—he could draw upon it. In last week’s media conference call, he also alluded to a lack of education for viewers from commentators as another reason many viewers don’t understand the nuances of throwback or classic boxing techniques.

It was a close fight, so scoring it the other way is understandable. But to act as though it was impossible for the fight to go the other way—however you scored it yourself—is ridiculous.

At the post-fight press conference, Kathy Duva (the CEO of Kovalev’s promoter, Main Events) expressed extreme disappointment with referee Robert Byrd as well as all three judges. She stated that “Ward has a great career ahead of him in the UFC.”

While it’s a great soundbite, it begs the question: Didn’t Team Kovalev prepare for the Ward who fights on the inside? As the fight progressed and Ward achieved more success and made the necessary adjustments particularly with the inside fighting, can Kovalev and his team really claim to have a legitimate complaint? Let’s not forget that fighting on the inside is a classic method of boxing, famously employed by such boxing greats as Henry Armstrong. Fighting on the inside is not something new, which clearly Robert Byrd understood, as he allowed the fighters to do their inside work.

Let’s also not forget, while we’re discussing inside fighting, that several times throughout the fight, Kovalev shoved Ward’s head down when he moved inside and repeatedly held and clinched Ward. These tactics—unlike inside fighting—are clear and distinct fouls in the sport of boxing. But the referee allowed it to continue without deducting points. So the claim that perhaps the referee was favorable towards Ward is a desperate attempt to curry sympathy from the public.

I talked to several fans who were present for Kovalev vs. Ward, and all unanimously said they thought this was the Fight of the Year. In addition to crowning the new pound-for-pound king, it was also a thrilling fight.

Now it can also not be said that Andre Ward is not an exciting fighter.

And, as he revealed on this night by making the adjustments necessary when they were necessary, he proved: timing is indeed everything.

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  1. Ali Prime 11:01am, 11/29/2016

    Ward won all the way. Stupid Trump supporters.
    ALL THROUGH his-STOR, ALways tryin to steal froM the dominate Black man.

  2. Joe Masterleo 08:33am, 11/28/2016

    I viewed the re-run of the fight over the holiday weekend. From my perspective, at best Ward had 5 rounds to his credit. Kovalev was the stronger guy, landing the harder punches, and he we the aggressive pursuer throughout. I agreed with Harold Lederman that Ward was on his bicycle, backing up throughout. And while he rallied some past the midpoint of the bout, it wasn’t enough for the win. How the judges ever scored the last round for Ward is beyond me. Clearly home cooking was a factor, with HBO announcers Kellerman and Lampley showing their pro-Ward bias. The referee did a terrible job, slow in breaking up the clinches and holding which became a repetitious pattern throughout. Boxing sorely needs a scoreboard, that the fighters and fans can see the round-by-round judging, and know just where they stand on the scorecards as the bout progresses.

  3. Sam Young 12:05am, 11/27/2016

    Sergey Kovalev clearly won the fight, you people at Boxing.com are Soft Wimpy Andre Ward suck ups. Over 70% of Honest Knowledgeable Boxing Fans had Sergey Kovalev winning. Why don’t your writer’s have Sergey winning ? Well we feel it was a really close fight and Andre Ward is an American and Won a Gold Medal in the Olympics and Sergey was a Russian and Andre is a smarter fighter blah,blah, blah make some more excuses. Listen Sergey Kovalev nearly knocked Andre Ward down with a Left Jab in the 1st Round, and he did drop Andre with a Straight Right in the 2nd Round. He was the Aggressor the Entire Fight, he landed more punches than Andre did. Yes Andre landed some good Jabs on Sergey, and yes he did land some good Left hooks to Sergey’s body. But he never hurt Sergey once. Sergey was the Champion you have to win convincingly which Ward clearly didn’t. But Ward did lose Convincingly but Sergey was victim of a Home Town ROBBERY Decision. Now I know why you didn’t really have Sergey winning, a lot of the people at “Boxing.com” are dishonest Hypocrites.

  4. AkT 11:33am, 11/23/2016

    Yesteryears always appear better, but truth is athletes these days are stronger, faster and healthier. Advancements in sports science, nutrition, conditioning as well as the increase in boxing knowledge (inevitable that knowledge improves in those who build upon the essential fundamentals of the game) mean that elite athletes today are very likely better ever. We’ll never be able to test it out so this will always be subject to personal opinions.

  5. beaujack 08:12pm, 11/22/2016

    One thing this fight proved for sure. Kovalev doesn’t come close to GGG as a fighter…And both at the same weights GGG surely beats Ward. One other thing an Ezzard Charles, Archie Moore and Bob Foster, chase both Ward and Kovalev out the ring…

  6. AkT 01:22am, 11/22/2016

    Great article mate. Well done.

  7. Your Name 09:20am, 11/21/2016

    I saw and heard enough Kovalev won the fight. They should rematch immediately.

  8. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 11:40am, 11/20/2016

    Kovalev under performed just as he did with Hopkins and this time he got burnt. Not sure about the communication between Jackson and Sergey but it’s probably piss poor at best and nowhere like Sanchez and GGG’s. Hunter was pumping up Ward telling him he needed every round and Jackson should have been doing the same only way more emphatically. Vegas is not neutral territory by any means….forget Russia, Kovalev probably would have won on the East Coast….with the same asshat judges!

  9. Josh 10:55am, 11/20/2016

    Ward is a good fighter but he lost clearly. Luckily he is American and the fight is in the US. The rematch should be in other country to preventing cheating American judges…..

  10. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 08:41am, 11/20/2016

    “....a Russian…..I mean why not screw a Russian.” (  Paraphrasing English Bob, from “Unforgiven”)