After Capturing Light Heavyweight Titles, What is Next for Andre Ward?
By: Kirk Jackson
Saturday, November 19, 2016 featured the pairing of top pound for pound fighters in arguably the most important boxing match-up of the year, with Andre Ward 31-0 (15 KO’s) emerging victorious over Sergey Kovalev 30-1-1 (26 KO’s) via unanimous decision, claiming the WBA,WBO and IBF light heavyweight titles and staking claim as the best boxer pound for pound.
In a match-up pitting Kovalev, the powerful punching, highly skilled, unified light heavyweight champion, lead by trainer John David Jackson, against the elusive, chameleon in the ring Ward, lead by trainer Virgil Hunter.
The results of this fight changes the entire landscape of the of the light heavyweight division, as Ward is now the holder of the IBF, WBO, WBA light heavyweight titles and should be recognized as the guy in the division, with no disrespect to WBC and Ring Magazine lineal champion Adonis Stevenson 28-1 (23 KO’s) record.
This fight was a culmination of many things; action, suspense, drama, adjustments, fatigue, intelligence and heart.
There were moments in the fights, Kovalev was able to shoot his punches through Ward’s seemingly impenetrable defense; at times staggering Ward with jabs and even knocking down the defensive wizard with a vicious right hand in the second round.
Time and time again, Ward, the master of making adjustments, proved to be the better of the two fighters. He made adjustments beginning round three and slowly but surely started changing the landscape of the fight as he took over the second half of the fight ultimately leading to victory.
This was a fight of epic proportions and we have our conclusion to what was a highly contested match. So what does this mean?
The historical significance of this fight, aside from changing the landscape of the light heavyweight division, this is the 7th world title fight featuring two undefeated fighters with at least 30 wins each.
Ward became the seventh fighter to capture world titles at 168 and 175 lbs.
From an overall standpoint it’s fair to argue against Ward as the top is now the top pound for pound boxer.
After all, the event was titled ‘Pound for Pound.’ With victories over Mikkel Kessler, Chad Dawson, Carl Froch, Arthur Abraham and now Kovalev, along with his undefeated record, mastery inside ring along with other accomplishments, it’s hard to dispute Ward’s p4p supremacy.
Roman Gonzalez 46-0 (38 KO’s) is an amazing fighter; highly skilled, undefeated, still in his physical prime, with a chance to achieve even greater feats as he decides to move up in weight.
Wins over Juan Francisco Estrada and Carlos Caudras are impressive, but Gonzalez lacks a victory over a top ten p4p opponent; not necessarily a fault of his, just a lack of opportunity.
Gennady Golovkin 36-0 (33 KO’s) is undefeated as well, possesses an impressive knock-out streak and is recognized not only as the man at 160 lbs., but arguably as one of the hardest punching fighters in boxing.
Terence Crawford is talented, strong, fast, complete technical fighter, switch-hitter and he is extremely tough. Two division champion; impressive wins over Raymond Beltran, Yuriorkis Gamboa and Viktor Postol and aiming to achieve greater heights if he can potentially lure the like of Manny Pacquiao sometime in 2017.
Guillermo Rigondeaux is the arguably the most skilled fighter with his most impressive win to date against Nonito Donaire back in 2012. That’s the only thing; Guillermo has the misfortune of luring fighters and ultimately it affects his p4p standing.
Great as these fighters are neither fighter as Kovalev on their resume.
If we assume Ward is now the p4p king, with this newfound p4p supremacy, pivotal questions to answer should include how long can Ward reign as the top guy of the sport and will superstardom accompany this reign?
Can Ward pick-up where the perennial p4p tsar from yesteryear Floyd Mayweather 49-0 (26 KO’s) left off?
Regarding skills and accomplishments fit for a top p4p fighter, the answer is a resounding yes.
Does he have the popularity? Can he be a pay-per-view draw? Can he be a boxing star like Canelo Alvarez? Like fellow Roc Nation label mate Miguel Cotto?
Mayweather was an exciting fighter by casual viewer standards early in his career in the lower weight divisions. As he moved up in weight and faced greater opposition, he became more defense oriented.
Mayweather was able to make up for his “boring” style, with his mouth; he became the master of trash talk, he engaged in verbal warfare, flaunted his riches epitomized disrespect and arrogance. He transformed into boxing’s biggest villain and became the largest draw in combat sports.
Ward is not that guy; it’s not in his make-up.
Cotto and Alvarez are not the trash-talking type but found success. A difference with their styles and with Ward’s style; Ward is more defensive oriented and lacks the powerful punching and knock outs that come with it. He is a boxing purist’s dream; sometimes isn’t appreciated by the average fan. Cotto has Puerto Rico’s strong support and Alvarez has Mexico backing him.
Despite holding the distinction as the last male American Olympic gold medalist, Ward does not have the same following. Boxing fans in America are terrible for the most part compared to other countries.
It’ll be difficult to project Ward’s potential as boxing’s next superstar. Even if we consider his success, personality, champion pedigree and affiliation with the Jordan brand.
This fight against Kovalev is Ward’s first fight in Las Vegas and first pay-per-view fight. We’ll have to wait for the numbers before we gain better clarity on Ward’s ppv potential; although that can be dependent on the opponent.
Speaking of which, what happens next? Who shall be the opponent for his next fight?
There is a rematch clause, Kovalev more than likely will exercise. Some people are crying foul over the decision; Kovalev and his promoter Kathy Duva, most notably.
“I don’t think Sergey lost any of the first six rounds,” said the promoter of Main Events.
“He had a two-point [10-8] round in the second, he clearly won the 11th and 12th. When a guy [Ward] is backing up, scoring an occasional jab, and wrestling. Sergey was trying to make the fight and he [Ward] was trying to run. The judges obviously like running and wrestling but this is boxing.”
Ward obviously feels different. “I can’t do anything about the controversy,” Ward said.
“It was a close fight, it’s boxing. If I honestly felt I lost the fight, I would tell you guys. I would hold my hands up and say, ‘I don’t know what happened, the judges got it wrong, I lost.’ But that’s not how I feel.”
The first fight, with controversy was great, why not see it again? Although Ward may not be too keen to the idea. “I think the second fight would be even worse for him,” he said. “I don’t know how many adjustments he can make.”
The Kovalev rematch makes sense as many people are talking about the fight and the controversial decision. This sets intrigue for the rematch. Kovalev obviously wants redemption, Ward may want to solidify his position and definitively defeat Kovalev in the rematch to erase all doubts.
WBC and Lineal Ring Magazine champion Adonis Stevenson is another option. Both parties mentioned interest in fighting one another to unify all of the belts and the southpaw self-proclaimed “Superman” presents a different set of problems for Ward to try to solve.
Nathan Cleverly, Artur Beterbiev are other light heavyweight contenders for crown.
Although they are now separated by two weight divisions, essentially 15 lbs., many boxing fans have been clamoring for is a fight between Ward and Gennady Golovkin.
The middleweight champion was in attendance for bout between Kovalev and Ward, along with his trainer Abel Sanchez, who claims his fighter can beat Kovalev, Ward and Stevenson.
“Triple G beats everyone that’s out there, including Kovalev,” Sanchez told behindthegloves.com.
“I think Triple G would beat Andre Ward, I think Triple G would be Stevenson.”
Whether this type of talks spawns some manifestation of match making between any of the named parties, that’s great.
Boxing needs to continue to build on this momentum and make the best match-up featuring the best fighters.
We’ll see what’s in store for Andre Ward and how he’ll handle his reign atop of the boxing landscape as the best fighter in the sport.
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