More praise and less criticism: The battle between Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev
By: Kirk Jackson
Andre Ward 31-0 (15 KO’s) captured the WBA, WBO and IBF light heavyweight titles from Sergey Kovalev 30-1-1 (26 KO’s), in an action-packed, highly competitive bout, with historical ramifications this past weekend.
Historic, as this fight was the seventh instance, seventh world title fight featuring two undefeated fighters with at least 30 wins each. Ward also became the seventh fighter to capture world titles at 168 and 175 lbs.
Instead of celebrating the fact we witnessed two truly great fighters; each fighter exercising their skills in a highly competitive bout and displaying why each fighter is highly regarded as a top pound for pound fighter.
Instead of reveling in the actual instance of watching two elite fighters in their prime, going back and forth as was the ebb and flow of the fight, Rocky-like if we consider the storyline and circumstances of the fight, we are talking about controversy.
We’re all entitled to our opinions, and in the United States at least, we are allowed the freedoms to express such.
With these varying perspectives and interpretations of what is witnessed, we can certainly have a difference of opinion.
Now how someone interprets a fight is subjective. But scoring rounds and scoring fights are supposed to be based on primarily four factors.
Effective Aggression: Being the aggressor may leave an impression of dominance, but the aggressor must actually “land” punches and avoid counter-punches in return, in order to truly be “effective.” Just chasing the opponent is not effective aggression.
Ring Generalship: The fighter who controls the pace of the fight; the fighter enforces his/her will and is the conductor of the action. Setting the range, establishing the distance in which the fight takes place, which can include clinching/in-fighting.
Defense: How well a boxer is blocking, parrying and slipping punches. Clinching/tying up the opponent, moving around the ring, moving from side to side, presenting different angles is considered defense. It’s not running; there is nothing stated within the rules of boxing that suggests a boxer must only step forward throwing punches. It’s important to keep in mind, good defense is just as important as offense.
Clean/Effective Punches: To the untrained eye, it can appear as if a boxer is landing a lot of punches, when in fact, most are either blocked, not landing flush or grazing punches. A judge or observer needs to look for hard punches that land clean. Hard punches can definitely constitute as effective, but a boxer should not be penalized if he/she is not a powerful puncher; again, it’s about clean, landed punches.
Truly unbiased commentary.
As former world titlist and current esteemed boxer analyst Paulie Malignaggi points out;
Kovalev missed many of his big shots and some of the punches were glancing blows. More importantly points out, the HBO commentary team, missed what was actually going on.
There were various moments in the fight where play by play commentator Jim Lampley, inaccurately called out punches, claiming they landed, while they did not indeed land at all. He even admitted this in round 11.
“Yep, I gave him [Kovalev] credit for a landed punch, but it didn’t land.”
Problem is, Lampley has a long standing history of doing so. As a boxing analyst, play by play or punch by punch boxing commentator, these kind of mistakes are unacceptable.
Question is, are these unintentional mistakes, or intentional calls to paint a narrative to go along with the intended agenda accompanying his commentary?
Harold Lederman is notorious for his bad scorecards during HBO telecasts. As Lampley was quoted as saying in round 11 of Kovalev vs. Ward, “The Lederman card is unofficial and judges often disagree with it.”
The narrative Lampley and former judge Lederman attempts to and successfully projects is the narrative of only appreciating “certain” types of fighters.
There seems to be an agenda aimed against other “certain” styles of fighter. A fighter with a slick defensive style, who is not overly aggressive with an offensive punch output, is not appreciated or even respected by their standards.
Fighters such as Erislandy Lara, Floyd Mayweather, Guillermo Rigondeaux, Bernard Hopkins, Andre Ward, and the list goes on and on. Terence Crawford, was a guy on the list they constantly criticized, until he changed his style and became more action oriented.
Guess what other trait each fighter has in common aside from their defensive acumen? Let it marinate.
Certain companies like to promote fighters who are action fighters; all out-action like the late Arturo Gatti for instance. Hence the “Gatti List” from HBO’s Lampley.
Fighters who are about constant action with no regard for defense, or guys with tremendous punching power or high punch output.
Reminiscent to former HBO broadcaster Larry Merchant, with his criticisms of fighters reluctant to openly engage in all-out slugfests.
However, it’s unfair to criticize a fighter on the basis of his/her lack of punching power. Especially at the highest competitive level of boxing, it may be more impressive for a fighter who is successful despite their lack of punching power.
It’s unfair to criticize a fighter on the basis of their style; there are no unwritten rules where it states a boxer must walk directly towards their opponent and engage in open warfare. And they must not move around or avoid punches; they must stand directly in front of their opponents and throw punches back and forth with disregard for defense and their health.
Again, these commentators openly critical of a fighter for his/her fighting style never stepped in the ring themselves; don’t have to worry about the long term effects of the damage sustained in the ring.
As a commentator, as a boxing analyst, the goal is to educate the fan, to educate and explain to the viewer what they are watching. As the well informed, there is a responsibility to go over different styles, analyzing strengths and weaknesses of each style.
That is the beauty of boxing, the sweet science. The goal should not be to force feed viewers bits of false information to fit your narrative.
It’s okay for fans to have a particular bias; not for commentators. Some observers believe Kovalev won the fight and that’s fine.
They may believe Kovalev won the fight based on total punches landed. According to CompuBox, Kovalev threw 474 punches, landed 126. Ward threw 337 punches, landed 116. 26.6 percent (Kovalev) to 34.4 percent (Ward).
So Kovalev threw 137 more punches and landed only 10 more. Also, just because more punches are landed throughout the course of the fight, this statistic does not necessarily tell the entire tale of the fight. It’s important fights are scored and tallied round by round.
Another thing to consider is some observers may not consider the inside-the-trenches work from Ward; fighting inside the clinch, landing many effective body punches. The HBO commentators surely neglected to mention the activity.
Some observers may say Kovalev chased Ward around the ring and all Ward did was run and hold.
Kovalev never cut the ring off, if he did, he would be showcasing ring generalship and would throw and land more punches. Ward was never trapped against the ropes or in the corner and he did not initiate all of the holding. There were many instances of Kovalev placing Ward in a DDT-styled head lock.
From each fighter, from each camp, of course they’ll have opposing views on what transpired and who won.
Kovalev’s promoter Kathy Duva expressed her disdain towards the decision after the fight.
“I knew all along this would be a close fight, but once I watched the first five or six rounds [Kovalev] was clearly dominating, Ward was backpedaling and actually looked afraid for a while there. When he knocked him [Ward] down it was so emphatic.”
“It’s close. And when it’s close like that I know you can’t yell too loud…but it’s just one of those fights where some of the rounds were so clear-cut.”
Kovalev added, “I don’t think I won only because I dropped him early. I won with my speed and power. He would touch me with the jab, and then grab. I don’t understand,” said Kovalev.
“I feel a bit uncomfortable because I don’t agree with the decision. Boxing fans saw what happened today.
Clearly understandable from their side. Duva believes in her fighter, believes he earned the decision and she is doing her diligence as his promoter. Kovalev was in the fight; it was close and should feel like he won, nothing wrong with that.
The Ward camp, had a different view of course.
“I’m pleased and I’m happy. Of course I wish it was a dominant performance in terms of the scorecards,”
said Ward. “But this was a tough victory against someone a lot of people thought would stop me. We did what we had to do, we got stronger, and I’m very happy.”
“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.”
What’s lost in the mist of complaints from Kovalev, his promoter Kathy Duva and some other spectators, was this was a truly great fight.
Ward was knocked down, behind on the scorecards and had to find a way to not only adjust to the power of Kovalev, but to the skills, safely trying to find a way implement his style of fight and enforce his mental toughness and fighter’s spirit.
Ward climbed mount Kovalev and conquered it.
Some journalists such as Larry Merchant, Steve Kim and others say this was a robbery; likening the decision to the greatest robbery since Pernell Whitaker and Julio Caesar Chavez. Some even compared it to the first encounter between Timothy Bradley and Manny Pacquiao.
If anyone wants to talk about robbery, why not discuss the fight between Maurice Hooker 21-0- 3 (16 KO’s) vs. Darleys Perez 33-2-2 (21 KO’s). Want to talk about bad decisions, Perez was robbed of a victory and ended up with a draw.
As a result of the decision between Ward and Kovalev, people are not giving Ward the credit he deserves, even questioning his top position as the sport’s top p4p fighter which is ridiculous.
According to the The Ring Magazine, the “Bible of Boxing,” Ward is ranked no. 4, still behind Kovalev listed as no. 2.
The Ring should reflect the results of the fight, not their interpretation of how the fight went. Going off official records and paperwork, going off Boxrec, Wikipedia, fighters book, however you want to document it, this fight goes down in the history books as a win for Ward.
The Ring did the same thing with Pacquiao with the whole Bradley fiasco of their first fight. They still had Pacquiao as the no. 1 fighter, in spite of his defeat.
But The Ring had nothing to say when Juan Manuel Marquez appeared to defeat Pacquiao in their third encounter, albeit falling short of victory according to the judges. Their p4p standings did not reflect what many interpreted in the ring as defeat for Pacquiao, even if it was not registered officially as a defeat.
According to The Ring, how they critique and fighters:
Results: This is the most objective criterion and takes precedence above all others.
Performance: How a fighter performs in a victory or defeat can be a factor to determine his place in the ratings.
Track record: A fighter’s accomplishments in the recent past can be a factor to determine his place in the ratings. That includes quality of opposition.
You see the justice there? The double standards are remarkable. Again this is the same publication that featured a mma fighter on the cover. A fighter who would ultimately lose to another mma fighter who was accomplished as a world champion boxer.
Again, both Kovalev and Ward should be applauded for their efforts in what is truly a classic.
Consider what Ward had to do and how he effectively enforced his will and skill to EARN victory over another truly great fighter.