FRISCO, Texas – Andre Ward doesn’t consider Sergey Kovalev the same fighter he was before Ward and Eleider Alvarez beat him by technical knockout.
Kovalev still is plenty good enough, according to Ward, to beat every active light heavyweight in boxing. Now that Kovalev has regained the WBO light heavyweight title from Alvarez, Kovalev is at least in position to secure 175-pound title unification fights against IBF champ Artur Beterbiev (13-0, 13 KOs) or WBC champ Oleksandr Gvozdyk (16-0, 13 KOs).
The contract Kovalev’s promoter, Main Events, signed with Top Rank to stream Kovalev-Alvarez on ESPN+ ties Kovalev to ESPN for future fights. Beterbiev and Gvozdyk also are affiliated with Top Rank and/or ESPN, which should help Kovalev secure either of those attractive bouts.
DAZN will stream WBA light heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol’s next fight. Russia’s Bivol (15-0, 11 KOs) is scheduled to face Long Island’s Joe Smith Jr. (24-2, 20 KOs) on March 9 at Turning Stone Resort & Casino in Verona, New York.
“It’s interesting,” said Ward, who called the Kovalev-Alvarez rematch for ESPN. “[Kovalev is] in every one of those fights. He can win every single one of ‘em. Now will he? I don’t know, but he can. He has enough left in the tank. He is getting older. There’s some fresh blood, there’s new blood, but if he boxes the way that he did tonight, he’s gonna be hard to deal with.”
As impressed as Ward was with the discipline Kovalev exhibited while out-boxing Alvarez during their 12-round title fight, he also knows Kovalev isn’t the fighter he was before Ward went at it with him a second time in June 2017.
Ward hurt Kovalev badly with a right hand in the seventh round of their immediate rematch. The Hayward, California, native eventually defeated Kovalev by eighth-round technical knockout, though the stoppage itself seemed suspect because referee Tony Weeks waved an end to their bout immediately after Ward landed multiple questionable body blows.
Regardless, Ward believes Kovalev had quit, mentally anyway, before Weeks stopped their rematch at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas.
“He’s never gonna regain that,” Ward said. “When you go through what he went through in our two fights, when you quit like that, there’s a piece of you that’s always left back there. But he’s still good enough to deal with a lot of light heavyweights in the division.”
Against a punishing puncher like Beterbiev, however, Ward feels Kovalev’s TKO losses to him and Alvarez might impact his performance.
“It’s always in the back of his mind,” Ward said. “He’ll never fully get past that. I’m talking both [mentally and physically]. So again, there’s a piece of him that’s still back there in Las Vegas, from our second fight, still back there in Las Vegas, from our first fight, and still back there from his first fight with Alvarez. You don’t just [get] over that. But what he still has left is enough to deal with a lot of people in the division.”
The 35-year-old Kovalev dealt well with Alvarez in their immediate rematch because he listened to new trainer Buddy McGirt both in camp and in during their fight. He won comfortably on all three scorecards (120-108, 116-112, 116-112).
“I think, obviously stylistically, he looked a lot better,” Ward said. “Whatever he and Buddy have been working on – working smarter and not harder in camp – translated to the ring tonight. And I think the way that he took punches and responded was impressive. There’s a lot of small battles and small skirmishes that take place in a fight. Alvarez had moments when he tried to press the action, he landed a couple of big shots. Kovalev never let him [follow up]. And that’s why Kovalev was allowed to box and looked the way that he looked tonight.”