Its not really clear if Andre Ward has either wings or a pair of antlers, but we do know he has Hollywood film credits on a resume that has become equal parts fascinating and frustrating. Ward’s 2015, again replete with bizarre unexcused absences, included big city fight card appearances in New York with ROC Nation boss Jay-Z and a role as Danny “Stuntman” Wheeler in the latest Rocky installment “Creed”. Not only was Ward solid as the brash and charismatic Wheeler (as he challenged a real life Tony Bellew for light heavyweight supremacy), but he seemed pretty convincing in a super-sized portrayal of himself. It left me wondering if we’ll see elements of Andre Ward stunting for real on Sergey Kovalev – the WBO, WBA and IBF light heavyweight world champion in 2016; as he’s seemingly ducked elite competition in a way we don’t think “Stuntman” Wheeler would.
RING magazine has Ward rated as the #4 ranked pound-for-pound fighter on the planet, just behind KO machine Gennady Golovkin and “The Krusher”, even though he had an easier schedule than Wheeler over the past two years (zero fights in 2014, and a one-sided win over a fat club-fighter in Paul Smith on BET). Because of this, we don’t really know how good Ward truly is, and he’s only rated as high as he is because of what we think he can do.
On Saturday in Montreal (again), most credible fight scribes believe they know Sergey Kovalev will indeed crush Pascal to retain his lofty status and push closer to a mega-bout with Ward- or, his longtime nemesis with another Canadian in the form of Adonis Stevenson aka “Superman”. With a decisive win over Pascal this weekend, its conceivable that Kovalev could have the biggest 2016 of any elite fighter, by getting both Ward and Stevenson in the ring this year. First, he knows he must get past the now Freddie Roach trained Pascal, and insists that he’s not looking past the hard-punching Canadian.
“I don’t have any plans for the fight and I don’t care who he has. We will go to the ring. A boxing fight is a street fight. No rules,” said a testy Kovalev, who has a serious disdain for the talkative Pascal. “He says too much and he will pay for this on January 30. I am 100% ready to end his career this time and he’s lucky the referee saved him. That won’t happen this time.”
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Sergey Kovalev vs. Jean Pascal II
When: Saturday, January 30 on HBO @9:45 p.m. Eastern time
Where: Bell Centre, Montreal, Quebec
12 rounds for the IBF World light heavyweight, WBA Super World light heavyweight and WBO World light heavyweight titles
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Pascal, for his part, blames the pounding he received at the hands of Kovalev on bad chemistry with former pound-for-pound great Roy Jones, and vows to prove he’s the more skilled fighter this weekend. Roach has dialed up a gameplan very similar to the one that saw James Toney clean up and rinse Evander Holyfield in 2003 via 10th round TKO. Roach believes that Pascal has a decisive advantage in hand speed and athleticism, along with enough power – if used properly – to expose Kovalev and quiet any talk of a Kovalev/Ward showdown.
“His left hand is almost as good as his right,” Roach sprayed. “He has to box. I told him, ‘You look for the knockout, you’re going to get knocked out again. You have to outbox this guy one round at a time. But you can’t go in there thinking you’re going to knock out a puncher. Why fight his game?’ “
Its a good question, and one which has only one definitive answer: because Pascal doesn’t really know what else to do and believes in his power to the end. Right after Roach raised the valid rhetorical question, Pascal provided proof of what we should expect in the rematch at the gaudy Bell Center in Montreal. “I hit a little harder than I have been,” Pascal boasted. “If the first fight was so easy for him — and he’s saying he’s going to knock me out before the eighth round — let’s bet on it, $50,000 to the charity of our choice.”
Pascal wasn’t done.
“I am the better athlete, and the other fight was a bad night for me,” Pascal explained. “I have the skills. I needed to polish those skills with Freddie. He’ll bring me to the next level I need to be.
“This is a redemption fight for me. I need to win to get to the next level. I beat this guy, I’m right back on top.”
More than likely, we’ll see the bottom of Pascal’s feet, and he’ll see the top of the Bell Center from a unique perspective through blurred vision. Pascal’s defensive deficiencies and mental mistakes are so vast at the world-class level, that he’s in for a massive beating at the hands of an irascible Kovalev. In truth, Sergey under-performed in their previous outing, and with a big fight against a great fighter in his prime like Ward on the horizon, look for “The Krusher” to leave Pascal horribly horizontal somewhere around the 5th round.
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