Brenden Whitted, who will be helping with with NBA content in 2016-17 and a few other things; you can, of course, also refer to him as Research, and catch him all season long on the SportsChannel8 NBA Podcast with Stat Boi. He’s back with a breakdown of another favorite sport of his — boxing, which will take center stage Saturday: Andre Ward vs. Sergey Kovalev. Take it away, Brenden.
Let’s be honest, super-hyped fights have taken a standing eight count since Mayweather and Pacquiao waltzed in the ring for 12 rounds. Super fights aren’t based on the number of boxing fans that are interested; superfights only come about when the casual sports fan takes an interest in the event. And since that fateful meeting about a year and a half ago, the casual fan has been decidedly disinterested in boxing. Canelo Alvarez, likely the largest star in the sport, recently fought Amir Khan and generated approximately 600,000 pay-per-view buys — a mere 3.8 million short of the Mayweather/Pacquiao tussle.
But now the sport may be gifted another Super fight. Hard-hitting Sergey Kovalev and all-around badass Andre Ward square off this Saturday night for the Light Heavyweight title in Vegas. The fight world isn’t abuzz because the characters involved are gregarious or polarizing, but because of the talent in the ring. The thing most analysts knew prior to the Mayweather fight was this, neither he nor Pacman were at their best. Here, both Ward and Kovalev are at or near their boxing and physical peak.
Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev comes in as one of the most destructive boxers in the sport (emphasis on the term “boxer”). While his devastating power is obvious, he showed that he could combine that punching power with tactical prowess when he defeated longtime boxing genius Bernard Hopkins. So many big punchers had followed Hopkins around in the ring only to be outpointed and outclassed; not Kovalev, who cut the ring off and took the wind out of the future Hall-of-famer before picking him apart and earning the 12 round decision.
Ward has been on the boxing radar for years, as one of the best all-around fighters to be found. After some issues with his former promotional team Ward has assumed his rightful place back among the pound-for-pound elites. Ward will never wow you with any one thing; it’s not just his power; it’s not just boxing IQ; it isn’t just his technique. It’s the totality of his skill set that places Ward in a special class of fighters — potentially catapulting him into legendary status with a strong showing against a tough opponent like the one he faces on the 19th.
Both men enter the ring at a sterling 30-0. And While Kovalev owns the edge in knockouts during their respective careers (23-15), Andre Ward is the slight favorite in the fight. In a time where everyone wants to play at being some sort of super villain, this fight has been delightfully free of abrasive rhetoric or even inappropriate tweeting. These are two great boxers wanting to fight one another. Boxing is overpopulated with pale imitations of Ali and his boisterous bravado, so Kovalev’s comments about being uncertain about the fight’s outcome are actually refreshing — and exactly what the fight game needs.
These are divisive times, so the idea that a boxing match could pull in fight fans, and fringe fans, and everyone in between is a fun juxtaposition. All of Mayweather’s PPV fights had customers interested only in watching him fail. Pacquaio has his own detractors. But here, in this duel, we have two high-quality fighters without all the histrionics. There are no frills to this fight, no special storylines. Just two boxers who want to fight and have an aptitude for it.
For every time that a star player got a penalty for taunting or celebrating too vigorously, this boxing match offers an alternative. For every time someone yelled, “just hand the ball to the ref” or “act like you’ve been there before” this match will satiate. This match will be a throwback to a time many may not know existed — one where talent, devoid of any ego, reigns supreme. It’s what many say that they want in their ideal version of sports, all the competition without the pomp and circumstance of big-time sporting events.
It’ll be interesting to see the amount of PPV buys for two guys that simply go about the business of being dynamos in their sport. If the fight is a dramatic, lucrative classic then perhaps the landscape of sports has changed. Maybe consumers don’t want outspoken athletes and bombastic personalities. Perhaps after years of professing the desire for athletes to be role models, people have realized that they want as little knowledge about political affiliations and social ideologies as possible from people that play sports.
It feels like boxing has a match every few years to get it back to where it once was on the sports landscape. But this fight may be for much more than that. It feels like a line of demarcation between what sports was, and what it may become. Or, perhaps more importantly, two men beating the hell out of one another can help heal the divide between old fans of sport and new. If it worked in Rocky IV, why can’t it again?