Iceman John Scully on Ward-Kovalev: "It will be pins and needles most of the way, no room for errors"

By BT1
Nov. 16, 2016

By Amy Green

The battle for light heavyweight supremacy between Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev happens this Saturday in Las Vegas.

The “Son of God” and the “Krusher” are vying for the WBA, IBF and WBO light heavy titles, at the new T-Mobile Arena. Ward possesses amazing technical style and adaptability, and Kovalev brings relentless, powerful aggression. In a match that has everything going for it style wise, it’s still tough to predict how the fight will unfold.

Boxing historian, analyst and former world title challenger “Iceman” John Scully offered his analysis on this compelling main event.

Andre Ward is widely recognized for his technical skills and ring strategy, but there may still be some question of how he fares against someone considered to be such a “krusher” of an opponent, who relishes a firefight. But Scully is certain Ward has no intention of making himself vulnerable to Kovalev.

“I think he has the heart and the fortitude to do it,” he said. “The chin aspect against such a bigger man with that kind of firepower remains to be seen,” he continued, “though all boxing intelligence points to him being in absolutely no hurry to find out. Skills will need to pay the bills in a fight like this more than most others so I don’t see at all an intentional shoot out in Andre and Virgil’s (trainer Virgil Hunter) plans.”

What Scully does see is Ward doing is picking exact moments to impose his will and strategy on Kovalev to thwart any momentum he could gain.

“I do believe that at certain times, like Leonard did with Hagler and Hearns and Ali did with Foreman,” Scully said, “Andre will pick moments to establish his own strength and willingness to get down and dirty. He will have to at certain times, just to avoid Kovalev having limitless confidence and adrenaline surges from bell to bell, if he were to see that Andre isn't willing to do absolutely anything to get his respect.”

Another aspect of the Ward/Kovalev match is considering it a “brains vs. brawn” fight, and given the background of both fighters, Scully agrees.

“All of their individual histories and all boxing knowledge and sense points to this being the ultimate Brains Versus Brawn contest,” he said. “with a bit of a twist thrown in.”

The twist, he explained is Kovalev actually possessing some ring smarts to go with his brawn. “I see Kovalev being much smarter and a better tactician that many others seem to,” Scully admitted, but acknowledged strength will be his mainstay. “At the end of it all, though, I don't think Sergey will be trying to outsmart Andre nearly as much as he will be trying to very smartly overpower him. I'm pretty sure he believes that he can.”

Andre Ward is the most complete fighter to face Kovalev, with one possible drawback, Scully noted.

“I believe Andre has pretty much got everything going for him except one-punch KO power,” he said, but also reminded his skill set combines to supersede that lack of power. “Andre is ultra-intelligent in there, he puts punches together, slips punches, counters and leads with equal effectiveness,” Scully said. “His big gun, though,” he continued, “is that he has adapted to every style and size up to this point. I'll say he has better than average power but it's not the power that is effective for him, it is the accumulation of shots he's able to get through.” There again, Scully stressed, is Ward’s master strategy at work. “He's able to make his opponents hesitant because just as he appears not to be able to get through, he turns around and gets through. He's very sneaky with his punches.”

Ring savvy works very well for Ward, but Scully is of the opinion Kovalev is also decent in the strategy stakes, in addition to his power.

“Sergey to me is a bit of an underrated boxer,” he said, and explained why. “His jab and the timing he uses with it is one of the best in the game, and he also possesses excellent punch placement to both the body and the head.” Add to that the tactic of wearing his opponents down in mind and body, which are key to his success. “His main strength in most of his fights seems to be that he has the ability to put tremendous mental and physical pressure on his opponents.”

For Ward to be victorious over Kovalev, he will need to be sharp in his counters, precise in his punches, and all reflexes on point , Scully said, and doubts a KO would come by any other means than a cut.

“ While I would have to doubt Andre could score a stoppage by any means other than via a cut, I do think that Kovalev may find himself surprised at Andre's power,” he said. “It's true he doesn't have a lot of knockouts,” he continued, “but there's also got to be a reason why bigger, stronger opponents haven't just thrown caution to the wind and went all in for the win against him. He must carry enough sting to keep them all honest.”

Scully also believes the KO isn’t a factor in this fight, due to Andre and Virgil’s fight preparation.

“I don't think he will score a knockout anyway because that would likely go against everything they've mentally trained for in preparation for this night,” he reasoned. “I think Andre is going to be like the Matrix. I think he's going to be light on his feet and his reflexes will be super sharp because they will certainly have to be. I think he may very well try and use Sergey's aggression against him while drawing him and countering as sharp and short as possible.”

To counteract Ward’s plan and get the win, Kovalev will have to employ a double jab and get his punches off in good time before Ward can plan his next moves.

“One thing that many fail to mention about Kovalev as one of his major strengths is that he has a very powerful jab and he also has great timing,” Scully revealed. “He lands his punches at the right times, and he's able to guide opponents into them.” And this is something that’s a must in facing Ward. “He will absolutely 1000 percent need both of those aspects of his game running on all cylinders on fight night or most of the battle will be lost and he will only have sheer strength to rely on,” Scully said, and insisted Kovalev can’t let Ward get any momentum. “He cannot give Andre time to think and room to maneuver smartly. Many take that to mean that he should be all-out aggressive but I don't necessarily mean that,” he said. “Kovalev needs to use his strong double jabs to push Andre in the directions he wants him to go and he needs to be able to pull the triggers quickly when Ward tries to change directions on him, Scully advised, but doesn’t believe it will be easy going initially. “He will also need to prepare to suffer from early discomfort and an inability to hit Andre flush in the early going. He cannot let that take him out of his game plan. Consistency will be a huge factor and asset if he is going to win this fight.”

Face to face in the arena, Scully sees the fight unfolding with Kovalev attempting to set the pace early on in the fight.

“I think Kovalev will be the first one to initiate the action and , he will probably try and set a strong pace in the hopes that the smaller man will wear down later in the fight,” he predicted. “I also think that as cautious as he may be early on, Andre will sneak some hard shots in early, too. I'm not necessarily predicting it, but it wouldn’t shock me at all if we see Andre Ward let go some blistering shots early in the fight to try and set a tone of his own. “

Scully sees both Ward and Kovalev bringing some good action, but the fight will experience some lulls in activity.

“ Ultimately I believe that they are both going to have some very strong moments while at other times fans may be restless because Andre will generally choose to fight the smartest fight possible,” he said. His thought is the challenging moments will be when Ward regroups. “The biggest drama will come every time Andre is forced to take a breather,” he said, “and Kovalev is able to let his patented groups of power shots go against the ropes or in the corners.” Ward’s reaction to Kovalev’s offense in these instances will create some cause for drama, and Scully said, the fans will be watching with curiosity. “The biggest question I think many will agree is, when those moments come, will Andre be able to take Kovalev's best shots or will he not have to by being ultra defensive? “

An even bigger question persists in who Scully predicts will win this bout. And, he admits, it’s not an easy one to figure.

“ Well, this is one I may wrestle with right up until the opening bell on fight night. It’s just that kind of match-up,” he said.

“ In the beginning I instinctively picked Kovalev. I just saw him as too big, too strong, too tenacious with too much power. I met him last year before he fought Pascal and I was really taken aback by how big he is for a light heavyweight.”

But size alone Scully realized, isn’t the sole factor in the fight.

“However, after a lot of thought,” he continued, “I had to remind myself that in most cases, skills do in fact pay the bills.” “Andre Ward is not only a very good fighter but he is also very intelligent,” he reminded, “and I am very sure he and Virgil know that intelligence is the biggest key here. Maneuverability, smarts, caginess, craftiness. They will map out an intelligent game plan and I believe that unlike some others in the sport, Andre has the discipline and the mental focus to carry out whatever plan is needed.”

Even the best laid plans can be upset, and Scully doesn’t totally count that out.

“With all that said, it's still the kind of fight where if Sergey runs Andre into a well timed right hand he could KO him on the spot. The potential for a dramatic fight ending shot is always there and that, for me, is what makes this fight so intriguing and anticipated.”

That kind of suspense keeps a fight alive- where any little mistake by either fighter can end a night suddenly or render a well planned loss, and Scully knows it’s all in perfect execution.

“It will be pins and needles most of the way, no room for errors, he said, “but if anyone in or around that weight class can execute a plan well enough to pull off a decision victory I say today, that it's Andre Ward.”