Since Floyd Mayweather Jr. announced his retirement a little more than a year ago, a handful of high-profile boxers seeking the undisputed pound-for-pound title have appeared in lopsided bouts.
There was Saul “Canelo” Alvarez knocking Amir Khan unconscious with a vicious right hand on May 7. Five months later, Gennady Golovkin so thoroughly battered Kell Brook that the trainer for the formerly undefeated Englishman threw in the towel in Round 5.
Then two weeks ago, Manny Pacquiao, in his first fight since coming out of retirement, coasted against overmatched Jessie Vargas.
All of which left little settled with regard to a clear successor to Mayweather.
The winner of Saturday’s much-anticipated showdown between Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev aims to change that. Both fighters are among the top four in The Ring’s pound-for-pound rankings, and each enters undefeated for a bout at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas featuring contrasting styles.
“I think it would be really, really hard to argue against it,” Ward, 32, said during a conference call when asked if the fight should determine the new pound-for-pound king. “I’m saying this based on both of our résumés and based on the fact that we are both willing to step up and face each other at this stage of our career. I think that the winner of this fight should be pound-for-pound number one.”
Ward (30-0, 15 knockouts), a former champion at 168 pounds, is considered the technically superior fighter but will be coming up in weight, with Kovalev’s light heavyweight belts on the line. Kovalev owns the World Boxing Association, International Boxing Federation and World Boxing Organization titles at 175 pounds.
Ward is the slight betting favorite despite routine showings in his past three fights since a two-year hiatus from the sport. Missing has been the power that allowed the Northern California native to claim impressive victories over Chad Dawson and Carl Froch in defense of the WBA and World Boxing Council super middleweight titles.
In his most recent fight on Aug. 6, Ward logged a unanimous decision over heavy underdog Alexander Brand, 39, winning by 120-108 on all three of the judges’ scorecards. It was Ward’s second fight since moving up to 175 pounds, and Brand reportedly became the opponent only after at least three other fighters turned down the opportunity.
Kovalev (30-0-1, 26 KOs) was ringside at Oracle Arena for the bout, and afterward he and Ward formally announced their matchup.
“Of course this fight is an opportunity for both of us to show the boxing world who is the best pound for pound,” Kovalev, 33, said last week during a conference call. “I’m sure he will be there to do everything he can to get the victory over me, and it’s the same for me. It’s going to be a war between us, who is the best boxer, and who is the best athlete.”
Nicknamed “Krusher” because of his destructive punching power, Kovalev’s career is notable not only for triumphs over Bernard Hopkins and Jean Pascal (twice) but also for tragedy following a fight on Dec. 5, 2011, against fellow Russian Roman Simakov. After Kovalev won by knockout in Round 7, Simakov fell into a coma and had to be carried from the ring on a stretcher.
He died three days later at the age of 27. Since Simakov’s passing, Kovalev has said he is dedicating the rest of his career to his memory.
Kovalev, who has successfully defended his unified titles five times, is coming off a unanimous decision against Isaac Chilemba on July 11. It was Kovalev’s first fight in his home country since facing Simakov.
“I’ve seen Sergey demonstrate his mental toughness time and time again,” said promoter Kathy Duva, the CEO of Main Events, a promotions company that represents Kovalev. “He’s been through more adversity in his life than most fighters have ever contemplated. He works hard because he wants to be the best.
“It’s his mental attitude. I think it’s very positive, and I think that’s the thing that carries him.”