Thursday, November 24, 2016

Punch 2 the Face Radio

I joined Punch 2 the Face Radio this week, hosted by Brandon Stubbs, where we talked about the controversial Kovalev-Ward fight and previewed Lomachenko-Walters. I joined at the 11:00-minute mark. Click here to listen.

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
@snboxing on twitter
SN Boxing on Facebook
Contact Adam at:

Monday, November 21, 2016

Opinions and Observations: Kovalev-Ward

However one views Andre Ward's controversial unanimous decision victory over Sergey Kovalev, the fight manifested in a fairly clear "tale of two halves." Kovalev dominated the action early, beating Ward to the punch with jabs and right hands. He knocked Ward down in the second and had his foe hanging on for dear life by the end of the round. There was a clear difference in power between the two fighters. Although that was expected, what was surprising was that Kovalev also out-boxed Ward through most of the fight's first four rounds. 

By the end of the match, it was clear to me that Ward was getting the better of the action in a majority of the fight's final frames. Ward disrupted Kovalev's timing by grappling on the inside and landing single shots, usually jabs, right hands or left hooks that left Kovalev flummoxed in the ring and unable to land the types of definitive blows that he scored with earlier in the bout. 

In my estimation, scoring the match came down to when one started to grasp the tide of the fight turning. Rounds five through seven were very close and the awarding of those frames could vary based on eye of the beholder. Kovalev was still landing solid shots here and there but Ward was successful in neutralizing Kovalev's free-flowing offense and scoring more frequently with his own shots. Now, were Ward's efforts in these rounds enough to win them, or was he simply doing better? That, like much of this fight is up for debate. 

Allow me to take a brief pause from sharing my fight observations to talk about the concept of confirmation bias, which may have played a key role in how one scored Kovalev-Ward. For a quick definition of confirmation bias, let's use this: the tendency to interpret new evidence as a confirmation of one's existing beliefs or theories. Confirmation bias is a concept familiar to those conversant in psychology, cognitive and social sciences. In recent years, the phrase has increasingly popped up in analytically-minded evaluations of decision making in sports. Baseball front offices and "statheads" in other sports frequently try to combat confirmation bias in order to remove groupthink and to solicit different opinions. 

Confirmation bias holds a significant role in boxing, specifically in the evaluation and judging of fights. Observers hold a theory on how a matchup might play out and until there is significant evidence that negates the original prediction, the initial hypothesis for the fight prevails. In competitive contests, such as Kovalev-Ward, observers make a pick or posit a theory on how the match will unfold. The tendency is to view the ensuing fight action through the prism of the original pick. Essentially, we all want our initial prediction to be right. 

As a red-blooded human being, of course I can be susceptible to confirmation bias, just like anyone else. I predicted that Ward would win the fight after a rough start. I even went so far as to opine that he would be knocked down early in the fight before coming back to win in the second half. Now, did Ward actually do those things on Saturday? He might have. I thought that he did. However, it's not out of the realm of possibility that I tried to place Saturday's fight action into my original narrative. 

I scored the fight 115-112 for Ward, or eight rounds to four, with a point off for the knockdown. I thought that Ward gradually began to take away Kovalev's offensive weapons. In terms of ring generalship, from the fifth round on, I believed that most of those rounds were the types of frames that Ward would want. I didn't see him getting hit with a ton of shots and he did enough on offense to shade almost all of the close rounds on my card. 

My score was among the outer boundaries for those who thought that Ward had been the victor (I predicted that he'd win by 116-111). Now, in most instances where I make a pick and the fight plays out far differently than expected, I'm able to make the necessary observational adjustments in how I perceive the action playing out. I'd like to think that I did that on Saturday. However, I'm also willing to admit that it's possible that confirmation bias may have played a small role in my final scorecard. 

But this article is not a mere apologia for one man's human deficiencies; the door swings both ways. It's also entirely possible that many Kovalev supporters fell victim to confirmation bias as well. Many picked Kovalev to win. And let's also face this truth; Ward is an unpopular figure in many fight circles and corners of the media. His arrogance and aloofness rub people the wrong way. Many boxing fans really wanted Ward to lose, and this level of vitriol went far beyond a simple fight prediction. 

Everyone in boxing has his or her favorite boxers and those that they can't stomach. Should Danny Garcia ever find himself in a close fight again, huge swaths of boxing fans will have him losing because they don't like how he's conducted his career. Ward is a similar figure. So while it's certainly possible that Ward lost the fight on Saturday, let's also consider that many who thought that Kovalev won could've also fallen prey to bits of confirmation bias. 

Thus, what exactly are we left with…some kaleidoscopic view of a fight action, where fans and observers see what they want and discard things that might disrupt their original narrative? In truth, this exact situation is why boxing judging can be very difficult. The human brain essentially relies on stories, narratives and unifying themes to help explain the world. We take shortcuts and make assumptions. It's the boxing judge's responsibility to separate each round and score it individually. What came before shouldn't affect what happens next. Those who score fights try their best to separate previous from current action but everyone has imperfections; storylines are how we process information. 

Often, it's almost a toss of the coin to determine who has won a close round. Was a fighter really hurt? Does this bit of body language indicate mental or physical fatigue? Is the force of a fighter's punches diminishing? Has a particular boxer gained "momentum?" Was the fighter coming forward effective or just aggressive?

Professional judges, even the best ones, can succumb to bias, whether it's a certain style they prefer, the atmosphere of the arena or a limited view of specific exchanges during a fight. They find things that they like in close rounds. And when multiple rounds play out in similar fashion, it's certainly possible that they continue to reward one particular fighter over another; the brain spots familiar patterns, which serves to counteract the notion that each round should be scored as its own independent event. 

The three judges for Kovalev-Ward, Glenn Trowbridge, Burt Clements and John McKaie, are all reputable arbiters in the sport. I won't claim that they are among the top officials in boxing but they aren't in the bottom tier either. They are a representative sampling of the types of judges found at major fights. In my opinion, their 114-113 scores for Ward were all defensible tallies. And it's also my belief that another set of officials could've legitimately arrived at Kovalev as the winner of the fight. That all three judges had the same score doesn't mean there was a consensus as to who won the bout. Press row had Kovalev by about a 3:1 ratio. 

The best we can hope for as boxing fans are that professional judges turn in scorecards that are defendable and legitimate. Their scores won't always conform perfectly to how we might see a fight but as long as there is a legitimate way of arriving at a verdict then that should suffice. In a fight such as Kovalev-Ward, where there were three-to-five swing rounds, it's certainly possible that divergent scorecards could be conceivable. That the three judges turned in identical tallies is immaterial. Ultimately, huge portions of the fight were debatable as to who was doing the better work. 

Controversy drives boxing. It's good for the sport. It keeps fans engaged and helps to enlarge boxing's base. Ultimately, Kovalev-Ward was an excellent, competitive fight, far better than most had anticipated. What we didn't want on Saturday night was another example of illegitimacy for the sport, where we see the umpteenth headline in a newspaper of "Another Black Eye for Boxing." Kovalev-Ward was not that. The ultimate verdict was controversial but not illegitimate. And that's O.K. Controversy sells. I'd practically guarantee that the Kovalev-Ward rematch will do better at the box office and in the pay per view numbers than the first one did. Boxing fans want to see the matchup again and increasing numbers of casual fans will tune into the second fight because it will play a bigger role in the greater sporting world. 

Saturday's fight produced a victor but not a conclusive one. Let's hope we get that in the rematch. It was my pleasure to be out in Las Vegas to witness Saturday's action. It's rare to see a fight between two of the best talents in the sport, let alone a compelling one. Both combatants showed world-class skills and character. I can't wait for the next one. 

But let's also take a moment to remember that we're fallible individuals with biases, some obvious and others less so. Kovalev-Ward was a Rorschach test on many levels. Where there was inconclusivity, so many found ways to make the fight's outcome definitive, perhaps in part to conform to a pre-existing view. Despite the protestations from some fight fans, Kovalev-Ward wasn't conclusive and it's perfectly reasonable to admit this. Perhaps the second one will settle remaining doubt. Then, those who are in interested in chest-puffing can have at it. But until then, let's revel in an excellent fight and hope that Kovalev-Ward helped to move the sport forward. 

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
@snboxing on twitter
SN Boxing on Facebook
Contact Adam at:

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Kovalev-Ward: Keys to the Fight

Perhaps the most significant fight of 2016 takes place on Saturday at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas as two of the top-five talents in the sport, unified light heavyweight titlist Sergey Kovalev (30-0-1, 26 KOs) and undefeated former super middleweight king Andre Ward (30-0, 15 KOs), square off in a hotly anticipated matchup at the 175-lb. limit. The stakes are high; Saturday's winner will become a bona fide star in the sport and has a solid argument to be recognized as boxing's number-one fighter. 

Kovalev-Ward is the culmination of a year-long buildup, which featured several contentious periods of negotiation. Both boxers had their requisite tune-ups earlier in 2016 (Kovalev fought Isaac Chilemba and a rematch against Jean Pascal; Ward faced Alexander Brand and Sullivan Barrera) and each is now ready to take on the most difficult assignment of his professional career. 

Kovalev is one of the most destructive fighters in the sport, featuring a deadly right hand and a burgeoning ring IQ. Ward is perhaps the sport's consummate boxer and has the versatility and adaptability reserved for elite talents. Saturday's matchup is the classic boxer vs. puncher clash. Although the gambling houses have installed Ward as a slight favorite, both pugilists have clear paths to victory. Below are the keys to the fight. My prediction will be at the end of the article. 

1. Can Ward take Kovalev's punch?

Although Ward has beaten fighters of varied styles throughout his professional career, he's yet to defeat a genuine knockout artist. Yes, Arthur Abraham, Carl Froch, Mikkel Kessler and Edwin Rodriguez featured good power but Kovalev punches at another level. His power is among the best in boxing. As a pro, Ward has been knocked down once, early in his career against Darnell Boone, a fighter who also took Kovalev to the brink in a debatable split decision loss in 2010. (Kovalev won more authoritatively in a 2012 rematch, knocking Boone out in the second round.) Despite that hiccup against Boone, Ward has demonstrated a fine beard as a pro. 

However, if Kovalev lands his Sunday punch, all bets are off. He has the power to hurt or stop any light heavyweight. Kovalev's money shot is his right hand and he sets it up well with his other punches. Although Kovalev's right is one of boxing's supreme weapons, he isn't just a one-trick pony. Fighters can get so wary of his right that he wins rounds and hurts opponents with thudding jabs and crisp left hooks. 

Even accounting for Ward's defensive prowess, it's unlikely that he'll manage to escape all 12 rounds without being hit by something big by Kovalev, who has landed authoritative punches on all of his best opponents. Kovalev's thundershots will ask several questions of Ward: When Kovalev lands his right, can he survive? At 32, does Ward still have the ability to get up? If he's hurt, can his legs withstand a true Kovalev assault? Does Ward have the physicality to neutralize Kovalev in those moments to buy himself recovery time? The answers to these questions will determine if Ward has a legitimate chance of raising his arms at the end of the night.

2. Can Kovalev establish an inside game? 

Ward's safest bet in the fight is to stay out of mid-range, where Kovalev has the reach and power to cause maximum damage. Knowing this, Ward will most likely spend large portions of the bout either on the inside or out of range. When outside of the pocket, Ward can potshot and reduce Kovalev's punch volume. However he's still going to have to make a stand at points in the fight. Kovalev is fairly good at cutting off the ring and Ward will have to do enough offensively to win rounds. 

Inside fighting has become a lost art in boxing but Ward is one of the few fighters in the sport who has grasped and mastered all of its implications. By using angles, movement, creative punch variety and his physicality, Ward has experienced significant success at close range. There, he consistently beats his opponents to the punch, out-thinks them and gradually demoralizes his foes. He has several short punchers that are weapons in tight quarters. Specifically, his left hook has stunning accuracy and surprising power.  

Kovalev likes to use his reach to punch. In close, his jab and straight right hand become lesser factors. His uppercut can disappear in fights. Ultimately, Kovalev needs to find something that works at close range. Perhaps it could be short left hooks to the body or uppercuts, but without consistent inside weapons he will cede large territories of ring geography to Ward. Certainly Kovalev will be tying-up at points but he won't be able to neutralize Ward 100% on the inside with just inaction. Kovalev will have to do some fighting on the inside to earn Ward's respect and disabuse him of the notion that being in close range is a safe harbor. 

3. Battle of the jabs. 

Both fighters have excellent jabs. They'll use the punch to initiate their offensive rhythm and thwart opposing momentum. Ward has the better hand speed of the two but Kovalev's jab is constant and accurate. Kovalev also jabs expertly to the body, which opens up additional offensive opportunities throughout a fight. 

Much of the ring generalship of the fight will center on which fighter can establish his jab and if either guy can take away that punch from his opponent. Ward has an excellent counter left hook and is a master of timing. If opponents become too predictable, he'll counter them with a full arsenal of potential shots or use the ring to disrupt his opponent's timing. 

Kovalev will double and triple jab to reduce counters. Although Kovalev isn't a natural counterpuncher, he's improved in this area under trainer John David Jackson's tutelage. His counter right hand was enough to keep Bernard Hopkins in survival mode. Most of Kovalev's opponents spend so much time on defense that they grudgingly offer lead shots. Kovalev uses his jab both offensively and defensively. He sets his other punches up with his jab and it's forceful enough that opponents don't want to open up with their own offense, keeping them in safety-first mode.

4. Ward's legs.

Ward fought only twice in 40 months between 2012 and 2016 as he dealt with injuries and promotional disputes. Upon his return, there were some noticeable differences in his ring performances. He's less explosive physically than he once was and he's more of a straight-line fighter. Some boxing observers attributed those characteristics as symptoms of ring rust. If that line of thinking proves to be correct, with more activity, much of Ward's former athleticism will reemerge. However, it's also quite possible that Father Time has caught up to Ward a bit; very few fighters are in their physical peak in their 30's.  

If there is real slippage with Ward's athleticism, and specifically his legs, that problem could manifest in a number of ways throughout the fight. Ward might lack the reflexes to evade Kovalev's big shots. If he can't use the ring like he once did, he'll be in Kovalev's range far more often. In addition, it's possible that he'll lack the quick athletic movements to get on the inside against Kovalev, which would be a huge benefit to the rangier power puncher. 

With a full training camp and a determined effort, Ward could still exhibit a close-to-peak physical prowess. If that's the case, then he has many different ways of winning the fight. However, if there is true degradation in Ward's athleticism, then he'll be in harm's way throughout the match. Without his legs at close to 100%, Ward may not have his full range of recuperative powers. Can he recover from big shots? Can he move quickly enough to tie-up Kovalev? Will he be able to use the ring to limit Kovalev's offense? 

5. Mental fortitude.

Not only has Ward been undefeated as a professional but he's also won an Olympic gold medal; losing isn't part of his vocabulary. He's defeated several champions and often has embarrassed them in the ring. On one hand, Ward's winning pedigree is clearly established. However, other factors may come into play on Saturday. Getting hit with big shots has the ability to transform elite fighters into something far less than that. If Ward gets hurt or battered in the ring, does he still possess the internal drive to do what it takes to win? He sat out for many years of his prime and has talked about losing his love of the sport. Is he as emotionally invested in winning as he once was? He's a family man and loves raising his kids. If he gets hurt badly, with those considerations enter into his decision making process? 

In recent years, Kovalev has been dropped by a lesser talent (Blake Caparello) and hurt in the first Pascal fight. Although he rallied in both instances, he clearly didn't react well in those moments. Against Pascal, Kovalev seemed momentarily stunned in the middle rounds, forgetting to throw punches and abandoning his defensive posture. Facing Caparello, he was temporarily gun shy. Even earlier this year against Chilemba, Kovalev was visibly frustrated when he couldn't land with regularity and turned in a disjointed performance. 

Ward will make it difficult for Kovalev. There will be portions of the fight where things won't go his way. Will Kovalev stick to the game plan? Will he take unnecessary risks? Will he check out mentally? Will he start fouling out of frustration? What happens if he gets hit with a lot of solid shots? Which fighter will dig deeper and do what it takes to win? Which will be the more focused competitor? Who will respond better to his corner? These factors could very much determine who will be victorious on Saturday. 


I believe that Ward, even with some physical diminishment, still has more ways of winning the fight. He has advantages on both the inside and outside. He also has enough weapons at mid-range to keep Kovalev honest. I think that Ward will gradually take away Kovalev's jab by staying out of the pocket and fighting in areas of the ring where that punch won't be much of a factor. 

However, I do believe that Ward's reflexes have slipped enough that the fight will be compelling. Barrera and Brand landed hard shots on Ward, the types of blows that probably wouldn't have landed before his hiatus. There will be moments in the fight where Kovalev catches Ward at the end of a multi-punch combination or pulling straight back. At those points, Ward will have to use his considerable recuperative powers to survive. However, I think that Kovalev will only have intermittent success with his power shots. In totality, Ward will be the more consistent fighter, boxing and neutralizing his way to winning a majority of the rounds. I believe that Ward will have to get off the canvas in the fight but he'll do enough to earn the victory. 

Andre Ward defeats Sergey Kovalev 116-111. 

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
@snboxing on twitter
SN Boxing on Facebook
Contact Adam at:

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Punch 2 The Face Radio

I jumped on Punch 2 The Face Radio this week, hosted by Brandon Stubbs, to preview Pacquiao-Vargas and Donaire-Magdaleno. My segment starts at the nine-minute mark. Click here to listen.

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. 
@snboxing on twitter
SN Boxing on Facebook
Contact Adam at: