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All talk, no action is no option for Kovalev-Ward

All talk, no action is no option for Kovalev-Ward
Sergey Kovalev, left, and Andre Ward, shown at a Las Vegas news conference on Thursday, are making their debuts as pay-per-view headliners. (Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP)

Ticket sales are lacking. And pay-per-view buys aren't expected to reach any record levels.

So, in a rare meeting of two unbeaten fighters who occupy spots on boxing's top-five pound-for-pound list, the pressure to produce and perform falls on light-heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev of Russia and Oakland's Andre Ward in their title fight Saturday night.

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Both Kovalev (30-0-1, 26 knockouts) and former Olympic and super-middleweight world champion Ward (30-0, 15 KOs) are making their debuts as pay-per-view headliners, and their division isn't exactly stacked with talent.

"Neither of these guys can find a better opponent," veteran boxing commentator and writer Larry Merchant said.

Boxing isn’t dead, but on the heels of disappointing pay-per-view numbers in September for Canelo Alvarez (250,000 buys) and Manny Pacquiao on Nov. 5 (220,000), Kovalev-Ward will be fortunate to generate 200,000.

That ratchets the pressure on them to provide the type of compelling action that will fuel talk about them, this fight and their sport.

"The hope is always that by the third or fourth round, we're all thinking rematch," Merchant said.

The burden lies most heavily on Ward, 32, who has fought only four times since September 2012 due to a contract dispute with a former promoter. And Ward's lacking-in-action bouts against underwhelming opposition this year have many believing he'll seek to elude Kovalev and try to beat him with his craftiness and the judges' support.

The theory that Ward will drain some of the life from the bout is also based on the opinion that the challenger has lost some of his foot speed,  leaving him to overcompensate and increase the dodging.

Ward vows, however, that he'll bring the fight and stifle the yakking by critics who dislike his focus on money and interest in avoiding contact in the ring.

He says he sought the bout against Kovalev, whose punches killed an opponent in a 2011 fight in Russia and Kovalev has beaten a steady slew of good foes, including Bernard Hopkins.

The only other times two unbeaten boxers met while occupying the mythical top-five pound-for-pound list were Felix Trinidad and Oscar De La Hoya in 1999, and Julio Cesar Chavez Sr.-Meldrick Taylor in 1990.

Winning "can force some people to say, 'I've got to give him his just due,' " Ward said.

"It's going deep. I'm not taking nothing. For every action, there's going to be a reaction, times two. They can talk tough, but he's not going to do anything in the ring to jeopardize my safety or try to intimidate.

"He's a bully. His temperament, the things that he says, his attitude."

Kovalev responded: "Every fight for me is like a street fight. I never have any plans for a tactic. What I feel to do, I do. What I see, what can bring me success in each situation … I do this. If I see an open target, I punch. It's just instincts."

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Ward's trainer, Virgil Hunter, has called Kovalev a submissive "robot" who's being paid $2 million while Ward's push for financial reward will net him a $5 million guarantee from promoter Jay Z's Roc Nation Sports.

"I encourage all fighters to be cynical businessmen," Hunter said. "It's easy for the foreign countries to have that kind of fighter, but you have a right to be a businessman. Don't hoodwink 'em and keep 'em robots. A champion deserves a champion's ration."

When told that Ward's side intended to make the purse disparity an issue, Kovalev expressed no reaction, his promoter, Kathy Duva, said.

"All he cares about is winning this fight," Duva said. "He knows the money will come."

BOXING

Sergey Kovalev (30-0-1, 26 KOs) vs. Andre Ward (30-0, 15 KOs) for Kovalev's WBA, IBF and WBO light-heavyweight belts

When: Saturday, 6 p.m. PST

Where: T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas

Odds: Ward minus-160 favorite

Television: HBO pay-per-view, $54.95

Undercard: Oleksandr Gvozdyk (11-0, 9 KOs) vs. Isaac Chilemba (24-4-2, 10 KOs), light-heavyweights; Curtis Stevens (28-5, 21 KOs) vs. James De La Rosa (23-4, 13 KOs), middleweights; Maurice Hooker (21-0-2, 16 KOs) vs. Darleys Perez (33-2-1, 21 KOs), welterweights

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