Michael Rosenthal

RING PASS: Ward vs. Abraham

HEAD-TO-HEAD ANALYSIS

SKILLS

Both Ward and Abraham are classic stand-up boxers who are known (and even feared) for their roughhouse tactics. Ward is the more versatile of the two. The 2004 Olympic champ can sharp shoot with quick one-two combinations or lead power shots from the outside or he can effectively mug his opponents in close with punch-and-clinch tactics. Some claim that Ward, who has been compared to a young Bernard Hopkins, often lunges in with his head before locking arms with his opponent. Kessler complained that the American used his head as a weapon. Abraham is a strong, durable stalker who likes to walk his opponents down behind a high guard and an economical offense. The Germany based Armenian has a good jab when he uses it but he prefers to gradually wear his opponents down with sweeping hooks and crosses often delivered at unpredictable moments. Abraham is not above using his elbows, hitting on the break, or striking a fallen opponent during a fight (as evidenced by his DQ loss to Dirrell). Ward's technique and footwork is superior to Abraham's.

Edge: Ward

POWER

Ward has underrated physical strength, an attribute that Abraham is celebrated for, but his stick-and-move/hit-and-clinch style has not made for many knockout victories since his level of opposition has stepped up. Abraham’s peak-a-boo defense and reserved offense also hampers the amount of knockouts he scores but the brutish boxer has managed to stop 26 fighters among his 32 pro victories for a 76.47 KO percentage. Ward has a respectable but significantly lower KO percentage of 56.52. Abraham’s stoppage victims include former titleholders Taylor (KO 12) and Raul Marquez (TKO 6), and fringe contenders Miranda (TKO 4), Ikeke (KO 5) and Elvin Ayala (TKO 12).

Edge: Abraham

SPEED AND ATHLETIC ABILITY

Abraham is a good athlete who possesses speed, power and world-class physical strength, but he lacks the superb hand-eye coordination and reflexes that Ward is gifted with. Ward, who can match Abraham’s strength, also has better balance and much quicker hands and feet than the Armenian veteran.

Edge: Ward

DEFENSE

Both fighters make it difficult for their opponents to land clean shots using different defensive methods. Abraham’s defense is very basic, he simply tucks in his chin, brings his elbows in and hides behind his gloves and forearms. This armadillo-like defense is effective because of Abraham’s experience (he’s good at picking off shots from behind his high guard) and iron-like muscles but it prevents him from getting off, which is why he is routinely outworked — even by lesser fighters — in the early rounds of his bouts. When Ward is outside of his opponent’s reach, he evades punches with his quick footwork or head and upper-body movement. When he’s in close he prevents his opponent from getting off by tying them up with one arm while punching them with the free hand.

Edge: Even

EXPERIENCE

Ward has more seasoning than his 23 professional fights would indicate due to his amateur experience (115-120 bouts), which included elite international tournaments, and his recent world-class opposition. However, there is no substitute for professional rounds and Abraham, who had 14 bouts under his belt (including a 12-round TKO over then-contender Nader Hamdan) before Ward turned pro, has logged 87 more rounds (226 to 139) than the American. Many of those rounds have come in title bouts as Abraham made 10 defenses of the IBF middleweight belt before entering the Super Six tournament.

Edge: Abraham

CHIN

Both fighters have been down once. Abraham was dropped by Dirrell, a world-rated super middleweight at the time, in the four round of their fight last March. Abraham, who was off balance when he was knocked down, did not seem hurt by the punch that put him on his back. Ward was dropped by middleweight journeyman Darnell Boone in fourth round of his seventh pro bout. Ward, who was dominating Boone until he was caught and stunned by a right uppercut with 30 seconds left in the round, got up shaky legs but survived until the bell. He held off the on-rushing Boone for the remainder of the six-round bout. Ward was also wobbled by Kenny Kost in the second round of his second pro bout. Ward has not been rocked since the Boone fight and his chin held out against heavy handed veterans Miranda and Bika but some fans and media still question if he can take a clean shot to the jaw from a hard puncher.

Edge: Abraham

CONDITIONING

Both fighters take their physical fitness extremely seriously. Abraham often sequesters himself at Olympic training facilities for months in preparation for his fights. Ward integrates cutting edge strength and conditioning methods with old-school boxing drills. Both fighters are proven over the 12-round distance but Ward appears able to fight or box at a faster pace than Abraham, who often takes rounds off during the early to middle rounds of his extended bouts.

Edge: Ward

WEAR AND TEAR

Ward has fought fewer pro bouts and rounds than Abraham, and the undefeated titleholder did not take any significant punishment in the three 12-round bouts he’s engaged in (versus Miranda, Green and Bika). Abraham generally dominated his bouts prior to the Super Six tournament but his first bout with Miranda, a 12-round battle he fought with a badly broken jaw for the last seven rounds, was particularly grueling. The losses to Dirrell and Froch did not result in physical beatings but they had to have taken a psychological tool on the once-supremely confident titleholder.

Edge: Ward

CORNER

Virgil Hunter does not have the impressive professional track record of Abraham‘s head coach, Ulli Wegner, but the god father and trainer of Ward has produced spectacular results with his god son. Hunter, the only trainer Ward has ever had, guided his fighter to a reported 110-5 amateur record that included several a national titles and an Olympic gold medal. Ward hasn’t lost a bout, amateur or pro, since 1998 under Hunter’s guidance. Hunter has known exactly when to hold his fighter back in terms of the quality of his opposition and when to step it up. Wegner, a former amateur boxer who guided Sven Ottke to two world titles and an undefeated pro record, is almost as familiar with Abraham, who was undefeated prior to entering the Super Six tournament. However, Abraham has since been exposed as a somewhat one-dimensional fighter who has trouble making adjustments when things don’t go his way in a bout. Ward, on the other hand, continues to add wrinkles to his style and seems improve every year.

Edge: Ward

OUTCOME

Ward will look to establish his jab early in the bout, effectively sticking and moving from a safe distance. Abraham, a notoriously slow starter, vowed to fight at faster pace in the early rounds of this bout but old habits die hard and the former 160-pound beltholder finds himself in the ring with a disciplined boxer-athlete who refuses to comply with his stalking style. Ward will literally box circles around a frustrated Abraham until the desperate veteran takes some chance with a few wild haymakers that find the mark in the middle rounds. Abraham will nail Ward with a sweeping hook that snaps the defending titleholder’s head back and gets a rise out of the Southern California crowd. Abraham will try to press his advantage by backing Ward to the ropes and following up with more power punches but he will get tied up by the odds favorite and quickly discover that the American’s strength can match his own. The two will grapple for the rest of the round and much of the next, drawing boos from an antsy audience at the Home Depot Center’s outdoor tennis arena, but the action will heat up in the late rounds of the bout as both fighters let their hands go from mid range. Ward will score with jabs and body shots that visibly hurt Abraham, who will land lead right hands and grazing hooks that momentarily stun Ward. The pace of the bout will slow down in the final two rounds as Ward’s body attack convinces Abraham to keep his elbows down in front of his rib cage, thus tapering down his offense. Ward will also employ jab-and-grab tactics that won’t do much for the fans but will effectively contain a mentally exasperated Arthur.

Prediction: Ward by unanimous decision. 

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