MUCH has been made of Andre Ward rising in weight to challenge arguably the biggest puncher in boxing, Sergey Kovalev. Ward respects Kovalev’s power and he’s expecting to feel it, but he’s prepared – largely thanks to the mental techniques used by his trainer Virgil Hunter, and the lessons he’s learnt against big punching opponents in the past.

Ward has been in with the likes of Carl Froch, Edison Miranda, and Mikkel Kessler as a super-middleweight, rivals who tested his resolve. None really came close to beating the 32-year-old, and nor did the fighter Ward credits with giving him the biggest post-fight headaches of his career; Arthur Abraham lost a lopsided decision in 2011 but he left a mark that has shown Ward he will be able to stand up to whatever Kovalev throws at him.

“Abraham was a murderous puncher, Froch was a big puncher, Kessler was a big puncher, Miranda was probably the biggest puncher that I ever faced – that dude hit like a mule,” Ward revealed.

“I’m going to be honest. I probably never said this in public but the worst I’ve ever felt after a fight, the Abraham fight, and I didn’t take a lot of punishment in terms of to the eye. He hit me with some shots and I was like ‘wow’ but I was able to walk through it because Virgil before camp started looked me in the eye and said ‘taking a punch, some of it is physical but a lot of it is mental. Make up your mind right now that no matter what this man hits you with it is not going to be enough’.

“I was like, ‘man’. When I got hit with those shots I came right back. I got hit with a right hand and you can hear me and I turned this way and before I could even think I came back ‘boom, boom, boom’. I felt it for two or three days after. It was the worst I felt after a fight but my mind was in such a place where I didn’t feel it. That is the mindset you have to have when you fight guys like Kovalev. ‘You may hit me with a punch that would take most men out but tonight it ain’t enough, bro’. That is a mindset thing.”