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Andre Ward would dismantle the Sergey Kovalev that beat Chilemba

Sergey Kovalev earned a unanimous decision against Isaac Chilemba. Donat Sorokin\TASS via Getty Images

It was not the best performance of his ruthless career by Sergey Kovalev in Ekaterinburg, Russia, on Monday night, but it was good enough to beat Isaac Chilemba on points.

Kovalev retained his IBF, WBO and WBA light-heavyweight belts and added a cautionary note to the assessments of all those who believe his power could flatten anything from a small elephant down.

Chilemba was dropped in the seventh, rocked and hurt in the last but stayed on his feet to join a tiny club of fighters that have heard the final bell against Kovalev.

There is no disputing that the Malawian is tough, but he is not as slick as he often looked against Kovalev.

The brutal and harsh truth is that Kovalev, back in his beloved Russia after four years and 13 fights, looked like he had not prepared properly and was breathing heavily from round eight, looked short of ideas from the start and lacked zip in his punches.

I suspect that his triumphant homecoming for his eighth world-title fight was accompanied by too many distractions and commitments. Krusher looked tired.

Now Kovalev will rest, go hunt wild boar with his friend Nikolai Valuev, the former world heavyweight champion who was known as the Beast from the East, before returning to Florida and the most serious boxing camp of his life in preparation for his November showdown with unbeaten, brilliant and often untouchable Andre Ward.

A minute before the first bell in Russia, the thinking on Ward vs. Kovalev was simple: Ward has the skills, Kovalev has the power and the brain.

The thinking after a few rounds of Kovalev vs. Chilemba had shifted slightly: Ward will be too clever, Kovalev does not have much of a boxing brain.

There is no doubt that it will be an easy night for Ward if the same distracted, drained and predictable Kovalev gets in the ring.

Kovalev's lack of speed against Chilemba was, hopefully, only a temporary failing, perhaps due to a lack of preparation. Plus, predicting the outcome of any future fight after just one performance is always hazardous.

However, Ward will have noted smaller, far more subtle flaws that emerged as Kovalev fell short with his punches and was occasionally made to miss.

Ward has the most brilliant eye in boxing and would have dismantled the Kovalev that beat Chilemba. But Kovalev could argue that he would have walked through the Ward that went twelve repetitive rounds with Sullivan Barrera in March of this year.

That was only Ward's second fight in 30 months and a necessary twelve rounder in anticipation of agreeing to terms for the November fight with Kovalev.

Ward, by the way, has a fight in August to further sharpen his skills before retreating behind closed doors for a three-month camp in the build-up to the November 19 date at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

Chilemba will get back on the dreaded train: a man with gloves and ambition but very little luck. "It's not the end for me," he said, after losing for the fourth time in 30 fights. "I will be back and I will win the title."

Kovalev is not the type of boxer to lose sleep over an off night, not the type to worry about future opponents and what anybody thinks about him. Ward, thankfully, is not the type of fighter to believe that one bad night makes a bad fighter.

However, after Monday night in Russia, a lot of people will be wondering and asking the greatest boxing question of all time: "What if?"

On November 19 we will all find out.