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Andre Ward not looking ahead to Las Vegas showdown with Sergey Kovalev

Las Vegas is still missing its Fight of the Year candidate for 2016.

The Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, already has two strong contenders with the Keith Thurman-Shawn Porter welterweight thriller in June and the Carl Frampton-Leo Santa Cruz featherweight throwdown last Saturday. The June brawl between Francisco Vargas and Orlando Salido at the Stubhub Center in Carson, California, will also garner plenty of votes.

Las Vegas’ best shot to get in the mix is the light heavyweight showdown between Sergey Kovalev and Andre Ward on Nov. 19 at T-Mobile Arena, a fight matching two boxers who are regarded as in the top five on the mythical best pound-for-pound list.

The highly anticipated matchup, however, isn’t official yet. Ward (29-0, 15 knockouts) needs to defeat Colombia’s Alexander Brand (25-1, 19 KOs) on Saturday in an HBO-televised main event at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California, to make the matchup with Kovalev come to fruition.

Ward, who is from Oakland, is a heavy favorite against the 39-year-old Brand, who was the fourth choice on Ward’s tuneup list.

Ward, the last U.S. man to win an Olympic gold medal in boxing, said he’s not thinking about Kovalev, the WBO/IBF/WBA champion.

“Sergey Kovalev is not on my mind at all,” said Ward, who took gold in 2004. “I’ve got a job to do. I haven’t even talked about Kovalev. We can talk about Kovalev on Aug. 7, that’s what I told my team.”

Ward, 32, claims he didn’t watch Kovalev’s unanimous decision over Isaac Chilemba in Russia last month.

“I didn’t watch his last fight; he’s not my next opponent,” Ward said. “I know what happened and what people are saying about it.”

Kovalev, who goes by “Krusher,” didn’t have his best performance, but the 33-year-old got the job done to keep the showdown alive.

Ward and Kovalev signed contracts to meet in the ring months ago, but the American wanted a few interim fights to get used to the 175-pound division. Ward was a unified super middleweight titlist and was on his way to superstardom before injuries and promotional issues took him away from the ring. This will be just Ward’s third fight in almost three years.

VARGAS-PACQUIAO UPDATE

Las Vegas won’t be losing the Manny Pacquiao comeback bout, according to Top Rank promoter Bob Arum.

Arum was adamant about Pacquiao’s Nov. 5 fight staying at the Thomas & Mack Center despite reports stating the Filipino fighter is interested in having the fight in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

What’s still undecided is Pacquiao’s opponent, Arum said. According to many reports, Las Vegan and WBO welterweight champion Jessie Vargas will get the nod. Vargas said he’s been negotiating a fight with Pacquiao, but nothing is official.

Arum said unified junior welterweight titlist Terence Crawford is still in the running to face Pacquiao.

“Nothing is official regarding (Pacquiao’s) next fight until all aspects are discussed next week in the Philippines,” Arum tweeted Thursday.

Last month, Las Vegas lost the Saul “Canelo” Alvarez-Liam Smith matchup to Texas.

QUIET AUGUST

After this weekend’s action, the dog days of summer will hit boxing.

The sport will go dark the next few weeks with no marquee matchups scheduled.

If you’re itching for boxing, there’s Olympic boxing, which starts Saturday. Las Vegan Augie Sanchez is an assistant coach for the U.S. squad. And rising star Errol Spence Jr. meets Leonard Bundu on Aug. 21.

Boxing picks up in September with Roman Gonzalez, Gennady Golovkin and Alvarez in action.

Contact Gilbert Manzano at gmanzano@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0492. Follow him on Twitter: @gmanzano24

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