photo courtesy bleacher report.com: Andre Ward defeats Sergey Kovalev at the MGM Grand Las Vegas Saturday night
By Jeremy Harness
If the first fight ended in controversy, Andre Ward erased it in the rematch Saturday night.
In what was expected to be another close fight that would go down to the wire, Ward used a sustained body attack to stop Sergey Kovalev in the eighth round to successfully defend the light heavyweight championship he won from Kovalev last November.
In the process, the Oakland native made a serious case for his being on the top of the list of boxing’s pound-for-pound best fighters.
Kovalev, however, was the aggressor for much of the fight, as he pressed the action early and often. The Russian (30-2-1, 26 KO’s) did a nice job early on of cutting off the ring on Ward, which was one of his keys to victory leading up to the fight.
However, as the fight progressed, Kovalev showed signs of fatigue, and by the fourth round, he was chasing and stalked the champion around the ring as Ward (32-0, 16 KO’s) found ways to counter him. Ward was also the more accurate fighter, particularly in close quarters, where the majority of the fight took place. That accuracy was evident on Kovalev’s face, as he developed a mouse under his right eye by the fifth round.
At that point, Kovalev, who worked with a biathalon coach during his training, was showing signs of fatigue, as his mouth was open and his punches seemed to lose their snap as the fight went on.
Ward, on the other hand, was just getting started. Ward continually found the mark with quick lefts inside as he closed the gap in order to prevent Kovalev from extending his arms for his vaunted power shots.
His best work, however, was aimed directly at Kovalev’s body. Or really, his beltline, to be exact.
He did land one clearly south of the border in the second round, and referee Tony Weeks allowed Kovalev a few moments to recover. He landed a shot on the beltline midway through the eighth, causing Kovalev to double over, but Weeks did not rule it a low blow and motioned for him to continue.
Seconds later, Ward shook Kovalev with a straight right to the jaw, and for the first time, Kovalev began retreating around the ring as Ward moved in for the kill. The champion got it when he trapped him near the corner and zeroed in on Kovalev’s beltline, as a series of body shots forced the challenger to be held up by the ropes and prompted Weeks to stop the fight at the 2:29 mark.
“When I saw him react to body shots that were borderline, I knew I had him,” Ward said. “I had to just keep going down there, and I just had to get the right shots in there to get it over with.
“Can I get on the pound-for-pound list now, at the top? Is it possible?”
Kovalev, on the other hand, denied that he was ever hurt by any legal punch the Ward threw, arguing that the body shots that Ward landed toward the end of the fight were low and should have called as such.
“He didn’t hurt me,” Kovalev said. “I could have continued to fight. It’s crazy. I don’t agree with the decision.
“I want to get another fight with him and kick his (expletive).”
At the time of the stoppage, two of the judges Ward leading the fight by a count of 67-66, while the other had it 68-65 in favor of Kovalev. Sports Radio Service had Ward ahead, 68-65.
Each of the three bouts on the undercard resulted in knockouts, but the third fight was immersed in controversy, with the ultimate decision perhaps still up in the air.
WBA super bantamweight champion Guillermo Rigondeaux (18-0, 12 KO’s), who has not lost a fight in 14 years, was having his way with challenger Moises Flores (25-1, 17 KO’s) in the first round when he landed a left hand that was clearly after the bell sounded.
Flores could not continue and stayed on the ground, and the fight was stopped. After a prolonged period of time which saw referee Vic Drakulich openly debate how he would decide the outcome – with his initial feeling to rule it a no-contest after Rigondeaux was holding Flores behind the head and hitting at the same time, although the Cuban champion had let go of Flores’ head prior to the fateful blow – he reached a decision that came as a complete surprise.
It was determined that the punch, despite replays clearly showing that the punch was landed after the bell, Rigondeaux was given the knockout victory, and the punch was deemed to have been legal.
The controversy didn’t stop there, however. Bob Bennett, the head of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, implied that after seeing the replay, the decision is likely to be reviewed.
“We’ll take a look at it, and if it turns out that we’re wrong, we’ll make the appropriate decision before the chairman and the commissioners,” Bennett said. “If the punch lands after the bell, it’s a disqualification.”