LAS VEGAS, November 19, 2016 – It was a fight boxing sorely needed and delivered on every level, right up to its questionable decision.
In the most significant fight of 2016 and the best matchup in boxing, light heavyweights Andre Ward (31-0, 15 KOs) and Sergey Kovalev (30-1-1, 26 KOs) battled through 12 competitive rounds.
Ward won Kovalev’s WBA, WBO, and IBF belts in this division unification fight and remains undefeated. Not everyone was universally pleased or saw the decision the same way.
On narrow scorecards, judges Burt A. Clements, Glenn Trowbridge, and John McKaie all had it 114-113 in Ward’s favor. Kovalev won five of the first six rounds on two cards, four of the first six on the third. Starting in the seventh round, the judges gave the next five rounds to Ward. Burt Clemons gave Round 12 to Kovalev; Trowbridge and McKaie gave it to Ward. It was 7 to 5 on all cards, with the knockdown giving Kovalev the extra point that narrowed the score.
Kovalev came roaring toward Ward at the opening bell, putting Ward off stride with a snapping jab that hit its mark. Kovalev had Ward off balance and was landing significant punches. In the second round, Kovalev put Ward on the canvas for only the second time his career. Ward popped right up, smiling, but it was a wake up call. He said later, “We showed we could eat a big shot and get up. I wasn’t hurt, it was a flash knockdown. I got up and said, ‘OK, the fight starts.’”
Kovalev continued to score on Ward, and the first half of the fight was his. The partisan Ward crowd seemed to be holding its breath.
By the seventh round, Ward finally adjusted to Kovalev’s rhythm, and he started to fight on the inside. “I’m thankful Virg (trainer Virgil Hunter) early in my career introduced me to inside fighting. He knew I would need it in fights like these. It’s a special art.
“When you’re fighing a great champion like Kovalev, you need to slip inside and disrupt him. I don’t know if I would have won without an inside game,” said Ward.
Ward’s patience and pedigree paid off. He also proved to be the better conditioned fighter. Kovalev admitted he was getting tired by the final rounds. “I hurt him the first half of the fight. I get a little tired, my speed goes down, but I still kept control,” Kovalev said.
“Look at his face, and look at my face. Who is the winner?” said a smiling Kovalev. “Come on, the witnesses were all of T-Mobile (in the arena). Everyone saw it.
“All fight, I kept control, and he run, run, run. OK, he won three, four rounds. I hurt him in the second. It’s sport, and sometimes sport is very good. Today, the decision was not on my side,” said Kovalev. “I would agree with the decision if it was true, but it’s not.”
Main Events promoter Kathy Duva was more blunt in her criticism “What boxing didn’t need was another bad decision, and we got that. It’s a shame. Two guys fought their hearts out and Sergey was the better man. Ward has a great future in the UFC.”
Duva said the partisan crowd of 13,310 also helped Ward. “The crowd has effects on judges, they’re ooing and ah-ing … We think Sergey won. You (the media) think Sergey won, but Ward won. We have to honor the new champion.”
The Nevada State Athletic Commission requires local judges, so calls for international or neutral judges would not apply to a fight in Las Vegas.
“When there is a former champion and a current champion, the margin is slim,” said Ward. “It’s not going to be a Picasso performance. I would see he didn’t want to be inside, so I went inside with body shots and wore him down. In 11, 12, he didn’t have the steam he wanted in his punches.”
“He’s the big boogeyman and we didn’t run, we didn’t duck. I got the victory. I honestly feel if he got robbed, I would say so,” said Ward. “He’s got fans and supporters who aren’t going to agree. It’s one thing to say it was close, and I edged it out, another to say it was highway robbery. I hope they’d be gracious about it,” said Ward.
Duva said there is a rematch clause, “and we’re calling for a rematch … The only way it’s not (happening) is if we (Roc Nation Sports) both agree. Since I’m not, (the rematch) will be immediate.”
Ward was not so quick to agree, saying his team would need to take time and discuss it. “I think the second fight would be a lot worse. No disrespect, I don’t know what adjustments he can make … I don’t know how all three (judges) can be wrong. If there’s a controversy brewing, it’s unfair. I’m going to go enjoy this victory because I earned it.” Ward dedicated the fight to his wife, Tiffany.
Ward now holds all the belts in the light heavyweight division except one – and it is the lineal championship title now in the hands of Adonis Stevenson. How Stevenson factors in along with the rematch clause will be up for discussion in the coming weeks.
NOTE: HBO Sports will air a replay of SERGEY KOVALEV VS. ANDRE WARD on Saturday, November 26, at 10:35 p.m. (ET/PT). Other HBO playdates: Nov. 27 (9:15 a.m.) and 28 (12:50 p.m.) In addition to the replay of Kovalev vs. Ward, HBO Sports will present next Saturday night the live fight from Las Vegas as Vasyl Lomachenko and Nicholas Walters face off at 130 pounds.
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is President/Owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego, California. She is also a serious boxing fan covering the Sweet Science for Communities. Read more Ringside Seat in Communities Digital News. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego. Gayle can be reached via Google +
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