SAN DIEGO, June 17, 2017 – Andre Ward made his strongest case ever to ascend to the top of boxing’s pound for pound rankings with a dramatic eighth round TKO over Sergey Kovalev of Russia in Las Vegas Saturday.
Kovalev began the fight behind his strong left jab. It was his best weapon througout the fight, especially in the early rounds. He was by far the busier man, outlanding Ward in five of the first six rounds. Ward parried many shots and frequently exchanged fire with Kovalev as he came in. The brilliant tactical contest made for an extraordinarily difficult fight to score, with observers not agreeing on many close rounds.
As Ward said after the fight, “championship fights begin after the sixth round,” and this one did for the eventual winner. In the seventh, Kovalev continued to land the jab, but it seemed to lose its early snap. Many ringside observers felt Kovalev appeared tired; his right eye showed signs of strafing from Ward. Ward was doing damage as Kovalev moved in, especially to the body.
In the eighth round, Ward continued to work the body. But it was a right to the head that started the cascade of events determining the outcome. Ward saw he’d buzzed Kovalev, who was trying to make it through the final minute of the round. Not normally known as an aggressive closer, Ward went after Kovalev, and drilled him to the body, giving two left hooks all he could. To the surprise of everyone watching, referee Tony Weeks felt Kovalev was too hurt to continue, and stopped the right at 2:29 of round 8.
“When I hurt him with a head shot, I knew I had to get in there and finish him off,” explained Ward. “I knew he was hurt, he’s trying to cover up his body. So I’m trying to decide, Is it body, head, body, head? … I started it there with the right hand. He was dazed and I had to get the right shots in there, I had about 30 seconds to go. He was hurt, I went right back there again, he wasn’t reacting, I went right back there again, he didn’t react and the referee stopped it,” said Ward.
At the time of the stoppage, judges Glen Feldman and Dave Moretti had the fight scored 67-66 for Ward; Steve Weisfled had it scored 68-65 for Kovalev.
Ward (32-0, 16 KOs) retains his WBA, WBO, and IBF titles with the victory. The belts seemed secondary to Ward in the immediate aftermath of the bout, believing he may have finally convinced the doubters who’ve been reluctant to crown him the world’s best boxer.
“I’ve never been the most talented, I’ve never been the biggest, but we keep knocking guys down,” said Ward. “Kovalev fought a good fight, but once my computer fires in my brain I know what to do the next time around.
“The first time around, as a whole, the man is a world champion. He’s defending his beats how many times, he’s been on top a long time. I don’t take away from my opponent. There’s aren’t a lot of people who are going to beat him. Facing great fighters, you have to raise your game to the next level and I’m grateful I did that tonight.”
Kovalev was stunned by the stoppage, telling HBO’s Max Kellerman, “I can’t believe it, I feel good I don’t know what, I can’t explain it … I didn’t feel knocked down, by any punches. Not legal, only the low blows, and I felt this punch.”
Ward’s final body punches were delivered with full force on an upward trajectory. They were delivered as Kovalev was bent over. This columnist doesn’t believe they were low. They were on the belt, and with upward motion. Kovalev didn’t crumble as if the punches were low, he doubled as if they legitimately hurt. “You know, it didn’t hurt, like I could go down on the floor, but like it was a low blow,” explained Kovalev. “I don’t know why they stopped the fight … This is fight, we are boxers. We are not the girls. He punched me but he didn’t hurt me. I feel I could continue to fight. Why stop the fight, this is crazy,” said Kovalev, adding he wanted an immediate rematch.
“You know, it didn’t hurt, like I could go down on the floor, but like it was a low blow,” explained Kovalev. “I don’t know why they stopped the fight … This is fight, we are boxers. We are not the girls. He punched me but he didn’t hurt me. I feel I could continue to fight. Why stop the fight, this is crazy,” said Kovalev, adding he wanted an immediate rematch.
Later, Ward said the moment of the stoppage was confusing. “(Referee) Tony Weeks did a great job, but he was quick with the clinches. He (Kovalev) tried to act like it was a low blow. I looked at Weeks, I think Weeks was indecisive in the moment. I didn’t want to get a foul or a point taken. I did finish him,” said Ward.
At the post-fight news conference, an angry Kathy Duva of Main Events, Kovalev’s promoter, said, “I’m still having a hard time processing what I just witnessed. I just saw someone who should have been disqualified.” Duva is reportedly filing a protest about the fight on Monday with the Nevada State Athletic Commission.
“Of course there’s going to be shots that get away from you,” explained Ward. “I think there should be a discussion if there’s an intentional foul, over and over … When he’s bending over — You’re going to hit a guy on the beltline sometime, you gonna hit a guy low sometimes but it wasn’t intentional.
“I normally don’t challenge you guys about this stuff, but tonight there’s no discussiona bout nothing. We did this tonight, and the right hand got it started. He was out on his feet. I can stop a bigger man. I did what I had to do. When you’re in the fetal position like he was in the fetal position, the ref could have let it go longer, but that’s not my fault, not my problem, I did my job,” declared Ward.
Even if it was Weeks’ mistake, Kovalev would have been wise to take a knee, gather himself and survive the round. But taking a knee isn’t in Kovalev’s fighting vocabulary.
Ward is surely heading for the top of the pound for pound list; assuming the outcome stands, he earned it with a career making performance in an already world class boxing career. What’s next?
There’s one last title in the light heavyweight division, the lineal WBC title held by Adonis Stevenson.
“No disrespect to Stevenson, I’m kind of indifferent about it. When I made the move to 175, the target was Kovalev, not Stevenson. I feel like he almost disqualified himself, I went straight to the top guy, and it’s like – now I have to see if it makes sense,” said Ward.
Ward laughed that he might fight at cruiserweight or heavyweight after the fight. It turns out he’s serious. “It’s a dream, I don’t have anything on the books right now. I know it sounds crazy. But it’s always been a dream of ine. I do really well against big fighters because of my stamina, and I’m strong. So if the right fighter comes along, it’s not just talk,” said Ward.
It makes far more sense to match up Stevenson with Kovalev. Kovalev may want a rematch with Ward, but the fans have far more interest in seeing the longtime enemies face each other in the ring instead of on social media. Stevenson responded on social media; he’s aiming for Ward.
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.
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