There was a buzz this past Saturday night in Las Vegas, Nevada for the much anticipated rematch between WBA, IBF, and WBO Light Heavyweight Champion Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev. These two engaged in a battle last November in Las Vegas that was tightly contested with Ward winning 114-113 on all three cards to hand Kovalev the first defeat of his career while also taking his title belts. The rematch was highly anticipated due to the fact that Kovalev appeared to be extra motivated to regain his belts and avenge the only defeat of his career, while Ward wasn’t ready to lie down for him. And when Kovalev and Ward stepped into the ring to face each other for the second time, we were all hopeful that this meeting would be as good as the first.
An incensed Kovalev began the fight extremely aggressive as he took a page out of Ward’s playbook which consisted of holding and punching. Kovalev did this while also attempting to land power punches as he was seeking a knockout that would have left no doubt that he was the king of the Light Heavyweight Division. And even though that Kovalev came out seeking to make a statement, Ward never diverted from his game plan.
Ward earned his reputation as one of the best boxers in the sport due to his impeccable defensive skills as well as his ability to frustrate his opponents by taking away what they do best. And coming into this encounter I expected Ward to exploit the fact that Kovalev was seeking a knockout which is exactly what he did.
As Kovalev came out swinging for the fences, Ward tired him out by not allowing him to get clean shots, while also working on the Russian’s body as it was these same body shots that allowed him to get victory last November. The tide began to turn after the fourth round this past Saturday night when Kovalev didn’t have the same steam on his punches which is when Ward went to work.
Ward began to have his way with Kovalev as those early body shots began to take their toll, and he continued to add salt to the wound. Ward would keep working the body which included a few borderline “low” punches that slowed down Kovalev who would claim that the punches were indeed low. Initially referee Tony Weeks instructed Ward to bring his punches up, but after awhile he was not buying selling what Kovalev was selling.
By the eighth round Ward was beginning to open up to the point that Kovalev had nothing in the tank as he was out of gas. Kovalev was on the ropes in more ways than one as he needed a breather to which Ward wasn’t ready to oblige. Ward continued to hit Kovalev with a flurry of punches. And with Kovalev bent over, but on his feet, Weeks had seen enough and decided to stop the fight which brought the crowd at the Mandalay Bay Events Center to their feet. For the second time in as many fights, Ward would get his hand raised against Kovalev, but just like their encounter in November, this one ended in controversy.
Following the fight Kovalev once again was not ready to give Ward credit as he simply referred to him as being “lucky”. Kovalev wasn’t thrilled that he lost the first fight with Ward 114-113 on all three cards as he entered that match as the champion while also sending his opponent to the canvas in the second round. That frustration fueled Kovalev for the rematch, but he became fatigued due to the body shots that he was receiving from Ward along with the fact that he finally met someone who he could not overwhelm with his power. The body shots that Kovalev complained about were borderline, but they were not low. And even if Weeks had not stepped in to stop the action, Kovalev wasn’t going to make it past the tenth round.
Kovalev’s gripe took another step as Main Events CEO Kathy Duva who promotes the former Light Heavyweight Champion acknowledged that she intends to protest the decision with the Nevada State Athletic Commission. After the first fight with Ward, Kovalev’s camp wanted a new referee as they felt that Robert Byrd didn’t do enough to stop Ward from grabbing and holding, while they also wanted new judges. The first time around saw Burt Clements, Glenn Trowbridge, and John McKaie as the three officials who were scoring the fight. Duva and Kovalev got their wish as the Nevada State Athletic Commission got a new referee for the rematch in Weeks, while also getting some new judges. Glenn Feldman of Connecticut and Steve Weisfeld of New Jersey joined Nevada’s Dave Moretti as the three judges for the rematch as Duva was seeking to get judges who were not from the West Coast. But all of the king’s horses and all of the king’s men couldn’t prevent Kovalev from getting beaten by Ward again. Once the fight was over Kovalev still had Ward on the brain as he could be seeking a third fight, but the same cannot be said about the champ.
After the fight Ward acknowledged Kovalev as a great fighter, but he didn’t want to leave anything to chance the second time around. And being that Ward won such a close fight in his first meeting with Kovalev, he knew that he plenty to improve on. But since Ward has now beaten Kovalev twice, he not only sits as the undisputed king of the light heavyweights, as he is also arguably the best current pound-for-pound boxer.
Ward is finally getting the recognition that he has deserved for a long time as issues with his former promoter as well as injuries kept him on the shelf for nearly three years. But whereas Ward is now 33-years of age, he has made up for lost time.
Ward studied the defensive skills of former boxer Bernard Hopkins who himself became a Light Heavyweight Champion. Hopkins made it his business to consistently frustrate his opponents and take over the fight in the second half of the bout which is something that Ward has down to science as you can ask the likes of Carl Froch, Mikkel Kessler, and of course Kovalev. And whereas most fighters tend to go for the head shot in order to finish off an opponent, Ward continues to work the body until his counterpart has no choice but to succumb to the damage that he is receiving.
I doubt that Ward will take on Kovalev for a third time as this is in the category of “been there done that”, and although that Adonis Stevenson is the WBC Light Heavyweight Champion, he doesn’t receive that much respect since he ran from fighting Kovalev twice. But for Ward he is now in the catbird’s seat as he can write his own ticket while running things at Light Heavyweight. Ward always has the option to move up cruiserweight, but since he isn’t packing a ton of power, he could get lost at that level.
When Ward exited the ring this past Saturday night, his undefeated record remained in tact due to the fact that he has maintained the moniker of professional boxing being “a hungry man’s sport”. The wolf that is at the top of the mountain typically isn’t as hungry as the pack which is climbing to overtake him. However in the case of Ward he has shown that he has what it takes to not only stay at the top, but also fend off of all of those who are intending on dethroning him.