LAS VEGAS — The one thing that boxing fans were looking for after a closely contested first bout between Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev was clarity. After Ward took a 114-113 unanimous decision in their first meeting, fans were hopeful that a rematch would prove once and for all which of these two fighters is best.
But they didn’t get it. Fans will continue the debate after a controversial ending in which referee Tony Weeks called an end to the contest with 31 seconds remaining in Round 8. It seemed to be an extremely premature stoppage, despite the fact that Kovalev was clearly doubled over in pain.
“I could tell he was reacting to my body shots, and I knew I had him then,” Ward said. “I knew he was hurt.”
But one man’s body shots are another man’s low blows.
“Low blow,” Kovalev said, watching a replay of the final seconds. “Again. Another one.”
Two judges had Ward ahead 67-66 at the time of the stoppage. A third had Kovalev up 68-65. So it appeared to be headed for another close decision had it gone to the cards.
Ward had a query for boxing writers and fans in the ring after the bout.
“Am I No. 1?” Ward said.
Good question. But for now, the Bay Area native will retain his World Boxing Association, International Boxing Federation and World Boxing Organization light heavyweight titles over his Russian opponent, who will surely have some complaints later.
Mandalay Bay erupts after Andre Ward defeats Sergey Kovalev via TKO in the 8th round. pic.twitter.com/TdJzmmbC2m
— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) June 18, 2017
Scroll down for round-by-round recaps.
Round 1: Kovalev, as expected, is looking to press the action. Ward is circling effectively thus far. Kovalev landed a solid right hand to Ward’s temple and appears to be closing the distance with his jab. Good start for the Russian.
Round 2: Nice, quick left hand inside in the opening minute for Kovalev. Ward lands a solid shot, but Kovalev comes right back with a nice counter. Ward lands a low blow and is warned by Weeks to keep his punches up. Good action to end the frame as both fighters landed strong shots inside.
Round 3: Kovalev appears to be finding the range. He looks comfortable in there as Ward just cannot get in a position to land his shots without opening himself up to a Kovalev counter. Several nice right hand blows highlight the round for Kovalev. Ward lands an excellent right to close out the round, but is it enough to sway the judges?
Round 4: Superb right hand by Kovalev in the opening minute of the round. Ward appears to be giving up on the idea he’s going to win from the outside, and lands some terrific blows as a result. But not without taking some heavy fire from Kovalev, who may have hurt Ward in the closing seconds of the round. Kovalev has done well thus far. But then, he learned last time he can’t leave it in the hands of the judges.
Round 5 The fifth round is a critical line of demarcation, as it represents the point at which Kovalev claimed he tired in the first fight. But he shows no sign of slowing down. Still, Ward landed a marvelous left hook during a great exchange. The dislike between these two is palpable. This one’s getting good.
Round 6: Nice left hand counter by Ward, then a right as he was falling against the ropes. Kovalev may score points as the aggressor, but more and more, Ward’s technical brilliance is starting to show. The power disparity is striking, though. Kovalev’s punches are clearly having more of an effect than Ward’s. Tough, compelling, close fight, as expected.
Round 7: Referee Tony Weeks again warns Ward to keep his punches up, but he opts not to deduct a point. The action slowed just a tick through the first two minutes of the round, but picked up again in the final minute. Ward had his moments, and might well have done enough to carry the frame.
Round 8: Kovalev again complains of a low blow, but Weeks tells him to fight on. The punch appeared clearly low. Ward hurts Kovalev on a picture-perfect right hand. Kovalev is in trouble. Weeks waves off the contest with Kovalev wincing in the corner as Ward again appeared to flirt with the beltline. Andre Ward is your winner. A stunning end at 2:25 of the eighth, with a couple of celebrities in the house to see it.
The undercard saw its fair share of controversy in the confusing ending between Guillermo Rigondeaux and Moises Flores.
Rigondeaux (18-0, 12 knockouts), a supreme talent who has had trouble gaining fans with a style that is technically brilliant but generates very little action, won via first round knockout of his Mexican opponent, who raised a Chucky doll in his corner prior to the fight in an ode to his nickname.
— BlackSportsOnline (@BSO) June 18, 2017
The redheaded doll failed to prove a good luck charm for Flores (25-1, 17 knockouts), however, who wound up on the canvas after by what appeared to be a late punch after the bell.
While many online called for the Cuban to be disqualified, referee Vic Drakulich viewed the replay, consulted with other officials from the Nevada State Athletic Commission, and ended up deeming the punch legal, which made Rigondeaux the winner. Despite the outrage on Twitter, the ruling seemed to be pretty popular among those in the building.
The fighters, of course, also came away from the fight with two different opinions.
“We both threw combinations at the same time at the end of the first round. But mine was quicker and more accurate. It was only a matter of time,” Rigondeaux said.
Meanwhile, Flores complained, “It’s not fair. It’s clear that the bell rang. He didn’t throw a punch the whole round. I was winning the round and he waited for after the bell to throw punch when I dropped my hands down.”
Washington Post staff writer Marissa Payne contributed to this report from Washington, D.C.