Early stoppage doesn't take away from Andre Ward's genius after he stops Sergey Kovalev

Andy Lewis 18/06/2017
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Andre Ward may never be universally popular but he earned ultimate respect with a stunning eighth round stoppage of Sergey Kovalev in their rematch in Las Vegas.

Just seven months after receiving a gift-wrapped decision in their first fight, Ward shocked everybody by knocking out the knockout artist as he staggered the Russian with a perfect right cross before finishing him to the body.

It wasn’t that nobody expected Ward to prevail, but he simply isn’t known for his firepower, and prior to Saturday had enjoyed only two early nights since 2009 – against Chad Dawson and Paul Smith Jr – and both were mercy stoppages.

Kovalev, who had started well and was up on one of the three cards at the time of the finish, complained that referee Tony Weeks had jumped in prematurely and that the decisive assault was riddled with low blows.

He was right on both counts. Ward’s final flurry included several borderline shots and Weeks should have given Kovalev a standing count rather than waved it off.

That said, the Russian was bedraggled, gassed out and offering little resistance. It was hard to envisage him clawing his way back into the contest and the early stoppage shouldn’t detract from the quality of Ward’s victory.

“He was reacting to my body shots, and I knew I had him, he was hurt,” said Ward (32-0), who retained the WBA, IBF and WBO light heavyweight titles he took from Kovalev last November.

“It felt like I was up [on the scorecards], but a championship fight starts after the sixth round. I knew I had him. He was trying to cover up his body. He was dazed so I just had to try to find the right shot. He just didn’t react, and the referee stopped it.”

The defeat again raises questions about Kovalev’s engine, with him looking spent after a big effort in the sixth round and his legs betraying him under a heavy attack in the eighth.

But the Russian said: “It didn’t hurt like I could go down on the floor, but it was a low blow. Right now, I could have continued. I didn’t feel that hurt. Why stop the fight? It is crazy. I want another fight with him.”

That seems highly unlikely with there being zero incentive for Ward to take a third fight and particularly given the well-documented hostility between the two camps.

This was an event dripping in bad blood. From the promoters, through the trainers and all the way down to the boxers, the enmity was both authentic and palpable leading up to fight night at the Mandalay Bay.

Kovalev’s bitterness over the outcome of their first meeting was amplified as Ward leveraged his success to the maximum at the negotiating table. He earned a fixed $6.5 million (Dh23.8m), while Kovalev had no guaranteed purse and was forced to settle for a minority share of the TV revenue and the gate.

That raw deal ensured a spiky prelude and most expected Kovalev to come out with bad intentions.

And while he failed to land anything truly telling, he was the early aggressor and HBO analyst Harold Lederman had him winning the opening three rounds before Ward rallied in the fourth.

Andre Ward (L) hits Sergey Kovalev with a left in the sixth round

The sessions were tense, hard to score and at times ugly. Kovalev had success with his jab and the occasional right hand, while Ward looked to slip underneath his lead and attack the body at every opportunity.

In the sixth it was the Russian who looked downstairs as he upped the pace, but Ward rode it out and the warning signs were there in the seventh as Kovalev started blowing hard.

The turning point arrived in the next as Ward pivoted at the waist and put his full weight into a right hand, catching Kovalev on the point of the chin and rocking him to his core.

Another barrage to the body was enough for Weeks, whose early intervention deprived Ward of the opportunity to add an exclamation mark to his performance.

Andre Ward (L) reacts as reacts as referee Tony Weeks stops his light heavyweight championship bout against Sergey Kovalev at the Mandalay Bay Events Center on June 17, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Ward retained his WBA/IBF/WBO titles with a TKO in the eighth round. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Andre Ward (L) reacts as reacts as referee Tony Weeks stops his light heavyweight championship bout against Sergey Kovalev

The reality is that it didn’t need one. This was a signature victory for a man whose aloof persona, long periods of inactivity and cerebral fighting style mean that he will never win any popularity contests.

But Ward’s achievements speak for themselves: an Olympic gold medallist, unbeaten as a professional and a two-weight world champion who has faced and beaten the toughest possible opposition.

“Can I ask a question? Am I number one now?” Ward added. “Of course, I hope so, but I don’t get a vote, and hopefully we top that pound-for-pound list now.”

It’s hard to argue with him.

GOOD WEEK

Dmitry Bivol

The light heavyweight division is stacked with Eastern European talent and Bivol thrust himself right into the mix with a dominant fourth round stoppage of Cedric Agnew on Saturday night.

Bivol’s heavy hands went to work early and he dropped Agnew in the opener and it looked like it might all be over then.

Agnew, who had only previously lost to Sergey Kovalev and Samuel Clarkson, went into survival mode and somehow made it through the next two sessions only for the referee to spare him more punishment midway through the fourth.

Bivol is now 11-0 with nine knockouts and is already ranked No1 by the WBA. It’s hard to see Andre Ward giving him a shot, but he’ll have options for exciting fights.

Dmitry Bivol has his arm raised after defeating Cedric Agnew with a fourth-round TKO

BAD WEEK

Oscar De La Hoya

De La Hoya despises Floyd Mayweather. He didn’t like him before he lost a split decision to him in 2007, and their relationship has soured ever since.

Yet the Golden Boy’s distaste for his former opponent must have peaked this week with confirmation of the latter’s nonsensical bout with UFC fighter Conor McGregor.

The fight, slated for August 26, means precious few will watch promoter De La Hoya’s event featuring Miguel Cotto and Yoshihero Kamegai on the same night.

And with the Mayweather fiasco likely to come with a hefty pay per view price tag, it’s sure to eat into sales for the Canelo Alvarez versus Gennady Golovkin showdown just three weeks later on September 16.

FLASHBACK

Barrera settles a score

Marco Antonio Barrera was welcomed into the International Boxing Hall of Fame last week with a hug and a handshake from his greatest rival, Erik Morales.

That show of affection is almost unthinkable when you the recall the sheer hatred emanating from their fabled in-ring battles.

Indeed, it was 15 years ago this week that Barrera beat his nemesis at the MGM Grand to make it 1-1 after Morales’ triumph in their opener some two years earlier.

Barrera went on to win a rubber match in 2004 to settle one of boxing’s greatest rivalries and a trilogy which did much to ensure both went down as all-time Mexican greats.

Marco Antonio Barrera celebrates his victory over Erik Morales during their World Featherweight Championship fight on June 22, 2002

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Andre Ward stops Sergey Kovalev in round eight but controversy over reigns over low blows

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Andre Ward (L) and Sergey Kovalev battle it out during their light heavyweight championship bout.

American champion boxer Andre Ward kept his IBF, WBA and WBO titles by stopping Russian brawler Sergey Kovalev in the eighth round of their light heavyweight rematch on Saturday.

The unbeaten Ward hurt Kovalev with a right hand that buckled his knees and then finished him off on the ropes 30 seconds later with a series of body shots around the mid-section at the Mandalay Bay hotel and casino.

“He’s a great fighter, not a lot of people are going to beat him,” Ward said. “But when you are facing a great fighter you have to raise your game to the next level.

“I hurt him with a head shot and I just had to get the right shot in to finish him.” Referee Tony Weeks stopped the fight with 31 seconds left in the eighth with Kovalev kneeling down from what he said was a low blow.

Ward improved to 32-0 with 16 knockouts as he held onto three of the four major boxing belts that he snatched from Kovalev by winning the first fight in November by a slim unanimous decision.

The 33-year-old Ward needed this victory to validate his first win as many felt the Russian won that fight and that Ward had been given a gift decision by the three judges.

“I have never been the most talented, I have never been the biggest, I just keep knocking down giants one by one,” said Ward.

Kovalev (30-2-1, 26 knockouts) sent Ward to the canvas in the first fight, and while he landed several big shots in the rematch, once again he failed to close the deal and appeared to tire after the sixth round. “I cannot explain,” Kovalev said.

Kovalev added he wants an “immediate” rematch because he felt he got hit with a series of low blows in the eighth.

‘LOW BLOWS’

 Guillermo Rigondeaux (L) and Moises Flores battle it out during their super bantamweight championship bout.

Guillermo Rigondeaux (L) and Moises Flores battle it out during their super bantamweight championship bout.

“It was a low blow, again another one,” he said as he watched a replay of the stoppage with an HBO interviewer.

“We are boxers. I could still continue. Why stop the fight?” Kovalev was the much busier of the two from the opening bell of the entertaining fight. He was the aggressor backing up Ward who seemed content to wait for his opportunity to land a punch.

Both fighters landed solid blows in the fourth round, Kovalev with his stinging jab and Ward scoring with well-timed counter punches.

But by the sixth, Ward said he could sense Kovalev was fading.  “Championship fights start in second half, in the sixth round. When I saw him reacting to the body shots that were borderline I knew I had him,” Ward said.

On the undercard, two-time Olympic gold medalist Guillermo Rigondeaux defeated Moises Flores with a controversial fight-ending punch at the close of the first round to retain his WBA junior featherweight title.

The victory was disputed as television replays showed Rigondeaux landed a left hand after the round-ending bell had rang. He also landed three punches while holding Flores’ head from behind just before the knockout.

Rigondeaux improved to 18-0 with 12 knockouts, while Flores, of Mexico, dropped to 25-1, with 17 KOs.

Flores stayed down for several minutes and had to be helped back to his corner where he sat during a lengthy review that eventually resulted in Rigondeaux being crowned the winner.

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"The Freak Show" is ON as criticisms flow in after Floyd Mayweather confirms boxing bout with Conor McGregor

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Boxing legend Floyd Mayweather and mixed martial arts icon Conor McGregor confirmed plans for a long-awaited showdown on Wednesday, triggering both criticism and anticipation for what is set to be one of the richest fights in history.

Mayweather and McGregor – kingpins of their sports – will climb into a boxing ring to face each other at Las Vegas’s T-Mobile Arena on August 26.

The 40-year-old Mayweather will be aiming to reach the 50-0 milestone while McGregor is a heavy underdog in the 12-round boxing match. A victory for the Irishman would be a monumental upset.

“Floyd is the greatest of all time and Conor is the master of our sport,” MMA promoter Dana White said. “I thought it would be an impossible deal to do, but it was the right fight at the right time and we got it done.”

Leonard Ellerbe, chief executive of Mayweather Promotions, said the boxer’s team decided to end his 23-month retirement because the clamor for the 154-pound showdown had been impossible to ignore.

“There is not one place I go to with Floyd where he doesn’t get asked the question, ‘Floyd are you going to fight Conor McGregor?’ All Floyd thinks about is fighting Conor McGregor and whipping his ass,” Ellerbe said.

Mayweather announced the fight on his Instagram account with a graphic saying “IT’S OFFICIAL!!!” showing pictures of both fighters and listing Las Vegas as the location while McGregor sent out an earlier tweet stating “THE FIGHT IS ON.”

“Floyd said ‘154 is no problem, I don’t want a catchweight,'” Ellerbe said. McGregor is the top pay-per-view draw in UFC while Mayweather had been the money-spinner in some of boxing’s biggest bouts, including matchups with Filipino legend Manny Pacquiao and US star Oscar De La Hoya.

Mayweather earned $250 million for his fight against Pacquiao.

“There is a different feel from the Pacquiao fight, Ellerbe said. “It is the unknown factor (of fighting a MMA star).”

Neither Mayweather nor McGregor have competed this year. Mayweather retired from pro boxing in 2015 after defeating Andre Berto, while McGregor (21-3) defeated Eddie Alvarez in November 2016.

White said the key to finalizing the fight was luring Mayweather out of retirement. “Everybody is happy with this deal,” he said. “Nobody is bummed out.”

The boxing format heavily favors the undefeated Mayweather (49-0, 26 KOs), whom many consider to be the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.

McGregor, 28, will be entering unknown territory as he has not stepped into a boxing ring since he was a teenager.

INEXPERIENCED

Despite having little or no boxing experience, White insists his MMA client McGregor is confident of victory. McGregor is UFC’s only simultaneous two-division champion.

Ellerbe said Mayweather can’t afford to take McGregor lightly.

“I have seen Floyd buzzed in a fight. Things happen in these kinds of fights,” he said. “Floyd is 40 and he has to prepare. We would be a bunch of damn fools to sit around and sleep on this.”

Although there will be no titles on the line, the fight will provide an opportunity for both to cash in financially.

The event is expected to be a pay-for-view blockbuster, and organisers are hoping it can challenge the 4.6 million pay-per-view buys for Mayweather-Pacquiao.

Stephen Espinoza, executive vice-president of Showtime Sports, said fans will buy the pay-per-view for the fight because of the novelty.

“The sky is the limit,” Espinoza said. “There is nothing to compare it against. No one has seen this type of competition in the ring.”

Not everyone will be excited to see a Mayweather-McGregor exhibition match, however, especially considering that McGregor is a 25-1 underdog.

Boxing champion-turned-promoter De La Hoya had already dismissed the planned fight as an embarrassment for boxing. News of the fight on Wednesday also triggered waves of scorn across social media, with many branding the bout a “freak show.”

Espinoza was unmoved by the criticism, however. “This is not a referendum on the sport of boxing,” he said.

White said McGregor would be training for the fight in his homeland with Irish boxers. Promoters are hoping the trash-talking McGregor can sell tickets.

In his last fight, McGregor won the lightweight title from Alvarez in November 2015 in UFC’s first Madison Square Garden card.

McGregor received a California boxing license last year, but is still waiting for his Nevada application to be approved.

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