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.
Wow, right on Max!!! Correct. KOVALEV WANTED OUT. And STOP with this low blow BS. Ward just beat the will and heart out of Kovalev. Period.— Lou DiBella (@loudibella) June 18, 2017
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.”
They weren't low blows. Borderline & they don't hurt, I know! Kovalev quit! Ward shook him with the right hand & was breaking him up anyway— matthew macklin (@mattmacklin) June 18, 2017
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.