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.
“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.
Primero que todo le pedimos a Dios x la salud de Moisés Flores. Gracias a todos los fans X el apoyo y a mi equipo por siempre estar presente pic.twitter.com/jcSyjtqV6O— Guillermo Rigondeaux (@RigoElChacal305) June 18, 2017
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.
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.
4 years ago, Conor McGregor picked up a welfare check of $235.— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) June 14, 2017
He'll likely walk away with $100,000,000+ from Mayweather fight.
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.
Here's the official poster for Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor which goes down on August 26th at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. pic.twitter.com/uQA6fVkypV— Chamatkar Sandhu (@SandhuMMA) June 15, 2017
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.
Errol Spence Jr broke Kell Brook’s eye then proceeded to break his heart as he became the new IBF welterweight champion in a fight which poses questions of what’s next for both men.
In Brook’s case, many are contemplating the prospect of retirement, having suffered back-to-back beatdowns and consecutive orbital breaks following the damaging defeat at middleweight to Gennady Golovkin.
For Spence, the future is decidedly more certain as the 27-year-old more than justified his heavy hype with a performance of supreme maturity.
Indeed, the American has long been held up as his country’s next big boxing hope and he preserved that status and his unbeaten record with an 11th round stoppage in Brook’s backyard of Sheffield at Bramall Lane on Saturday.
While it was the ballooning left eye of the 31-year-old, who had his right eye brutally battered in September, which forced him to take a knee in submission, the prior pummelling body work from Spence played a major role.
In what seemed like a high-speed chess match for the first six sessions, Spence perpetually ripped hooks to the body and his tremendous work on the inside paid dividends as Brook faded into the later rounds.
The Texan had never previously gone beyond 10 stanzas but in the second half of the fight he stepped up another level as Brook regressed before abdicating his crown.
“[Brook] is a tricky fighter, he’s awkward. He’s very strong and he can punch,” said Spence who stretched his record to 22-0.
“But I proved today that I have a chin and that I have true grit. It’s a legacy-defining fight and that’s what true champions do. You go anywhere to fight. He came to America and took the title, so I came over here to take the title from him.”
He added: “I watched some of his fights and he liked to fight at a certain pace. But once you pick up the pace on him, he kind of breaks down a little bit and can’t throw a lot of punches.
“I decided to press the action, make him fight at a pace he didn’t want to fight at and he started breathing hard and slowing down. I knew that I had him.”
And respect to @SpecialKBrook. He's a real fighter. So am I. Gonna defend the belt against whoever, whenever, wherever & unify the division.— Errol Spence (@ErrolSpenceJr) May 28, 2017
The pre-fight build-up was dominated by the narrative of a young prospect up against a proven world champion, but it was Spence who managed the rounds better.
There were periods in the opening half of the fight when he was outboxed as Brook started aggressively and tested his chin with stiff shots.
Yet Spence remained committed to working the body and eventually chopped down Brook with bludgeoning blows in the 10th for the first knockdown before finding the finish in the 11th.
It was a victory built on poise, patience and power, one which will gain Spence pound-for-pound recognition. But make no mistake, while ‘The Truth’s’ reign as world champion begins, Brook’s presence among boxing’s elite has not come to an end.
Providing the Sheffield pugilist can regain full fitness – he will likely require a titanium plate akin to one in his right eye – there is no doubt he possesses the skill to take on other elite names, most notably domestic rival Amir Khan.
Yet before the dust had even settled in the Steel City, immediate doubts were raised about Brook’s mental fortitude.
WBC cruiserweight champ Tony Bellew led the questioning in his role as pundit for SkySports as he said: “[Brook] had the fight beaten out of him. You’ve got to remember he’s been through a bad injury. He’s probably thinking in the back of his mind ‘I could go blind if I don’t do this’…
“But you have to expel all those things from your mind.”
Bellew’s assessment was harsh, though. Having had a similar injury before, one which nearly left him blind, Brook was well aware of the risk in continuing.
I got beat in the war I had with Canelo, Brook showed no respect! but I wish him and his family all best and hope he has no serious injury— Amir Khan (@amirkingkhan) May 27, 2017
Ultimately, health must always prevail and expecting anything different is borderline barbarous. There is bravery and then there is stupidity.
The consequences of the Golovkin fight may well be deeper than just aesthetic scars, but regardless of that loss, the result on Saturday may well have been the same.
The excellence of Spence, rather than Brook’s vulnerability, proved the difference and the former champ is already looking ahead to a ring return.
“I couldn’t leave the sport like that. I need to get back in and get back to winning ways and show I have plenty more to give,” Brook told SkySports the morning after the fight.
“I think the time is now maybe to move up. I’ve been making welterweight since I was a teenager. My first fight I was about nine or 10.
“I went up to middleweight in my last fight, I put a lot of muscle on and it was so hard to get to welterweight.”