Ward overcomes rough start to edge Kovalev by unanimous decision
LAS VEGAS – Andre Ward can now call himself the best pound for pound in the world. The 2004 Olympic gold medalist survived a second-round knockdown and a less than optimal first half of his showdown with Sergey Kovalev to methodically pull himself back into the fight and snare away the WBO, IBF and WBA light heavyweight titles from the feared Russian with a unanimous decision at T-Mobile Arena in a fight that was as good as advertised.
From the moment this fight was announced between two of the top five pound for pound fighters in the world, nobody was sure how the fight would turn out. It was Andre Ward’s prodigious boxing talent versus Sergey Kovalev’s life altering power. It was the perfect style matchup between two of boxing’s best and a fight that personified the concept of a “coin flip.”
But for the first couple of rounds, it played out completely different than how anybody could have possibly imagined it.
Kovalev rushed out and surprised Ward with a scintillating jab that repeatedly popped S.O.G. on the bridge of the nose. Ward struggled to adjust to Kovalev’s deceptive speed and fought a bit out of character, as he simply couldn’t manage to escape the Russian’s range.
Things got worse in the second round when Ward over-committed on a punch and was shredded by a counter right hand that sent him to the canvas. Ward managed to get to his feet but was clearly shaken up by what was taking place. But, eventually, Ward made slight adjustments that paid off in dividends in the second half of the fight. Deploying a clinch and shoot strategy, Ward climbed his way out of a deep hole and didn’t allow Krusher to get off much more than a jab.
With a mostly pro-Ward crowd of 13,310 behind him, S.O.G. found himself gradually erasing the deficit and took charge by taking advantage of being a better inside fighter and nullifying Kovalev’s long range game.
“It was about those ‘in the trenches’ moments and Sergey has no inside game,” Ward, who improved to 31-0, said afterward. “I focused on my mid range and inside game and that made the difference. After the 2nd round knockdown he realized I wasn’t going anywhere and I was stepping on the gas. This sounds so good, new light heavyweight champion. This is my most important and satisfying win.”
It was a much different fight from Ward than many expected. The slickness and craftiness the Oakland fighter had become known for was gone. It was all guts and guile as Ward simply had to rely on his game plan to thwart the powerful Kovalev.
Krusher landed the more telling blows throughout and was unaffected by Ward’s attack, but Ward managed to sweep every round from seven through 12, except on Bert Clements scorecard, who gave Kovalev the final frame. There will obviously be controversy and a rematch will most certainly be in order from Kovalev’s team.
“It’s the wrong decision,” a dejected Kovalev (30-1-1) said afterward. “I don’t want to say my opinion. The witnesses are here – they saw it.”
Regardless of how Kovalev saw the fight, it was an exciting affair with high drama in the second half. There was a great deal of infighting — which referee Robert Byrd allowed to take place – and some fine two-way action. But Ward imposed his will and chipped away at Kovalev’s lead.
In the 10th round, both Kovalev and Ward swung for the fences and landed combinations to the crowd’s delight. The final three rounds were quite difficult to score but the judges favored Ward’s infighting over Kovalev’s power. With the fight hanging in the balance in the 12th, they both left it on the table until the final bell sounded and embraced in the middle of the ring.
All three judges scored it 114-113 for Ward, but social media had a variety of scores that ranged from Ward winning or a draw to Kovalev winning by a wide margin. Ultimately, these two seemed destined to meet again.
“I thought I won and what I heard it was fair scoring,” Ward said. “The last fight is always the most important but I rally needed this… This sounds so good, ‘new light heavyweight champion.’ This is my most important and satisfying win.”
As for Kovalev, he was very unhappy with the decision and obviously wants the rematch to happen sooner than later.
“It was a fight of my life I am disappointed in the judges decision,” Kovalev said. “Of course I want a rematch and I will kick his ass. I want to show good boxing.”
We certainly got some great boxing tonight and there will almost certainly be a demand for a rematch.