Tuesday, April 16, 2024  |


Boxing was the biggest winner on Ward-Kovalev fight night: Weekend Review

Photo by: German Villasenor
Fighters Network


Boxing: One question that was raised during Andre Ward vs. Sergey Kovalev fight week was this: When was the last time a major pay-per-view fight lived up to the hype? The best we could do off the top of our heads was the Manny Pacquiao-Miguel Cotto fight. That was seven years ago. We might’ve forgotten a good one between then and now but the point is clear: All too often we’re disappointed. And we weren’t on Saturday night in Las Vegas. Ward-Kovalev was one of the best possible matchups in the sport, the kind of matchup we rarely see in a frustrating era when it seems fighters work as hard to avoid worthy foes than they do in the ring. And, for once, we weren’t disappointed. The fight wasn’t action packed but it had gripping drama because it was so competitive and so much was at stake, which magnified everything that happened in the ring – Kovalev took charge early, Ward went down and appeared to be trouble, he battled back as the crowd chanted his nickname, he appeared to win the late rounds but it remained close and no one knew who would get the nod after the final bell. Drama from beginning to end. That’s why a packed T-Mobile arena was still buzzing well after Michael Buffer announced that Ward had won a decision. That was a gratifying feeling for those of us who hadn’t experienced that kind of energy for a while, the kind of energy that attracted us to the sport in the first place. It was a really good fight. It’s too bad that was lost to some degree as a result of the scoring controversy.



Andre Ward: The gifted Ward achieved considerable success relatively early in his career, upsetting a strong field to win the super middleweight Super Six World Boxing Classic in 2011. He appeared at that time to be a worthy successor to Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao as the No. 1 fighter in the world. And then, as a result of issues with his former promoter and injuries, he squandered his momentum and place in the boxing hierarchy by fighting infrequently against less-than-stellar opposition. It was reasonable to wonder whether he’d ever get back to the top. On Saturday night, he got as close as he has been since the Super Six. Ward, 32, didn’t appear to be quite as slick as he was a few years ago but he had enough guile and determination to survive a second-round knockdown and narrowly outpoint one the best fighters on the planet. Ward won three sanctioning body belts by an identical score of 114-113 on all three official cards. I also had it 114-113. The problem for Ward was the inconclusive nature of the fight. Many experts were OK with the result, many were aghast, leaving Ward with plenty of doubters in spite of his successful night. The solution? Fight Kovalev again in his next fight. The fans deserve it. Kovalev deserves it. And Ward (31-0, 15 knockouts) needs it to prove that he really is worthy of consideration for the top spot on the pound-for-pound list.



Sergey Kovalev: The fact Kovalev suffered his first defeat and lost his three titles would’ve been painful enough for him. That he endured those setbacks in a fight he is absolutely certain he won only added to his grief. He was clearly devastated. I hope that feeling is tempered by these three things, though. One, he emerged from the fight with more respect from the boxing community than he had going into Saturday. Everyone who watched – whether in the arena or at home – has to know that he fought on a level precious few fighters today could match. Two, the experience he gained in the fight will make him a better boxer. He had never faced an opponent like Ward in his prime. And, three, if there’s any justice whatsoever, he’ll get another shot at Ward in the next fight for both men. He earned it. So, yes, he lost some treasures – his belts, the zero in his loss column – as the result of a controversial decision but no loser has ever left an arena with more going for him than Kovalev (30-1-1, 26 KOs). I personally feel that he proved in his only career loss, ironically, that he is one of the best fighters of his generation.



The controversy: I realized by mid-fight that the scoring was going to be controversial. Ward made adjustments to dig himself out of the early hole – subtly taking charge of the fight in the middle rounds – but there were a number of close rounds, which I suspected would be seen differently by different people with different tastes. I scored it 114-113 for Ward, or seven rounds to five. I could fathom a decision of 115-112 (also seven rounds to five) for Kovalev but not wider than that; it was a very close fight, in my opinion. Others don’t agree. I’ve seen a score as wide as 117-110, or nine rounds to three for Kovalev, from people with keen knowledge of the sport. I’m baffled by that tally – or even 116-111 – but that’s the type of fight this was, one that could be interpreted in myriad ways. And I recognize the passion of those who feel that Kovalev was cheated; a perceived injustice is difficult to swallow. That said, those crying blatant robbery might be overstating matters. All three judges had the same score. As Ward suggested, is it likely that all three would be wrong? Many veteran writers at ringside scored it for Ward. Paulie Malignaggi, one of the sport’s most respected analysts, had it the same way. And many of those who gave Kovalev the nod acknowledged that it was close fight that could’ve done either way. C’mon give us a little credit.



Mine: Eating some crow isn’t that bad when we get a fight like Ward-Kovalev. I was pretty sure that Ward was much too gifted for Kovalev, that his recent inactivity would play little to no role in his performance. I thought we’d see the Ward of the Super Six World Boxing Classic come back to life in the biggest fight of his career. I was wrong, at least to a good extent. The version of Ward we saw on Saturday didn’t appear to be quite as athletic, quite as quick as the one who had won the super middleweight tournament in 2011. This version relied primarily on guile and determination to eke out a victory on Saturday night, which is admirable. Aging fighters must rely on the tools they have to win fights. That’s what Ward did. I don’t want to be too hard on Ward, though. To do so is an insult Kovalev, who I believe was the main reason Ward wasn’t as dominating as we were accustomed to seeing. I knew Kovalev could box – he proved it against Bernard Hopkins – but I couldn’t imagine the fierce Russian boxing so successfully against a wizard like Ward, an Olympic gold medalist who hasn’t lost a fight since he was 12. He did. They battled on equal terms. As a result, my prediction of a one-sided, even boring decision in Ward’s favor didn’t come close to materializing. And I’m grateful for that. I’ll trade being right for a wonderful fight anytime.



Ward would be wise to give an immediate rematch to Kovalev, whose promoter, Kathy Duva, said there was a rematch clause in the contract and that she plans to exercise it. There are a lot of angry people out there. If Ward screws Kovalev and fights anyone else next, the fans are going to go ballistic. I’d keep my cool but I’d lose all respect for my fellow Californian. … For what’s it worth, the CompuBox numbers supported the contention that the Ward-Kovalev fight was close. Overall punches: Kovalev was 126 of 474, Ward 116 of 337. Power punches: Kovalev 78 of 232, Ward 61 of 169. And jabs: Kovalev 48 of 242, Ward 55 pf 168. The last category is interesting because everyone was raving about Kovalev’s jab after the fight. Also, if you score the fight strictly by who landed more punches per round, each fighter won six rounds. And, finally, neither fighter had more than a two-punch advantage in eight of the 12 rounds. Doesn’t get much tighter than that. … The best fight on the Ward-Kovalev undercard wasn’t on television, Claressa Shields’ pro debut. The two-time Olympic gold medalist pounded her way to a shutout decision over a resilient but overmatched Franchon Crews in a four-round fight. Shields was impressive. Let’s hope her handlers can find her worthy, compelling opponents going forward so Shields remains on our radar. That might be tough. Crews also was making her pro debut.