Andre Ward underlined his status as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world with an 8th round stoppage of Russian Sergey Kovalev at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Nevada. Ward retained his WBA, IBF and WBO light heavyweight titles which he had won controversially in his first fight against the Russian puncher.
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Action dominated right from the start. Kovalev stayed at the centre of the ring with Ward naturally circling around. It was an intense start, but the champion looked to attack the Russian’s midsection early. Both fighters engaged in heavy clinching and holding early, with their heads getting together quite often.
In round 2, Kovalev got hit with a low blow, which would be a major talking point in the fight. However, nobody looked comfortable yet and both fighters have disrupted each other’s rhythm so far. Referee Tony Weeks gave another strong warning to both fighters in round 4 to keep the contest clean.
Ward Starts to Show Class
However, the round also saw Ward making headway with his jab before Kovalev could answer. At this point of the fight, Ward seemed more comfortable with Kovalev unable to establish his gameplan. The American looks effectively frustrated Kovalev just as the Russian looked to unleash his attack.
Ward continued to counter effectively with his left hand to thwart the advances of Kovalev. The pace has been gruelling from the start but Kovalev appeared to be losing gas due to the pace of the fight, which he initiated himself. Ward finished off the 6th round with a looping right to Kovalev’s head as the bell sounded. He had been the more effective fighter at this point of the match.
The fighters wrestled at the start of round 7. Kovalev then connected with a one-two but not cleanly against Ward who was already on his way back. Kovalev appeared to stabilise in the ring. His momentum was immediately disrupted with a low blow during a clinch. However, the Russian recovered well and finished the round strongly.
Come round 8, both fighters still going aggressive and the contest looked poised in the balance. The dagger came when Kovalev claimed to have been hit with another low blow but Tony Weeks ignored his pleas. The momentum swung towards Ward’s way and he immediately landed a right on Kovalev’s jaw. It rocked the Russian and encouraged Ward to try and finish the fight. Ward continued his attack to the midsection with a couple of shots, including a borderline low blow. Kovalev got pinned on the ropes and crumpled in pain, prompting Tony Weeks to put a halt on the contest at 2:29 of round 8.
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Ward as Top Pound-for-Pound Fighter
Speaking to Max Kellerman after his win, Ward praised Kovalev. “He’s a great fighter. Not a lot of people are going to beat him. When you fight great fighters, you gotta raise your game to the next level, and I’m thankful we did that tonight.” The champion also went through the end of the fight. “When I saw him react to the body shots that were borderline, I knew I had him. I hurt him with a head shot, and I just had to get the right shots in there to get it over with, and I did that.”
Max Kellerman asked Ward what was next for the fighter and Ward said, “Maybe cruiserweight, I don’t know. Cruiserweight, heavyweight, that’s always been a dream of mine. It’s gotta be the right guy, but I dream big.” Kellerman pushed the issue and asked if he’d go in the ring against Anthony Joshua and Ward replied with a smile, saying “Anything is possible, man.”
Kovalev Continues to Protest
On the other hand, Kovalev still complained of the low blows. “I felt good in there. I feel that I fought a good fight. Both of us were better this fight. I didn’t feel like I was hurt by legal punches. Only low blows.”
Replays showed that the shot Kovalev complained of in round 8 was right at the belt and is indeed legal. However, he clarified that the punches leading to the stoppage were low blows. Replays also looked to have supported Kovalev’s claim. The Russian fighter clearly felt aggrieved at the decision and continued, “I don’t know why they stopped the fight. I could have continued. I wasn’t hurt. He didn’t hurt me. I want to fight him again and kick his a**.”
The judges’score at the time of the stoppage showed that it was indeed a close fight. Two had Ward ahead with identical 67-66 scores while one had Kovalev up 68-65. The featured undercard of the evening was no short of controversy itself. Following a lengthy consultation, Vic Drakulich ruled on a first round knockout victory for Guillermo Rigondeaux over Moises Flores of Mexico. The referee ruled that the knockout punch, though delivered after the bell after replays show, was indeed legal.
— From The WaterCooler (@FTWaterCooler) June 18, 2017