It just wouldn’t be an Andre Ward fight without him pissing off droves of fans and assorted boxing figures. Sometimes he deserves it. Sometimes he doesn’t. Saturday brought us a little of both as he beat Sergey Kovalev by stoppage.
This is how it went in the light heavyweight match-up of arguably the two best men in the sport, who ascended to those spots by facing each other in a close fight last year that Ward won controversially: Kovalev started better. Ward got into a rhythm. There were some close rounds. So far, just like Ward vs Kovalev I, which also aired on HBO Pay-Per-View.
Ah, but those low blows. Ward was warned for one just below the belt in the 2nd. He threw another major one in the 7th. He even landed a few in the 8th and final round. But he also was landing legit low blows throughout, the kind that slowed Kovalev in the first fight. And he tagged Kovalev with a flush right to the head that had him wobbly.
From there, Kovalev — who grew more anxious over the course of the bout, no doubt contributing to his stamina fade — didn’t seem to want to be in the fight anymore. He fought with his hands down and ran away. He wasn’t able to tie up with the clever Ward, which maybe explains all that, but it was clear he was frustrated. Referee Tony Weeks stepped into stop it along the ropes as Kovalev was folded in half against them.
The reactions naturally ranged from “Ward cheated, Kovalev got screwed” to “There were no low blows, Kovalev is a pussy,” because not many people in boxing are game for considering a world that’s less than black and white. There were low blows. But the people talking about him getting hit in the balls? No. The punches were on the belt line. They surely didn’t feel very good, nor were they legal. But if Kovalev got stopped only because of that — and he didn’t, because, reminder, lots of legal blows, too, including one that rocked his ass — then maybe he was going to get stopped anyway.
This scribe had Kovalev winning the first three and losing the next four. The fight seemed to be going the way of Ward, the superior athlete, the better conditioned athlete, the unflappable presence. Kovalev was tiring, frustrated and not looking his best. You can’t chalk this win up to low blows. They contributed, but it was much more than that.
As such, Kovalev comes off a little defanged from this. It’s an interesting development with the two power punching terrors of the sport in their last couple bouts: Opponents have proven that if you take the fight to Kovalev and Gennady Golovkin at tactical intervals, they suddenly aren’t quite so fearsome.
There’s reportedly a sense that Ward vs lineal light heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson could be a go, despite rival network affiliations. It’s a great fight! Ward and Kovalev (at least until recently on the latter) probably deserve to be ranked ahead of Stevenson based on their competition of late, but the champ is the champ until someone beats him. Ward and Stevenson can settle once and for all who the true king is if they get it on. The match-up is fascinating; Ward exploited his speed advantage vs Kovalev, but Stevenson’s quicker than Sergey. Kovalev, though, is more nuanced and versatile than Stevenson.
(LAS VEGAS — Andre Ward, left, reacts as reacts as referee Tony Weeks stops his light heavyweight bout against Sergey Kovalev at the Mandalay Bay Events Center . Ward won via TKO in the 8th round; Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)