Photo Credit: Hogan Photos
Sergey Kovalev promised to end Andre Ward’s career. He vowed that the man he renamed “Son of Judges” wouldn’t get the chance to be saved by favorable scorecards. Today, it is the Krusher’s future that is in doubt following a dramatic and controversial eighth round stoppage loss at the Mandalay Bay. The tagline going into the fight was “no excuses,” and yet less than 24 hours removed, Kovalev and his promoter Main Events are preparing to protest the verdict and prolong the war of words between the camps. Unfortunately for Kovalev, the narrative that played out last night in the ring coupled with historical precedent does not bode well for his hopes of a reversal.
The rounds preceding the knockout showed both men were well-prepared. Ward did not repeat the sluggish start of the first bout; he looked for left hook counters upstairs to stifle Kovalev’s rushes and body work within clinches. Kovalev, now respectful of Ward’s ability, emphasized a higher work rate to counter Ward’s accuracy and inside work.
The fight was a nip-tuck affair with neither man jumping out to significant advantages. If Ward landed a good body shot, Kovalev was right back with several hard, clean jabs. If Kovalev got in a sneaky right, Ward returned the favor by getting right in his chest to maul and work the body.
As with any Ward fight, this wasn’t a clean affair. The clinching resulted in headlocks and rabbit punches from Kovalev, and borderline to clearly low blow shots from Ward. However, Ward was the more comfortable man in this domain — Kovalev’s complaints were more demonstrative and with expectations that he’d be given time to recover.
After seven rounds, my scorecard reflected an even fight (67-67), but not my eyes. Kovalev had noticeably become more labored in his breathing. His punches lacked its usual snap while Ward, never a huge puncher even at his prime weight of 168, looked more powerful and determined.
A right cross in the eighth badly hurt Kovalev. His attempts to hold were shrugged off with additional body shots. Kovalev sagged into the ropes, where Ward pounced on his doubled over opponent with shots that ranged from borderline to low. Assessing Kovalev’s body meek body language and no return punches, referee Tony Weeks opted to stop the contest. There was no protest from the former champion.
This brings us to the big controversy of the night. Was Kovalev robbed by the non-call on the low-blow? His promoter, Kathy Duva, seems to think so. In the post-fight circus of a press conference, she was absolutely livid.
Here’s the big problem that Duva and Kovalev will run into on Monday. There isn’t boxing commission in the world that would have the balls to reverse a decision in a fight of this magnitude. Look no further than the undercard bout against Rigondeaux and Flores (where referee Vic Drakulich and the commissioner look absolutely terrified to make the call between a DQ, No Contest or KO).
Even more daunting is the last time Main Events filed a low blow protest. In 2011, the company was promoting Zab Judah, in the midst of one of his many comebacks, this time against Amir Khan. Judah was thoroughly dominated in every round. In the fifth, a bloody Zab was grappling with Khan in a clinch and bent forward, much like Kovalev last night. Khan fired a borderline shot that resulted in the KO. Main Events filed a protest with Nevada, the WBA and IBF that went on deaf ears to the point we never heard another word about it.
Like any sport, boxing is predicated on momentum. In basketball, teams that go on runs seem to get all the calls while the losing team’s complaints are often ignored. If your getting hands placed on you in the ring, your complaints will come off as looking for a way out, leading to a referee making a quick call like we saw last night. It’s also important to note that unintentional fouls caused by the fighters movements are usually not acknowledged. Case in point — if I’m constantly bending down and away from an opponent, resulting in boderline rabbit shots to the top/side of the head, I’m going to be the one the ref will admonish for causing the “illegal” blow. Check out the KO years back of Glen Johnson on a crouching Allan Green who complains of a rabbit punch.
There are certain realities you need to accept when you face certain fighters. Against Bernard Hopkins, be prepared for a night of mauling, sneaky low blows and butts. Evander Holyfield? Again, watch the butts. After 12 rounds against Andre Ward last November, Sergey Kovalev said he was prepared for the rematch, going as far as to say Ward was overrated and he had trained too hard. But last night showed that the Krusher had neither the mental nor physical ability to handle a rough and tumble fight where he couldn’t be the frontrunner.
“I was breathing, he was breathing, but I’m used to working tired,” said Ward. “I’m comfortable being uncomfortable; that’s how we work, that’s how we train. When I saw him put his arms on the ropes in between the rounds – I watch all that stuff – that’s trouble for him. I just needed to keep being smart… I think it was plain to see that I broke him mentally and physically.”
Consider the Ward-Kovalev rivalry closed.