By Keith Idec
LAS VEGAS – Andre Ward stopped Sergey Kovalev on Saturday night, but his second victory over Kovalev caused controversy, too.
Kovalev was hurt and tiring in the eighth round, but referee Tony Weeks stopped their light heavyweight championship rematch without either counting a knockdown against Kovalev, who partially used the ropes to hold himself up, or warning Ward for three consecutive low blows he landed before Weeks stepped in. Weeks’ questionable stoppage came at 2:29 of the eighth round, nearly seven months after Ward defeated Kovalev by a unanimous decision that was widely considered controversial.
Before the abrupt, unusual ending, Ward drilled Kovalev with a straight right hand to the jaw that badly hurt the former champion with 1:14 to go in the eighth. That connection caused Kovalev’s knees to buckle, and made him hold and move away from Ward.
Kovalev said after his loss he could’ve continued and that it was “crazy” for Weeks to have stopped the fight. Kovalev acknowledged, however, that Ward was better in their rematch than he was during their first fight.
“I knew this was gonna be different,” Ward said. “He fought a good fight the first time. But when I went back and looked at it, I computed it and tonight I came out all right.”
Ward was winning on two of the three scorecards at the time of the stoppage. Connecticut’s Glenn Feldman and Nevada’s Dave Moretti had Ward ahead, 67-66, but New Jersey’s Steve Weisfeld had Kovalev in front, 68-65.
“I could have continued,” Kovalev said. “I didn’t feel he could throw a punch that would end the fight. … This is fighting. We are boxers. Yes, he did punch me, but he didn’t hurt me. The fight should have continued.”
Ward (32-0, 16 KOs) retained the IBF, WBA and WBO 175-pound championships he won from Kovalev (30-2-1, 26 KOs) on November 19 at T-Mobile Arena. Kovalev was stopped for the first time in his eight-year pro career.
Their first fight was extremely competitive, but Ward won by unanimous decision. All three judges – Nevada’s Burt Clements, New York’s John McKaie and Nevada’s Glenn Trowbridge – scored Ward the winner of that bout by the same score, 114-113.
The 33-year-old Ward, of Hayward, California, also extended his 19-year winning streak Saturday night. The 2004 Olympic gold medalist and former undisputed super middleweight champion hasn’t lost a fight since he was a 13-year-old amateur in February 1998.
Ward entered their fight Saturday night as a slight favorite over Kovalev (-145/+115).
Kovalev connected with a right hand early in the eighth round that made Ward go into a low stance. Ward took control later in the eighth, however, when he connected with the aforementioned right hand and damaging body blows.
“I saw him reacting to body shots that were borderline,” Ward said, “so I knew I had him. I knew he was hurt and trying to cover up.”
Weeks wouldn’t give Kovalev time to break in the last minute of the seventh round because he ruled Ward didn’t hit him low.
The sixth round featured a competitive exchange just before the halfway point of the round. Ward also drilled Kovalev with a jab that temporarily stopped Kovalev in his tracks later in the sixth.
Ward and Kovalev traded power punches during an entertaining exchange that began just after the midway mark of the fifth round.
Kovalev snapped back Ward’s head with two hard jabs within the first 25 seconds of the fourth round. Then Ward slowed down Kovalev with a body shot and drilled Kovalev with a stiff jab of his own.
Weeks warned both fighters for rough tactics with about 1:10 to go in the fourth round. Once the action resumed, both boxers landed their fair share of power shots, though Kovalev got the better of an exchange near Ward’s corner toward the end of the round.
Ward connected with a sharp, short left hook with about 1:40 to go in the third round. He stung Kovalev with a jab about 40 seconds later as well.
Ward was better defensively during the third round, too, as he was largely able to avoid Kovalev’s power punches during those three minutes.
Kovalev followed a jarring jab with an overhand right near the one-minute mark of the second round. Weeks warned Ward for a low blow about 15 seconds later and called for a brief break in the action for Kovalev to recover.
Kovalev connected with a hard right hand later in the second round that made Ward crouch. Ward was able to fire back power punches of his own by the time the second round ended, though.
Kovalev landed two solid right hands between the one-minute and 30-second marks of the first round. Ward connected with a hard right hand of his own and a stiff jab later in the first round.
The wrestling began less than a minute into the fight and continued throughout the first round. Weeks was quick to separate Ward and Kovalev, though, as he was for much of the fight.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.