By Keith Idec
The apologetic Tweets from Tony Weeks quickly began circulating Saturday night.
One noted that he would not have stopped the Andre Ward-Sergey Kovalev rematch had he known Ward had landed multiple low blows before he stepped in. Another included the words “I was wrong” and “I missed the low blows from Ward.”
These would’ve been damning admissions if those statements actually came from Tony Weeks. Though one of the Tweets was retweeted and favorited more than 1,000 times, those weren’t Weeks’ words.
That Tony Weeks Twitter account is fake, as is virtually every account that supposedly belongs to a boxing referee or judge. Boxing officials are discouraged by their superiors at state athletic commissions from commenting to the media, much less to the entire world.
Whoever created that fake Weeks account had the right idea, though, because the real Tony Weeks owes Sergey Kovalev and Andre Ward an apology for how he mishandled their light heavyweight championship rematch.
Weeks typically is one of boxing’s better referees, yet this was some of his worst work. The stoppage itself was horrendous because Ward landed three consecutive blows below Kovalev’s belt line before Weeks went between them to wave an end to the action at 2:29 of the eighth round at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas.
The last of those three punches, the shot that made Weeks stop the fight, landed directly to Kovalev’s groin area. Weeks’ decision to stop their fight following such an obvious low blow amounted to one of the most unusual conclusions to a high-profile fight you’ll ever see.
Those that are OK with this strange stoppage have argued that Kovalev was fading fast, maybe even looking for a way out of an increasingly difficult fight, and that Weeks probably did him a favor. Kovalev was slowing down, his body language was bad and Ward very well might’ve been on his way to producing a much more conclusive victory.
The problem with those justifications are Kovalev’s perceived levels of fatigue and desire to continue don’t change the facts that Kovalev was fouled repeatedly without Weeks even warning Ward or that the fight oddly ended immediately after a Ward drilled Kovalev with a left hand that landed squarely to his groin. Fouls are fouls, and must be treated as such.
By the time Weeks stopped the fight, Kovalev also was using the ropes to hold himself up, which Weeks could’ve counted as a knockdown.
As per the unified rules of the Association of Boxing Commissions, Weeks should’ve given Kovalev the maximum of five minutes to recover from those obvious low blows and he should’ve sternly warned Ward. Even if Weeks would’ve counted Kovalev’s improper use of the ropes as a knockdown, it at least would’ve afforded Kovalev 10-15 seconds, depending on how quickly the action resumed, to prepare to defend himself.
Supporters of the stoppage have criticized Kovalev for bending over and for not defending himself by the time Weeks waved it off. He was leaning over and didn’t defend himself because he was repeatedly fouled, which Weeks inexplicably ignored.
“I am told, again, that low blows take a lot out of you,” said Kathy Duva, whose company, Main Events, promotes Kovalev. “He was getting hit like that repeatedly. It’s a shame. The referee is supposed to protect you. … The ref is supposed to protect the fighter, and I don’t feel that he protected Sergey at all.”
While Ward won the fight, he shouldn’t be particularly pleased with Weeks, either. Weeks allowed Kovalev to hit Ward with rabbit punches throughout the fight.
“If we’re gonna talk low blows, we’ll talk rabbit punches,” Ward said. “We can’t talk one without the other. And I honestly feel like his was intentional, because he really doesn’t know how to fight inside. That’s the best thing he can do.”
Ward went on to say that any of his punches that might’ve landed low on Kovalev were accidental, as if that matters.
Whether Ward was intentionally hitting Kovalev low doesn’t change the fact that Weeks should’ve at least warned Ward for several such fouls even before the eighth round. Weeks warned Ward for a low blow in the second round, but never thereafter.
Regardless, Weeks also failed to warn Kovalev for turning away from Ward in the seventh round, when Kovalev contended Ward hit him low with a punch Weeks considered within the rules. Kovalev also bent over in front of Ward earlier in the eighth round, though it appeared Ward connected with a low left hand on Kovalev in that instance as well.
Worst of all for Ward, Weeks’ weird stoppage denied him at least the opportunity to properly stop Kovalev. Who knows what would’ve happened had Weeks given Kovalev the appropriate amount of time to recover from the low blows that ended the fight?
Maybe Kovalev could’ve recovered and made the fight competitive again. Maybe not.
What we do know is Ward wrecked Kovalev with a right hand to his jaw with 1:14 to go in the eighth round. That punishing punch, the most impactful shot either fighter had landed since Kovalev floored Ward with a right hand in the second round of their first fight, was an indication that Ward was beginning to separate himself from the former champion following 19 very competitive rounds.
If Weeks would’ve done his job properly, Ward wouldn’t be left to explain the actions or inactions of a referee, when the focus of fans and media should be on what otherwise was an impressive performance by the 2004 Olympic gold medalist. And Ward would be left with one controversial victory over Kovalev on his unblemished record (32-0, 16 KOs) – not two.
This doesn’t mean Ward-Kovalev 2 should be remembered as the 21st century’s answer to Bowe-Golota. Ward did very effective body work at times that was well within the confines of the rules.
It just means Kovalev and Ward deserved better officiating from a veteran referee who completely mishandled the end of their rematch.
Weeks’ poor performance leaves Kovalev (30-2-1, 26 KOs) wondering what would’ve happened had Weeks acted appropriately when Ward hit him low. Unfortunately for Ward, Weeks’ mistakes toward the end of their fight have created at least some doubt about what might’ve emerged as a much more impressive, cleaner conclusion to their rematch.
Duva asked Bob Bennett, the executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, immediately after the fight to use the available replays to determine if Ward had hit Kovalev low. Bennett denied her request because, according to Duva, Bennett told her, “Tony didn’t feel it warranted [a replay review], that he was sure and he didn’t wanna look.”
Sure, referees miss stuff sometimes. That’s the nature of human error.
But after 19 extremely competitive rounds, Kovalev and Ward deserved far better than that dubious conclusion Saturday night. Now that they’re left to deal with the costly consequences (Kovalev) and to defend even a technical knockout win (Ward), they deserve apologies, this time from the real Tony Weeks.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.