By Keith Idec
LAS VEGAS – Andre Ward wanted everyone to understand that he wasn’t the only one playing rough Saturday night.
The IBF/WBA/WBO light heavyweight champion responded to criticism for repeatedly hitting Sergey Kovalev low by reminding reporters during a post-fight press conference that Kovalev cracked him with rabbit punches all night. Ward said he has knots on the back of his head from where Kovalev connected with illegal punches when they were tied up in clinches.
“If we’re gonna talk low blows, we’ll talk rabbit punches,” Ward said following his eighth-round stoppage of Kovalev in their rematch. “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 won their second light heavyweight title fight when referee Tony Weeks stepped in to stop it at 2:29 of the eighth round at Mandalay Bay Events Center. Weeks’ stoppage caused controversy because Ward appeared to hit Kovalev below the belt multiple times in the eighth round.
Ward (32-0, 16 KOs), known before Saturday night as a physical and sometimes rule-bending boxer, claimed during the press conference he didn’t hit Kovalev low on purpose. Weeks warned Ward for a low blow in the final minute of the second round, but that was Weeks’ only warning to Ward during their competitive, compelling light heavyweight title fight.
“You know, I didn’t intentionally try to hit that man low,” Ward said. “Things happen. I wasn’t in trouble. I didn’t need to foul. Like, there was no reason for me to intentionally foul. You’ve just gotta look at the logic in that. Sometimes something’s gonna get away from you. But just because he has a reaction like that doesn’t mean it was low. It means he didn’t like the body work, and that’s why I didn’t follow up the first time, when I had him bent over, because I didn’t know how – I knew he was trying to sell it and I’m looking at Weeks like, ‘Is he buying it?’ And Weeks didn’t respond. He’d jump in, he’d pull back.
“So I was in a tough spot, but this is boxing, man. Like I told you guys, I won by 12 rounds and they say, ‘It was kind of boring. I fell asleep.’ OK, man. Then I had a close fight. ‘Well, people say it was controversial.’ And we come back after the controversy and do this, and we’re talking low blows. But it comes with the territory, man. I’m thankful, I appreciate all you guys and we did it. We did it.”
Kathy Duva – whose company, Main Events, promotes Russia’s Kovalev (30-2-1, 26 KOs) – contends Kovalev’s rabbit punching was his necessary response to Ward continually hitting him low.
“It was [a rough fight],” Duva said. “But when one guy’s throwing elbows and heads and all this, you’ve gotta defend yourself. I was happy Weeks was separating them from time to time. But how that ended, it was a series of low blows. Like, it was a combination.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.