By Francisco Salazar
LAS VEGAS - Anyone who predicted there would be a knockout in the rematch between Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev were correct.
Few were correct in predicting it would be Ward, even if you count Ward's immediate family and managerial team.
With the way the first fight played out on Nov. 19, which Andre Ward won despite an overwhelming amount of media and fight fans who scored the fight for Kovalev, the thought was Kovalev had to score a knockout Saturday night at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.
Kovalev said all the right things to anyone who would listen during the pre-fight festivities to convince people the first fight was a fluke and he would lay an ass-kicking to the Oakland-based fighter.
Considering Ward has the reputation and stigma of holding and fighting in a style that is 'boring,' many scribes still favored Kovalev. Even late money came in to the Las Vegas sports books before the main event began, although Ward was still the betting favorite.
It was a competitive fight between the two fighters. One ominous (and even ironic) thing that stood out was Kovalev missing with counter or lead right crosses, punches that were intended to land on Ward's head.
It was the eighth round where Ward connected with the counter right hand to the head of Kovalev, wobbling him. Kovalev was forced to something few people would have ever expected him to do and that was hold onto Ward.
Ward ended matters by stopping Kovalev moments later, which has inundated social media timelines.
Kovalev staggered across the ring into Ward's corner, where Ward unleashed three punches that landed below or around the belt-line. From referee Tony Weeks' angle, he had to have seen at least two of the punches landed below the belt, causing Kovalev to hunch over and eventually sit on the second to bottom ring rope.
Weeks should have done one of two things. He could have either administered an eight-count (which is no longer allowed under the ABC rules, but should be in place for fighter safety) or deduct a point from Ward. Weeks did warn Ward earlier in the fight for landing punches below Kovalev's belt-line.
But Kovalev's body language by the midway point of the fight was telling. Kovalev had slowed down considerably and, even if Weeks allowed the fight to continue at the time of the stoppage, the end of the fight was likely inevitable in the next round or two.
Whether or not Ward is a favorite to you, he is now the man at 175 pounds (not Adonis Stevenson). Whether you agree with the outcomes of both fights or not (I had Kovalev winning the first fight 114-113), Ward has two official victories over Kovalev, who many considered to be the best light heavyweight in the division.
There were reservations on my part Ward would fight Kovalev again, but he did. Ward wound up facing Kovalev, proving doubters and naysayers wrong who thought he would not face Kovalev or would get knocked out by Kovalev.
Entering the eighth round Saturday, I had Kovalev up 67-66 over Ward.
Speaking of Kovalev, in what direction does his career go after the Ward fight? It is hard to imagine HBO will no longer broadcast any of his fights, as Kovalev makes for fun fights. Why would HBO not bring back Kovalev? Could he fight the winner of Joe Smith-Sullivan Barrera, which takes place on July 15? How about a fight against Adonis Stevenson? That would be an excellent grudge match.
The same question can be made for Andre Ward. Will HBO pay a significant site fee to Roc Nation to broadcast an Andre Ward fight? Ward reportedly received a purse of at least six million dollars for the Kovalev fight, so if that is the case, the amount has to come down significantly for HBO to pony up.
The only opponent which boxing fans may even entertain the idea of buying a pay-per-view telecast would be against Stevenson. A wrinkle in attempting to make this fight is Stevenson fights on Showtime.
Main Events promoter Kathy Duva was not happy at the post-fight press conference. There are videos on YouTube if you choose to watch.
Duva stated she will file a protest with the Nevada State Athletic Commission to overturn the outcome of the fight. Duva claimed Ward hit Kovalev multiple times in the eighth round and Weeks should have disqualified Ward.
Whether that goes through or not remains to be seen, but the frustration displayed by Duva Saturday night is an accumulation of many factors, which include working with Roc Nation, the outcome of the fight, and the hoots and hollers at the post-fight press conference.
Who was hooting and hollering? Most likely family and friends of Ward. That is one thing about post-fight press conferences, especially something Michael Yormack and team Roc Nation may not be familiar with.
Post-fight press conferences should be attended by media, all fighters who fought on the card and their representatives, and immediate family, who should be told to cheer and clap, not jeer or shout. Media, which include writers and photographers, are on deadline. Interruptions or lack of control at a press conference prevents writers from fulfilling that goal. Plus, words between different teams can ignite to punches thrown, especially if there is little to no security at the post-fight press conference.
Kovalev-Ward. Ward-Kovalev. Two fights that gave boxing two unique outcomes.
Only in boxing.
Francisco A. Salazar has written for Boxingscene.com since September of 2012 and has covered boxing in Southern California and abroad since 2000. Francisco also covers boxing for the Ventura County (Calif.) Star newspaper, RingTV.com, and Knockout Nation. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter at FSalazarBoxing