Las Vegas, NV -- Two of the top five pound for pound boxers in the world met again after a controversial decision in their first meeting. The rematch didn't make it to the judges' scorecards, but there was still a hint of controversy after Andre Ward stopped Sergey Kovalev in the 8th round of their light heavyweight title fight at the Mandalay Bay in front of an announced attendance of 10,592.
There was a great deal of bad blood between the two after Ward won a hotly contested decision last November. Kovalev promised to make the "paper champion" pay for the first fight. However, it was Ward who would make the Russian pay after another competitive battle that was difficult to score.
For the first seven rounds, Ward and Kovalev fought a nip and tuck battle where Kovalev was the aggressor and Ward used in-fighting and body work to attempt to slow his opponent down.
Then, in a flash, everything changed.
With another close round taking place in the 8th round, Ward uncorked a hellacious right hand that clearly took Kovalev's legs from underneath him. With his opponent reeling, Ward went on the assault and threw the kitchen sink at his foe. During the onslaught, it appeared that a few body punches may have strayed south. However, rather than calling a halt to the action, referee Tony Weeks saw that Kovalev's body language was that of a fighter who may have wanted out and called a surprising halt to the bout.
And, just like that, it was over.
Kovalev's promoter, Kathy Duva, said that she would be filing a protest to overturn the decision while also calling ward a "dirty fighter." While that is up for debate, the current reality is that Andre Ward finished off a fighter who had been feared by much of the boxing world. And he did it in surprisingly devastating fashion. Whether the punches that came right before the end of the fight were low or not can be discussed. What cannot be questioned is the right hand that clearly sapped the fight out of Kovalev.
“I think it was plain to see that I broke him mentally and physically," Ward (32-0, 16 KOs) said afterward. "I’m not a person that demands respect or none of that. You don’t have to respect me and I don’t demand anything, but at a certain point and time, you got to give a person their just do. I’m 13 years in and I’ve been doing it against the best."
The victory firmly places Ward on top of boxing's fictional pound for pound list while Kovalev will certainly take a tumble after suffering his second loss in a row. But that didn't stop him from complaining after the fact.
“He hit with four low blows," said Kovalev (30-2-1, 26 KOs). "The ref didn't call them. I felt I could have continued. This is bullsh*t."
Whether or not fans liked the stoppage, the fact remains that Andre Ward now holds two victories over Kovalev. With a $6.5 million payday in his bank account, Ward will look toward other challenges. He suggested possibly fighting at cruiserweight or heavyweight if the right opportunity comes up. Until then, he's going to soak in his accomplishments.
“If there are questions marks after this, that has nothing to do with me," he said. "I’m going to enjoy my family, kiss my wife and we out."