Ward edges ‘Krusher’ Kovalev in close fight to take titles & top P4P spot
‘Son of God’ Ward also claimed the title of world’s best pound-for-pound boxer by outpointing the Russian and snatching his Ring, WBA Super, WBO and IBF championship belts at the T-Mobile Arena in a fight shown live on HBO pay per view.
The beginning of the bout went less than smoothly for the Californian as he struggled to get to grips with Kovalev’s timing and reach. Before the fight, Kovalev had vowed to “kick his ass” and in the first few minutes it looked as though all was going to plan, as a jab splayed Ward’s defense and sent him reeling in the opening stanza.
It got worse for Ward in the second, when a thunderous straight right dropped him hard for only the second knockdown of his career. Ward rose smiling, but he had been hurt, something Kovalev sensed, and the Chelyabinsk man moved in to finish, but the 2004 Olympic gold medalist held on for the bell.
Ward came out for the third cautiously, but Kovalev couldn’t miss with pounding straight shots and his constant pressure gained him ground.
In the middle rounds, the fight leveled out as Ward began to cut the ring off and land his own crisp punches. His sharp jab began to snap Kovalev’s head back, but ‘Krusher’ held firm and still fired off shots of his own, regardless of Ward’s pinpoint blows.
From round seven, Ward was fully established as back in the fight, boxing at a distance and managing to slip many of Kovalev’s blows. The Chelyabinsk fighter still showed why he was rated number one in the division, however, and dominated in parts.
The bout carried on at a scorching pace, with both fighters landing to the body and head. As the fight see-sawed into the championship rounds, neither fighter showed signs of losing focus. Ward established his left hook, but that didn’t seem to trouble the relentless Kovalev.
Before the twelfth and final round, Ward’s trainer Virgil Hunter told his charge, “You got to go out like a dog...this is it!” believing he needed a knockout to win the fight.
The final round was fought with the same electricity as the preceding eleven, and the crowd stood to shower the two boxers with applause in the last ten seconds of the fight.
When the final bell rang, each fighter nodded in acknowledgement of the war they had shared. Ringside commentator Roy Jones Jr., himself a former light-heavyweight champion, hailed the fight as “the best fight boxing has had in quite some time.”
“I’m glad to see two guys step up and fight each other at the peak of their careers and give us what the fans asked for,” said Jones.
Kovalev raised his hand at the sound of the bell, but the judges ultimately awarded the fight unanimously to Ward by three identical scores of 114-113, handing him the belts and the coveted title of best pound-for-pound boxer in the world. Ward has not lost a competitive boxing match since age 14.
But the decision stirred up controversy in the boxing world. Russian boxing promoter Andriy Ryabinsky slammed the judge’s scoring, calling it a “shame for the world of boxing,” while HBO’s veteran unofficial judge, Harold Lederman, scored the fight five rounds in favor of Kovalev.
Kovalev’s manager, Kathy Duva, was even less diplomatic in her summation, saying: “This decision really p*sses me off; the referee was terrible which affected the judging.”
After the fight, Kovalev hinted that “personal problems” may have played a role in his defeat.
“I had some little problems with my head, but it’s ok,” the fighter, now with 30 wins and one defeat, stuttered. “It’s my personal problems. Everybody saw what happened, they want my titles for American hero. God bless him; just let’s do a rematch and I will get my belts back.”
A victorious Ward hailed the win as his “best performance on the big stage.”
“It’s a fight or flight thing: I’m not going anywhere, so it’s time to fight,” he told Ring magazine.
“I thought I won and what I heard it was fair scoring,. The last fight is always the most important but I rally needed this… This sounds so good, ‘new light heavyweight champion.’ This is my most important and satisfying win,” the 32-year-old added.
With such a razor-thin margin of victory, a rematch is likely, although Ward may be tempted to force a fight with WBC light heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson, as the Canadian holds the only other championship belt in the division.