By John J. Raspanti
After defeating Sergey Kovalev for the second time in seven months, this time by a stunning-if somewhat controversial eighth round stoppage, WBO, IBF and WBA light heavyweight champion Andre Ward admitted something about himself.
"I’ve never been the best, but I’ve always worked the hardest," said Ward.
That work desire, coupled with an inner dog, propelled Ward to victory over Kovalev Saturday night at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, NV.
Like their first bout, won by Ward by a debatable unanimous decision, the rematch was intense and competitive. Kovalev used his long jab to score points. Ward, 33, counterpunched effectively. On the inside, he targeted Kovalev’s body with short whipping hooks.
Kovalev, 34, connected with his vaunted right hand on a number of occasions, but unlike the first go around, when he floored Ward in round two, Ward absorbed the blows without issue.
Ward (32-0, 16 KOs) uncoiled his left hook in rounds three and four. He used subtle movement, and countered when he saw an opening. Kovalev was busier, but Ward was landing at a higher rate.
Kovalev, who said overtraining caused him to lose energy in the first fight, appeared spent in round five. Ward tried to take advantage, but Kovalev (30-2, 26 KOs) was still clipping him with stinging jabs. Ward landed a wicked right to the hip that made Kovalev wince. The former champion came out more aggressively in round six, but Ward stopped him in his tracks with hard left jab.
As the fight wore on, Ward was doing better and better on the inside. Kovalev battled back, but Ward looked stronger, focused and extremely determined. Kovalev had said before the fight that he would end his career, Ward didn’t like that.
Through six rounds the fight was even on this writer’s scorecard. Ward continued to work over Kovalev’s gut in round seven. Kovalev landed a hard uppercut in the opening seconds of round eight. Ward stayed low and worked. A big right hand staggered Kovalev. Ward jumped on his stricken opponent. Kovalev tried to stay away, but Ward went back downstairs. Three left hooks, one that appeared low, forced Kovalev to bend over. Referee Tony Weeks waved off the contest at 2:29 of round eight.
“The man is a world champion,” said Ward of the formerly indestructible Kovalev. “He’s been on top of his game a long time. He was reacting to my body shots, and I knew I had him and I knew he was hurt.”
Kovalev appeared to be in a state of shock after the fight.
"I don’t know, I can’t explain it," said Kovalev. "Not every round, but I thought I was doing very good. I was better, and he was better this fight.”
Ward was leading by one point on two of three judges’ scorecards when the fight was stopped, while the other judge had Kovalev ahead by three points.