By John J. Raspanti
Andre Ward was in a world of hurt in the second round of his epic showdown with unified light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev Saturday night.
Kovalev had floored him with a wicked punch to the mouth, but Ward got up with a smile and proceeded to rally—culminated by capturing a razor close 12-round unanimous decision over Kovalev at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, NV.
All three ringside judges scored the bout 114-113 for Ward.
Maxboxing had Kovalev the winner by the same 114-113 tally.
Ward (31-0, 15 KOs) picked up Kovalev’s WBA, IBF and WBO titles in a rough fight, that featured moments of drama with grappling and holding. Ward was doing pretty well in the opening stanza, until Kovalev’s jab wobbled him. Things got worse for the 2004 Olympic gold medalist in round two.
Both fighters threw right hands, but Kovalev’s landed first-- sending Ward to the canvas for the second time in his career. Kovalev (30-1-1, 26 KOs) continued to beat Ward to the punch in round three. Ward did land a stinging left jab that stopped Kovalev in his tracks.
Kovalev’s powerful right seemed to hurt Ward again.
Ward, 32, connected with a few inside punches in rounds four and five. Kovalev retaliated by going to the body. Ward landed a short right hand and stinging jab to the gut. The blow was effective in disrupting Kovalev’s timing.
Kovalev connected with a hard right to Ward’s ear at the bell.
Ward, one of the grittiest fighters in professional boxing, continued to pound Kovalev’s midsection during the second half of the fight. He also had a found a home for his left hook, but it was his jab that was tattooing Kovalev.
Kovalev,33, did well in round nine, but Ward’s bodywork appeared to be bothering him. The rounds were intense and difficult to score. The see-saw nature of the bout continued in the last few heats. Both champions were landing. Ward won the last round on two of the tree judges’ scorecards.
“I was not surprised when I heard the decision," Ward said, even though his expression seemed to suggest otherwise. "I know it was a close fight.
"[Kovalev] did everything I expected him to do. He started to show up as I expected. He started to fight like I expected. My coach [Virgil Hunter] did a great job."
Kovalev was stunned by the decision.
"It’s the wrong decision. I don’t want to say my opinion," he said. "The witnesses are here. They saw it. It’s my job. It was a fight of my life. I am disappointed in the judges’ decision.”
Can anyone say rematch? It’s in the contract, and Kovalev’s team will demand it.