We’re going to debate the scorecards in Andre Ward vs Sergey Kovalev for a long time, a bout Saturday night in which Ward barely won according to all three judges but not according to most fans watching. What we won’t debate is that we got a hugely compelling battle, one with momentum shifts, a knockdown and tactical excellence — high-level boxing at nearly its best.
Because it wasn’t 100 percent clear who deserved to win the HBO Pay-Per-View light heavyweight contest, we probably don’t emerge with a clear new pound-for-pound champ, as some thought we might. You know what would settle that? Doing it again, a decision every fan can probably live with.
Things looked awful for Ward early. He was hurt by a jab in the 1st round. He got dropped hard by a counter right hand in the 2nd. And through nearly the halfway point, despite Ward making some adjustments in the 3rd that perhaps saw him win that round and the 5th, Kovalev was outboxing Kovalev in toto. Ward couldn’t seem to pull the trigger, was getting roughed up, and wasn’t finding the distance on his bigger punches.
Slowly but surely, though, Ward began to adjust his spacing and timing, and he began to land heavy body shots and sharp jabs. He was doing what Ward does best: controlling. And with his nose bloodied and ribcage throbbing, Kovalev faded. His punches no longer were so frightening, and he wasn’t winning the grapples anymore when they got tied up. You can argue that Kovalev won the 10th (this writer says “no”) and the 12th (this writer says “yes” — he was landing the hellacious body shots that round).
What it came down to was two halves controlled by each fighter, with a pair of rounds each that you could’ve swapped to the loser of each half. Oh, and a knockdown. So it’s obvious why the majority seemed to lean Kovalev. This scribe scored it 115-112 for Kovalev. All three judges scored it 114-113 for Ward.
It wasn’t a hideous outcome. It really was a fight that could’ve gone either way. But with all three judges being American, and the apparent consensus in the arena and on social media tapping Kovalev for the victory, it’s somewhat upsetting. Kovalev didn’t protest too much but made his opinion clear, and played to the audience. “Witnesses are here,” he said with his trademark wry Russian wit.
It’s the kind of fight that demands a rematch, even if Ward should come in as the clear favorite based on how he eventually figured out and defused Kovalev. Ward said he’s game. Kovalev apparently has a rematch clause.
We can be upset about the final outcome. But it’s hard to be too upset when we get such a terrific fight. This exceeded all expectations. In a year for boxing that really only ever got started in the summer, we just got one of the big highlights of 2016.
(LAS VEGAS — Andre Ward lands a left to the head of Sergey Kovalev of Russia during their light heavyweight bout at T-Mobile Arena on Nov. 19; Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)