3 Observations: What Did We Learn from the Andre Ward vs. Sergey Kovalev Rematch?
Observation 1: Andre Ward was the better man on Saturday night, is an all-time great and will undoubtedly be a first ballot hall of famer. In their first bout last November when Ward separated the seemingly invincible Kovalev from his world title belts, he did so by outboxing “The Krusher.”
Saturday night, Ward hurt Kovalev and wobbled him–whether legally or illegally. Ward penetrated Kovalev’s danger zone and hurt him with jabs, left hooks, over-the-top right hands and bruising body shots. It would be of surprise to no one that Ward can beat Kovalev in a boxing match, but few thought Ward would win a fight and hurt Kovalev.
Kovalev has been stunned before. There was the time he was dropped by in a flash knockdown by Blake Caparello in the first round when they met in Atlantic City in August of 2014. Kovalev shook it off well and went on to punish Caparello and punch his ticket to a showdown with Bernard Hopkins.
There was also the time in Montreal during the first bout with rival Jean Pascal when Pascal wobbled Kovalev’s legs with huge haymakers in the fifth round–causing Kovalev to cover up. Kovalev was able to recover quickly and got Pascal out of there a few rounds later.
Saturday night was a different story. Ward beat Kovalev up in an old fashion schoolyard dust up. Just like at 3:00 pm after school we saw headlocks, low blows, clean shots to the face and more low blows. The end result was the better fighter emerged victorious and the loser retreatedm, but no before yelling, “You’re lucky they broke it up!”
Observation 2: Until we see how the Canelo Alvarez-Gennady Golovkin fight plays out there’s no doubt about who is the best fighter in the sport based on resume and skill. Ward cleaned out the 168-pound division and can also clean out the 175-pound division if he cares enough to make a deal to face WBC champion, Adonis Stevenson.
Stevenson has been living and fighting above the border in recent years, feasting on sub-par competition and making Al Haymon money along the way. Ward earned a guarantee base of $5,000,000 for the first Kovalev bout and somehow earned $6,500,000 for the rematch. Ward is one of the smartest boxers both inside and outside the ring so the fact he commanded that sum of money is a testament to his ability to earn a living in the sport.
That being said, Ward will not get out of bed in the morning and think about a Stevenson bout unless he receives the same amount or even more and could be closing in on a $10,000,000. Adonis Stevenson by the way commands north of $1,000,000 per bout as well and although both fighters have people who will overpay them, neither side will pay that much and neither fighter has shown they care enough about the legacy to forgo the money to settle on a lower amount to unify a division.
Ward after all sued the late Dan Goossen to get out of the promotional contract and was willing to lose his prime years and threatened retirement. Ward now says he will consider moving to Cruiserweight or even Heavyweight and said that was a dream of his. Ward’s frame can put on the weight to compete with the heavies. If Ward finds a dance partner north of 200 pounds then he can find a path to a potential $10,000,000 payday.
Observation 3: Ward hit Kovalev below the belt line–the replay proves that. However, the real reason why the outcome is controversial is because referee Tony Weeks felt compelled to intervene and save a guy, not from repeated shots to the head, but from three body shots that while hurt Kovalev didn’t drop him.
The main reason why a referee would jump in and stop a fight is to protect a fighter from unnecessary shots to the head. If a fighter is deemed unable to defend himself by the referee they should save the fighter and call the bout and give the loser an opportunity to come back and fight another day. What happened on Saturday night was quite the opposite.
Yes, Kovalev was gassed. Yes, Kovalev was hurt by a right hand the face. Yes, Kovalev was on the ropes. The body shots that Ward was landing, while arguably low, were not enough to cause an end to the fight unless of course Kovalev would have fallen to his knees and been counted out.
In boxing when we see a fighter lose from a body shot they usually fall to the canvas and whither in great pain. What else? The referee counts them out. How many times have we seen a fighter dropped with a head shot and the referee doesn’t even bother counting because it’s all over.
However, when a fighter falls from a body shot the referee will count them out. For reference, I invite all to view Bernard Hopkins vs. Oscar De La Hoya, Gerald McCLellan vs. James Williamson, Micky Ward vs. Alfonso Sanchez, Arturo Gatti vs. Leonard Dorin, Ricky Hatton vs. Jose Luis Castillo and Gennady Golovkin vs. Matthew Macklin.
For good measure, watch Canelo Alvarez vs. Liam Smith. In those bouts, the loser drops to the floor as if shot by a bullet. Kovalev was hurt last night, no question about it. The referee Weeks’ correct course of action should have been either allow Ward to continue to hit Kovalev to the body until Kovalev falls and see if Kovalev can beat the count or break the action, issue Ward a warning for hitting low and give Kovalev up to five minutes to recover.
It is not clear if the outcome would have changed, but it would have given Kovalev a chance to either fight or fold.
All photos by Ed Mulholland/HBO