By Marc Livitz: As 2016 comes to a close, many within the boxing world can wholeheartedly agree that the sport handed us several memorable contests as well as a few to truly savor. The group of writers here at SecondsOut have spoken as part of the site’s annual poll and voted in favor of last November’s eagerly anticipated showdown between Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev for light heavyweight supremacy as the "Fight of the Year". When the bout was officially announced this past August, some fans scratched their respective heads, only this time with good reason. Rather than waiting five, six or even seven years for a bout of such high significance to take place, November 19, 2016 gave fans a night to remember, yet for various reasons. The sport of boxing is not always without its fair share of controversy and depending on who is asked, the newly opened T-Mobile Arena on the Las Vegas Strip hosted either a razor thin victory or a plain sighted robbery.
There was a time not so long ago when boxing fans didn’t know whether or not Andre Ward would ever fight again. Promotional as well as contractual hang ups resulted in a near two year ring hiatus for the Oakland, California native. Not long after he won the "Super Six" super middleweight tournament final over Carl Froch in December of 2011, Ward fought only once in 2012, once in 2013 and didn’t return until the summer of 2015. Meanwhile, Kovalev was busy laying waste to the light heavyweight division with resounding wins over such names as Bernard Hopkins in late 2014 (UD 12) and two knockout victories against Jean Pascal in March 2015 and January 2016, respectively. Ward returned to effectively fight three tuneup contests in just over one year’s time and he did so in front of hometown fans in Oakland at the Oracle Arena, the home of the NBA’s Golden State Warriors. When his walk-in-the park, routine victory over Alexander Brand was completed last August, the triumphant Ward was greeted in the ring by none other than Sergey Kovalev. The two men shook hands and the die had then been cast for November.
A crowd of just over 13,000 descended upon the sparkling new T-Mobile arena for the second boxing event in the building’s brief history. The WBA, WBO and IBF light heavyweight belts were at stake for the two undefeated combatants. At the time, Kovalev boasted an absolutely staggering eighty seven percent knockout percentage to compliment his record of 30 wins without a loss and one solitary draw. 2004 Olympic gold medalist Ward, on the other hand was seen more as a master tactician and carried a 30 win ledger as well, yet with far fewer knockouts at 15. Oddsmakers and boxing scribes alike were hard pressed to find a definitive pick for this one. Many were of the opinion that Kovalev’s best shot at a win was a knockout, while Ward’s most favorable chances were via a points victory. The most comforting aspect from the beginning of it all was that the best were truly fighting the best. No facades, no excuses and most importantly, this was a fight fan’s dream...sort of.
The opening round, not surprisingly was much of a feel out period yet the second would ultimately be where most would argue the tipping point should have stood at the end of the bout. With a bit over forty seconds to go in the second, Kovalev connected with a well placed, straight right to the face of his Northern California adversary. Andre went to the canvas for the first time in his twelve year professional career. After he rose to his feet, "S.O.G." Ward appeared to lose the first four, perhaps five rounds of the contest. Shortly thereafter, he began to show his championship mettle, yet he’d do so in his own way. Although he landed perhaps one very important shot in the seventh round, the bout became a slow, dragged out affair with plenty of tying as well as clenching on the part of Andre Ward. At times, the crowd voiced their apparent disapproval. Still, he managed to connect on the more eye pleasing punches.
Did Kovalev possibly allow his nerves to get the best of him and was he a bit surprised that Ward got up from the second round knockdown and only seemed to improve thereafter? Regardless, many should have been pleased with the ring smarts, intelligence and savvy shown by the two men. At the conclusion of the HBO pay TV telecast in the United States, the network’s unofficial scorekeeper, Harold Lederman saw the bout 116-111 for Kovalev. It would have been very easy to give some of the close rounds to the Russian knockout artist and of course, the all important knockdown seemed to carry the bulk of the weight in terms of a decision. Likewise, there’s no doubt that many stopped watching the fight itself and started to watch Ward from round three onward. He did, after all seem to take Sergey’s best shot and rose up to fight his way out of trouble.
This writer himself scored the bout 115-112 for Sergey Kovalev but even before the only numbers which mattered were announced, a slight nod in favor of Ward seemed possible, if not plausible. Burt Clements, Glenn Trowbridge and John McKaie saw the latter and were in agreement as they scored the contest a 114-113 win for Andre Ward across the board. It really was easy, through not very easy to see the contest leaning either way. Kovalev scored the knockdown, yes but did not score the knockout. That may have made a bigger difference than we’ll soon realize.
Although some may disagree as to whether or not the light heavyweight championship clash between Ward and Kovalev was year’s best fight and it’s not hard to see that side of the argument, the process of elimination can be of good service here. We were able to see two of the world’s top, pound for pound best. The event itself was tagged as "Pound for Pound" as well. There was no back and forth soap opera over VADA testing, social media videos, lawsuits and/or accusations of cheating. We asked and they delivered. So, two of the world’s absolute best met in the ring and showed why they’re among those who occupy the sport’s pinnacle. They each showed uncanny ring smarts and brought the best out of the other. Ward made Kovalev box and Kovalev pushed Ward to fight, for the most part.
SecondsOut salutes Andre Ward’s win over Sergey Kovalev as 2016’s Fight of the Year.
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December 24, 2016