By Derek Gionta, ringside at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas:
Andre "S.O.G." Ward defeated Sergey "Krusher" Kovalev on Saturday night by a close unanimous decision at Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena by three identical scores of 114-113. A crowd of 13,000-plus in attendance at the newly constructed arena witnessed a fight that many saw as a 50/50 match-up going in, with a controversial ending going out.
Ward, 31-0 (15), of Oakland, California, hit the canvas for just the second time in his career from a Kovalev right hand that has ended many fights early for the Russian star, 30-1-1 (26).
Ward kept his composure going back to his game plan and sweeping the final six rounds on two of the judges’ scorecards, and seven of the last eight on the other.
A 2 to 1 betting favorite before the opening bell, Ward quickly found himself at a disadvantage.
A close opening round looked to have gone Kovalev’s way as he brought the action to Ward.
The second round was a scare for the Ward camp, as Kovalev landed a clean right hand to the face of Ward as the S.O.G. looked to landed a right hand of his own. Kovalev’s slight reach advantage got him to the target first and sent Ward to the canvas. Ward held on and survived the round.
The ensuing round was the Oakland native’s best by this point. He was more effective with his left hand, jabbing to the face and torso of Kovalev while clinching in spurts when the hard-hitting Russian would look to set up. Ward snuck in effective body shots throughout many of the clinches. Kovalev continued to let his hands go enough to steal the round on two of the judges’ cards.
Much of the same continued in the following two rounds as the fight neared its midpoint, with the outcome still in doubt. Clinching, holding, and both combatants rabbit punching filled a number of gaps.
By the end of the sixth round, there were enough "swing rounds" following the knockdown that could have been scored in either direction. This multiplied the number of pieces in the infamous scoring puzzle.
Ward picked up the pace in the seventh, landing a jab, missing a follow-up right hand, and moments later placing a hard jab to the face of Kovalev drawing a good reaction from the pro-Ward crowd.
Kovalev snuck in a good left hand to the face of Ward late in the round as he shifted his body to the lead hand side of Ward.
Round eight was similar with neither fighter landing a signature punch to capitalize on the round.
These are the types of rounds that judges and ringside observers could score for Ward because this falls into his style of fighting, especially when Kovalev is not landing "crushing" blows that everyone is used to seeing.
The Krusher’s rounds in his favor were evident to the viewers, while Ward’s rounds were something you would need to look at closely with a keen eye.
Rounds nine through eleven were Andre Ward’s style, as he jabbed Kovalev and kept him from setting up with anything significant. Kovalev had a solid tenth round, while Ward capitalized the eleventh with a solid left hook to the head.
The fight was truly up for grabs. Scorecards indicated if two of the judges would have given Kovalev the twelfth and final round, the Russian would have retained his titles and kept his undefeated record in his pocket along with his two million dollar purse.
Ward looked to be the effective aggressor, shooting a solid overhand right, and following up shortly after, clinching and holding at times to avoid
Kovalev’s KO punch. Kovalev had his moments. As the round came to a close, Ward landed a body shot and walked back to his trainer Virgil Hunter in the corner.
Kovalev and trainer John David Jackson looked very confident and sure that they had won the fight as the scores were tallied.
Michael Buffer’s announcement drew cheers and boos from the crowd, and a number of raised eyebrows from the media at press level. Ward’s fans and a number of writers felt he won, in what truly was a toss-up. 114-113 or 115-112 either way were the scores shared afterwards among writers.
Well-known scribe Thomas Hauser saw the fight for Kovalev, as did former
HBO commentator Larry Merchant.
Merchant’s comment was, "Kovalev won the fight, Ward won the decision."
Paulie Malignaggi scored the fight 115-112 for Ward.
Former light heavyweight contender and professional trainer John "Ice Man" Scully felt it was very close and thought they would give Ward the decision.
Various other mixed reviews were shared among press level. A rematch is necessary.
Kovalev and his handlers were disappointed and felt they did enough to win.
"It’s the wrong decision," stated Kovalev.
"He got maybe a few rounds. I agree with that. I kept control. I lost maybe three rounds the whole fight."
Main Events chief Kathy Duva (Kovalev’s promoter) commented, "We’re very disappointed. We will lick our wounds and come back."
Duva also referred to another scoring controversy she was a part of when Sweet Pea Whitaker was given a draw against Julio Cesar Chavez at the Alamodome back in 1993.
"It’s not because the judges are from America because Pernell Whitaker was American and given a draw against Chavez when they fought here in the states. I’m not sure what it was tonight. I will not accuse anyone of anything, it’s just disappointing."
Andre Ward had different opinions at the post-fight press conference:
"I was not surprised when I heard the decision, I don’t know where you got that from," stated Ward.
"I know it was a close fight-the crowd, you can hear they thought I won."
Ward finished, "Of course I would do a rematch. I am not going to negotiate a fight right now, I will go home and relax and see what’s next" (with a reported five million dollar purse in his pocket).
You can bet the handlers of Kovalev will push for the immediate rematch.
Round by round punch stats were very close throughout, especially in the "swing rounds."
Total stats showed Ward as the more economical of the two, landing at a higher percentage (34 to 27 %), with Kovalev landing ten more total punches: 126-116.
In closing, this is not the first or last scoring controversy we have seen or will see moving forward. You can only hope when it does happen some sort of justice will be served. In this case, an immediate rematch.
November 20, 2016