by Brian Donnellon
Andre Ward (31-0 15 KO) rallied from an early knockdown to claim a controversial win against previously unbeaten Sergey Kovalev (30-1-1 26 KO) to be crowned WBA, WBO and IBF World Middleweight Champion and the pound-for-pound king in Las Vegas’s T-Mobile Arena.
In the pre-fight buildup pundits and experts alike were nearly unanimously expecting Ward’s superior boxing skills to overawe the Russian fighter coming into the fight with a massive knockout record. In the early rounds, it was Kovalev that dictated tempo and the style of the fight as he fired his jab out with venom to keep Ward at bay. A long straight right over the top caught Ward flush and sent him to the canvas in the second round.
Ward struggled to deal with the heavy-handed punches from Kovalev until the middle rounds when Kovalev’s work rate began to slow up. Ward starting finding his range by getting inside Kovalev’s guard and heavy body punches saw a resurgence from the American. Kovalev kept to his gameplan and looked for power to the head. While Ward was rallying Kovalev stayed landing the heavier shots.
Ward’s corner obviously thought he was down on the scorecard as they demanded more from him in the later rounds and, as the final bell went, Kovalev seemed the happier of the two. The judges all scored the bout 114-113 in favour for Ward.
Kovalev was clearly annoyed with the decision and stated “It’s the wrong decision. But I don’t want to give my opinion. Everybody is here, witnesses are here, everybody saw what happened,” he said. “He got maybe a few rounds. But not the whole fight. I kept control. I lost maybe three rounds. I’m a guest here in the USA and he’s a local, and all the judges are from the USA. I agree they support their boxer but honestly, this is sport. Don’t make it like politics.” The crowd seemed to believe that Ward had not won the bout. This was not the first controversial decision of the night favoring the American fighters, and the all American judges will be under serious scrutiny. Kovalev is said to have activated his rematch clause and the second fight of this should be very interesting.
Top fighters are often said to avoid each other because there are so many world titles in each weight means they don’t have to risk beating the best to become champion, and with this being the biggest fight of the year and only the third time that two previously unbeaten top 10 pound for pound fighters have fought each other the boxing officials have work to do to rebuild their tarnished reputation. No top European fighter will be keen to fight an American in the US after the debatable decision and makes it difficult for unification fights to occur.