Aftermath: Kovalev vs Ward
(Art by Amanda Kelley @kelley_AK)
Andre Ward eked out a razor thin unanimous decision against Sergey Kovalev on Saturday night in Las Vegas, leading to much debate and discussion ringside and around the world. In the aftermath, Boxing Monthly had some burning questions we wanted answering. Callum Rudge, Michael Montero, James Oddy and Chris Williamson from our online team provided their answers and agreement was hard to come by ...
BM: All three judges went for Ward, but how did you score the fight and what was your assessment of the action in the ring?
CR: I scored it 115-111 for Ward which looks a tad wide and I imagine if I watched it again (I won't!) I might give another round or two to Kovalev. After a close opening half of the fight, I thought Ward put a lot of the later rounds in the bank. He took a while to find his range but once he did, it was all S.O.G.
MM: I felt Kovalev clearly won, see my reaction video from ringside just minutes after the decision. Either 116-111 or 115-112 Kovalev. A bad decision in Vegas, but I predicted this result in my breakdown video.
JO: I watched the fight late and saw the scorecards before I watched it, which I think made me biased. As such I didn't score it, but I felt Kovalev bossed the early rounds, the middle rounds were nip and tuck, then Ward finished very strong. I think if I were to score it live I'd have picked Ward, just. I felt his work was cleaner and crisper.
CW: I LOVED the fight. It was everything I love about boxing. High stakes, high skill level, changes in momentum, a terrific atmosphere and engrossing mix of styles. If championship fights were scored on body of work through 36 minutes I'd have scored for Kovalev, since his moments in the fight were collectively more dominant. Since we score fights as a collection of individual rounds though, I scored it 114-113 for Ward - the same as the judges - although my card wasn't exactly the same as any individual judge. I saw the first five all for Kovalev and last seven for Ward. Reading that seems almost absurd, but of course you judge each round as its own separate contest and for me Ward won each of those last rounds, some close (such as the sixth where a couple of hard body shots swung it) some clearer (such as the ninth where Kovalev looked as ragged as Ward did sharp, as the American displayed world-class footwork). Kovalev started superbly, especially that second round where it looked as though S.O.G. wouldn't handle the Russian's power. Even through rounds three to five Ward was gaining composure and a measure of control while Kovalev was still edging each round. So after five rounds on my card Ward had to win every single remaining stanza to become champion, and in totalling my scorecard, that's exactly what he did.
BM: Do you think some boxing fans and members of the media have been too quick to call this a 'robbery'? Weren't a lot of those rounds pretty close and hard to call?
CR: Yes absolutely, one respected writer called it the "worst robbery I've ever seen". Rios vs Abril is on the phone and taking serious exception to that. Even though I scored it for Ward, I expected Kovalev to get the decision and wouldn't have been mad if he did. The rounds were very, very close and really hard to score, which is probably why my card looks so off kilter with the closeness of the fight.
MM: 'Robbery' may not be the best word, as this was a close, competitive fight. But many fans might use the word "biased", as American referee Robert Byrd and all three American judges seemed to give Andre Ward the benefit of the doubt throughout.
JO: I think boxing does have plenty of duff calls, and the fans and media should point out what they see. That being said, in this instance, 'robbery' is hyperbolic in my opinion. Perhaps contentious is a better term for the decision. If the scorecards had been much wider I'd have agreed, but it was a tight affair and the cards reflect that.
CW: If it was a robbery then given my scorecard where is my share of the loot?!? Spectators can have their own view on this or any fight but to dismiss the opinions of others hints at arrogance, while anger over those opinions hints at worse! Everyone has favourites and while I love Sergey like a lovable if slightly-unhinged cousin, based on scoring each round as a mini-fight, he lost a close decision. The rounds were close, particularly in the second half of the fight, and if it was as acceptable today as yesteryear to score even rounds, the nod may have gone to 'Krusher'. With all that said, fights are best scored from ringside, where the sound of punches and view of the action is unfiltered by television (even 4k - whatever that is - isn't as clear as being there) and Michael Montero is a voice I respect. Michael also makes a great point about the officials' nationality, which really needs overhauling. In an event where the national anthems are sung before the event - as pretty and as loud as Lorena Peril is - to appoint all four officials from the same country as a competitor is beyond absurd.
BM: This fight was billed as 'pound for pound' does what happened change your own pound for pound rankings?
CR: I would now have Ward at number two pound for pound after getting the W over Kovalev with Sergey at three. Regardless of the decision, neither did enough to go past Chocolatito whose stellar win over Carlos Cuadras did enough to keep him at number one. I wasn't expecting either to top Chocolatito, only a emphatic win would've possibly done that.
MM: Based on this decision, Roman 'Chocolatito' Gonzalez remains the pound for pound king.
JO: I'd say Ward still stays second because Roman Gonzalez is a superb and complete fighter in almost every regard. Hopefully Gonzalez and Naoya Inoue will follow Ward and Kovalev's lead and square off soon...
CW: Ward takes Sergey's place (at number two) in my list. Kovalev drops just one spot to make room for the new champ. So my top three is exactly the same as Callum's, with Roman Gonzalez remaining top dog.
BM: Where do you see both fighters going from here? A rematch clause exists - if we see a sequel what happens?
CR: A rematch definitely happens next, if only because there isn't much else for either to find elsewhere. Outside of lineal champion Adonis Stevenson, 175 isn't a division packed with quality. So expect a rematch and I expect Ward to win bigger.
MM: Kathy Duva of Main Events made it very clear after the fight that Team Kovalev would seek an immediate rematch, but don't be surprised if Ward does everything in his power to kick the can down the road and delay a rematch as long as possible.
JO: Personally I'd love to see a rematch. It was a brilliant fight, with two elite level boxers going toe to toe. In contrast to say, Mayweather vs Pacquiao, I was engaged for all 12 rounds. Could Kovalev get to Ward again? Would Ward begin to string together more punches? If the two meet again, how will they adapt? Will they adapt? Failing that, light heavy does have some really good fights to be made. Adonis Stevenson has almost become an afterthought but is a good challenge (although I don't think he beats either man). Artur Beterbiev, Eleider Alvarez and Oleksandr Gvozdyk all look promising moving forward. I don't think he'd beat Ward but Nathan Cleverly's volume punching style would also mesh nicely with S.O.G.'s more conservative approach.
CW: It seems clear they'll rematch as Main Events have already started drafting the letter to assert their contractual right to it. As with Santa-Cruz vs Frampton, this is a high quality match I'll happily see played out again. While rematch clauses generally grind my gears, this one leaves them as smooth as if they rolled off the factory floor. Regarding a rematch, Virgil Hunter really impressed me by calmly but firmly inspiring his pupil that he must pull out those late rounds. I scribbled after the eleventh that Hunter pleaded, "Show you [are] the dog 'Dre". And he did. Interestingly, both can find improvements in a rematch. Most obviously, the new champion can begin much more composed and seek to avoid a torrid round like the second. Kovalev might work on cutting the ring more effectively and study with John David Jackson how Ward managed to evade his attacks, often marginally, and adjust training accordingly. Like Callum I'd love to see Adonis Stevenson fight one of these two, if only to make the KRONK shorts he wears seem more appropriate and remove any doubt about who the champ really is. And James, with regard to the Nathan Cleverly suggestion, I'd suggest the Ed makes you watch a full day of Ortiz vs Scott on loop as punishment. Give me strength! ;)
BM: What has this fight done for each fighter's future legacy?
CR: For Ward the win adds depth to a career that had come off the tracks after the Chad Dawson victory. Regardless of how you scored it, it's hard to begrudge Ward this after the journey he's been on with his family issues, injuries and promotional problems. As for Kovalev, this doesn't do much for his legacy, there's enough people out there that believe he won to not adversely effect his standing in the sport. If he loses the rematch and things will change a tad.
MM: This bout did little to elevate either fighter, and an immediate rematch is absolute necessary to determine a decisive winner.
JO: I was of the opinion that Ward was borderline Hall of Fame worthy as it was, having beaten a 'who's who' at super middle, as well as being such a versatile and fluid boxer. I really hope he now doesn't rest on his laurels - he is a wonderful talent and, regardless of why he has had periods of inactivity, I want to see as much of him as possible before he hangs up those gloves. Boxing politics means he probably won't be able to unify the division, but cleaning up the 'best of the rest' would further cement his legacy. As for Kovalev, I believe he will come back, and come back strong. Despite being the older of the two, he comes across as fresher, at least to me. I believe he could win a rematch if it happens. And even it it doesn't, Kovalev's willingness to fight seemingly anyone, anywhere, will continue to endear him the sport's hardcore fan base. Ultimately, i think both men come out of the fight with reputations enhanced - both wanted to prove they were the best, and weren't afraid to risk plenty to do so. The fact they carried themselves with dignity, for the most part, certainly adds to my feeling of admiration for the pair.
CW: Both legacies are enhanced, particularly Ward's. I reserve special status for a champion who can fight back from adversity to win against quality opposition (see Moore, Holmes and Leonard for example), which is absolutely what we witnessed. I expected Kovalev to win a convincing decision and at the half-way point anticipated the prediction to come good. The boxing world loves the welter and middleweights of the 80s because they fought each other in cracking bouts. Hearns and Benitez are revered because they dared take on a prime Leonard and bared their souls in doing so. This bout isn't quite in that rare category but both men walk away bigger in the aftermath of a superb contest.
Further reaction and scores:
Ward 114-113 for me. A very close fight though. Ward's adjustments in the second half saw him squeak home on my card. - Mark Butcher
I had it 114-113 Kovalev. There were obviously a couple of rounds which I could have scored either way (and thus, to Ward) which could have turned-in a Ward-winning card. However, overall I feel Kovalev won a tight fight. - Colin Harris
117-111 Kovalev - Andrew Harrison
114-113 Kovalev - John Angus MacDonald
114-113 Kovalev - Danny Winterbottom
I felt that from the third round on, Ward edged more rounds. There was not much in it and I didn’t keep a round by round score. I expected anything after 12 and was not surprised with the decision, nor disappointed. Other than the knockdown, neither boxer was hurt or in trouble for the final ten rounds. Neither suffered significant damage, and neither landed too many punches. I did enjoy the fight though (as a tactics geek and Rigo lover!) and would happily watch a rematch. Ward turned the fight and made it into his style, with wrestling, holding, etc. Kovalev had a big size and power advantage, he should have put foot down and will be kicking himself - he should’ve won. - Martin Chesnutt