LAS VEGAS >> Twenty rounds ago, Sergey Kovalev was boxing’s pre-eminent dragon, a beast who bloodied people for sport.
Two fights with Andre Ward have not only tamed Kovalev. They have reduced him.
On Saturday night he was on one knee as referee Tony Weeks waved his hands in adjournment, and Ward kept the three light-heavyweight championships he took from Kovalev last November.
Kovalev had little to say afterward. The people around him did.
Promoter Kathy Duva, angrily facing a “press conference” that was populated with Ward fans, said it was “inconceivable” that Kovalev could lose on “all those low blows in a row,” and promised to appeal the decision to the Nevada State Athletic Commission.
Good luck with that. Weeks did separate Ward and Kovalev twice and advised Ward to keep his punches off Kovalev’s trunks, but the shot that began Kovalev’s demise in the eighth round landed right on the beltline. It was followed by a wicked right-hand shot to the jaw, and Kovalev, who had doubled over in pain twice already in the round, took another barrage to the midsection and went down.
“They can talk about the low blows but there were rabbit punches that he threw, too,” Ward said. “He was grabbing the back of my head. But it’s amazing how people are always going to say something. He’s a quality fighter. I’m blessed to get this win, but I thought it would happen. I was a lot better prepared this time.”
Duva was also suspicious of Guillermo Rigondeaux’s first-round knockout of Moises Torres, which preceded Ward-Kovalev. Referee Vic Drakulich was just getting in between the two fighters at the bell when Rigondeaux’s left hand crashed into Torres’ head. Torres fell, although some felt he was flopping to prompt a disqualification. Drakulich ruled it a knockout, and state commission officials huddled before they supported the ref’s decision, instead of giving Rigondeaux a no contest or even disqualifying him.
“It’s not fair,” said Flores, who is 25-1. “It’s clear that the bell rang. He didn’t throw a punch the whole round. Then he threw that one when my hands were down.”
Rigondeaux is promoted by RocNation, as is Ward. And ESPN reported on Sunday the Nevada commission was prepared to give Rigondeaux a no-contest victory.
All week Kovalev had said he lost last November’s decision because he was overtrained. He changed conditioning coaches for that purpose. It didn’t work.
“I thought he started fading at about the same point he did last time,” Ward said.
“He got worn down by a lot of the holding and, of course, the low blows,” said John David Jackson, Kovalev’s trainer. “He started out really well with the jab. Then he got away from it too much.”
And Ward emphasized that he was dealing with as much remorse as Kovalev was.
“I wasn’t healthy during the last camp,” he said. “We didn’t say anything about it. But there were a couple of times when I was crying, because I thought we’d have to postpone the fight. I sparred 107 rounds for the first fight. I sparred 123 this time, against four different guys.
“I looked back at the fight and I thought, dude, you just gave away some rounds. I was posing. In there and getting hit. I wasn’t moving. Tonight, every time I stopped moving, Virg (trainer Virgil Hunter) kept telling me to move my feet. I had to give him different looks. I had to feign things, I had to be careful, and there were times I had to attack. I didn’t want him to be comfortable and I don’t think he was.”
So Kovalev becomes the 31st and 32nd fighter to have a bad night against Ward, who has never lost and now has a legitimate chance to retire unbeaten. Some thought the swansong would begin immediately. Ward wasn’t talking that way Saturday night.
“Virg and I have been talking about moving up for a long time,” Ward said. “I always do well against bigger fighters. I have enough stamina and I’m stronger than people think. I’ve thought about going cruiserweight. Heavyweight? Hey, you have to be able to dream.”
It’s not like Ward has conquered all worlds at 175 pounds. Dmitry Bivol fought on this card and destroyed Cedric Agnew in three rounds. Adonis Stevenson has a belt and just disposed of Andrzej Fonfara. Artur Beterbiev is a dangerous fellow. Joe Smith Jr. and Sullivan Barrera fight in The Forum next month and the winner will be an attractive match for someone.
There’s nobody marketable at cruiserweight, and hardly anybody who doesn’t come from behind the former Iron Curtain. Oleksandr Usyk has the top reputation. To Ward he just resembles a bigger dragon.