It wasn’t pretty, but it was masterful.
Last night at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada in front of a sold out crowd and captive pay-per-view audience, Andre “S.O.G.” Ward defined his career in 12 rounds by defeating Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev and picking up the IBF, WBO and WBA light heavyweight titles.
Although the unanimous decision victory stoked the ire of many who saw the bout as a split decision victory that could have went in either direction, he handled it with the grace and confidence that has become his signature.
“What a beautiful thing! We did it baby! It's a lot of hardware,” said Ward post-fight. “Surreal! This is what I set out to do. Now I'm a 5-time World Champion in two weight classes. Man, it's amazing!”
Early, the fight was rough going for Ward, who finally felt the bruising power of Kovalev’s right hand and the bullying prowess of his technique. It all culminated quickly in the second round when Ward was put on the canvas by a straight right from his Russian opponent.
It was then that the crowd and momentum seemed to favor Kovalev, who looked his usual aggressive self. The third and fourth round proved much the same and the tone was that Ward, who for his whole career had been so dominant and so intelligent within the ring, would now suffer his first defeat since he was a 12-year old amateur.
“Technically, there is always stuff I can pick apart,” said Ward in the post-fight media scrum. “I'm not happy about that second round knockdown but I didn't panic. I was at peace. Now, it was time to fight. It was a flash knockdown. I wasn't hurt by it. As a matter of fact, I wasn't hurt by anything he threw.”
There is a quote that sits on a huge poster on the wall of the Mayweather Boxing Club next to an image of its owner that reads, “ a true champion can adapt to anything.”
Ward proved an adherent to this adage by the 5th round, as he totally turned the fight around with the ring generalmanship he's known for. The changes were made both on Ward’s side and Kovalev’s, with the latter quitting the exceptional use of his right hand. Ward began expertly measuring the distance and angles, changing the way the fight was fought.
Even though Kovalev kept his forward march, Ward continuously spun and slipped out of harms way. Also, Ward’s jab began to land. According to CompuBox, Ward landed 32.7 percent of his jabs while Kovalev landed just 19.8 percent. Kovalev threw 137 more punches, but landed just 10 more, as Ward repeatedly made him miss over the second half.
Ward won the bout 114-113 on all three judges scorecards. Judges John McKaie and Glenn Trowbridge had it even, 104-104, after 11, and both gave Ward the 12th.
Judge Burt Clements had Ward up 105-103 and gave Kovalev the 12th.Kovalev would have won the bout had all three judges scored the 12th for him. That would have given him a split-decision win.
“This is a good feeling,” said Ward’s trainer, Virgil Hunter. “We were careless with that knockdown but we landed the cleaner punches. Kovalev was aggressive but not effective and that's why we got this win. I'm happy for Andre.”
As expected, Kovalev and his promoter Kathy Duva of Main Events, were not happy with the decision, blaming referee Robert Byrd for allowing Ward to clinch with Kovalev too frequently. However, it was in those moments that Ward utilized his inside punches to further exert his dominance.
Kovalev has a rematch clause in the contract and it is certain that they will use it.
“It was about those in the trenches moments. Sergey has no inside game. So my mid-range and inside game is what I focused on,” said Ward during the post-fight interview. “After that second-round knockdown, I think he realized I wasn't going anywhere and I was stepping on the gas.”
With the focus on the great matches being made in the welterweight division, it is awesome to see the other divisions rounding out the boxing game and one of its brightest lights and Olympic gold medalists finally take his rightful place in the center.
Andre Ward is most certainly “The Best Ever” today and boxing is better off because of it.