Sunday, June 18, 2017

Big Fight Review: Andre Ward Vs Sergey Kovalev 2: Controversy As Ward Beats Kovalev In Battle of the Belt

Photo: CDN News

By Peter Silkov

Andre Ward (32-0, 16koes) and Sergey Kovalev (30-2, 25koes) battled last night, June 17,  for Ward's WBA, WBO, and IBF World light-heavyweight belts, at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.   Yet, it was Kovalev’s own belt-line, which was to become the focus of attention by the end of the contest. What had been brewing up nicely into a intriguing and competitive fight, fought at a good pace, ended suddenly, in a welter of controversy, leaving both fans and each fighter deprived of a conclusive and satisfying conclusion to this bitter 175 pound feud.

While it lasted, Ward vs Kovalev 2 was a better fight than their first encounter last November, with both men throwing more punches, and the action being far more energetic than the tense chess match we saw the first time round.
Kovalev, taking the role of challenger this time, started fast, and got his jab going early to good effect. Ward for his part also started much better than he did in the first fight, and seemed more inclined to fire punches, than he did in their first encounter.  There was less holding, and generally the fight was much better on the eye from the start.
As in their first match, Kovalev took the role of the aggressor, while Ward looked to employ his slippery boxing skills to dodge his opponent's attacks, and come back with his own counters.

Photo: Fight Hype
Again, as in their November clash, the action was close and at times, scoring could be decided by whose work you appreciated the best. Kovalev looked to have won the first 3 rounds pretty clearly with his high work rate and some good accuracy from his jab. Ward again came into the fight the longer it went on.  By the 4th round, he was landing some good counters, yet Kovalev still held the edge with work rate. 

By the 7th round the match was fascinatingly poised, with neither fighter having achieved a clear advantage. The action was physical, with both men taking turns to go to the body, and Ward showing the better defensive skills, while Kovalev was the more active offensively. 

However, the fight took a dramatic, and controversial turn in the 8th round. Early in the 8th round, a borderline blow to Kovalev’s beltline, had the challenger wincing, and claiming a low blow.  Referee Tony Weeks ignored Kovalev’s claim, as he had some previous claims of low blows earlier in the fight. After the action was waved on, Ward landed a hard right to the chin of the still unhappy Kovalev, visibly shaking him.  As he looked to recover his composure, Kovalev was bundled by Ward onto the ropes, where Ward proceeded to land three successive heavy blows that seemed to be quite a way below Kovalev’s beltline.  As Kovalev doubled over in obvious pain, referee Tony Weeks hastily got between the two boxers and called a halt to the fight.

The resulting controversy was immediate. Video of the finish shows that Ward's last blow was indisputably low, and that the previous two punches were highly dubious.  With this in mind, referee Weeks should have stopped the actions and administered a warning to Ward for the low blow or blows. Yet, even discounting the area where the blows might have landed upon Kovalev, the finish seemed highly premature.  Kovalev had not been down and was not taking the kind of punishment that would seem to be a threat to his health (unless you take into consideration the possible damage caused by punches in the balls.)

Photo: Washington Post
Amid much after fight controversy, the overall effect of the premature stoppage is that both fighters have been deprived of a satisfactory ending.While he was awarded the victory, Ward's triumph is once more shrouded in controversy, as was his poin'ts win over Kovalev last November. As for Kovalev, the stoppage deprived him of a victory that might have been his, had he been given his rightful chance to ride out the 8th round. Low blows should not win a fight, and on this occasion, that is what they have done. Ward may well have boxed his way to victory in the end had the fight been allowed to run its natural course. Unfortunately, no one will ever know this for sure, and so once more, these two men have fought to an unsatisfactory conclusion.

At the time of the ‘stoppage’ the three judges all had the fight close, with two scoring it 67 to 66 in favour of Ward, and the other judge having it 68-65 in favour of Kovalev. Once again boxing shot itself in the foot, with a match that started out as a great example of a genuine world title fight, between two world outstanding class boxers, descending into a myriad of controversy and suspicion. Once more the failure of the Nevada commission to supply either neutral judges, or a neutral referee for such an important and divisive contest, has to be called into question. Especially when the controversy always seems to adversely effect the ‘away’ fighter.

Photo: Metro News
In the fights aftermath, a stunned and devastated Kovalev said that he wants an instant rematch with Ward. The chances of this however seem exceedingly slim. It is unlikely that Ward will ever allow himself to be lured again into the same ring as Sergey Kovalev, and ‘The Krusher’ may find his future career path severely hampered from here.  

The truth is that Kovalev needs to take a hard look at the people surrounding him, and working for him in the run up to his fights with Ward, and decide if he needs to make some hard decisions in order to get his career back on track. If rumours concerning his purses are to be believed, Kovalev has been left with the short straw in both of his big matches with Ward, and has gone from being an exciting multi-belted world champion, to a ex-champion and deposed challenger, at a cut price rate.

Kovalev deserved better.

Kovalev’s camp is due to file a protest concerning the fights conclusion on Monday, but their chances of a positive outcome to this protest are probably about the same as Sergey’s chances of getting another match with Ward. 
In what was a night of controversy and chaos, the main supporting fight to Ward vs Kovalev ended in farce is when Guillermo Rigondeaux (18-0, 12koes) retained his WBA world super-bantamweight title, by knocking out his challenger after the bell to end the 1st round.  Rigondeaux had compete control of the short fight right from the start, as he showed some brilliant defensive skills to avoid the lanky Moises Flores (25-1, 17koes)  eager attacks, making his challenger look clumsy and awkward.  As the round approached its end, Guillermo started to throw punches of his own, with a dynamic accuracy. A brief exchange of punches between the two men ended with Rigondeaux landing a left-hook clearly after the bell, and Flores going down flat upon his back. After much deliberation by a dazzling array of officials and the referee, it was finally decided that the final punch was not intentional, and so ‘The Jackal’ was awarded the victory. It was another bittersweet outing for Rigondeaux. 

Photo: Bad Left Hook

As for Flores, his chance at the big time was over almost before it began, and he is probably still trying to figure out what actually happened to him.

Afterwards there was talk of Rigondeaux having showdowns with the likes of Vasyl Lomachenko and Roman Gonzalez.  While the Lomachenko match would be highly interesting, it is hard to see why the much smaller ‘Chocolatito’ should move up another two divisions to face Rigondeaux, especially when he has more than enough worthy opponents to face at his current weight of super-flyweight.

If anything those with ‘Chocolatito’s’ interests at heart might do well to persuade him to move back down to the flyweight division, where he seemed more comfortable and effective than where he is now.

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