By Joshua Blessman: Over this past weekend, Andre “SOG” Ward (32-0, 16 Kos) was declared victorious over Sergey “The Krusher” Kovalev (30-2-1, 26 KOs) in a controversial finish. This was their second meeting in the ring, with Ward winning the first fight by a very slim margin, only 1 point on all three judges’ score cards. Two huge issues have emerged in the second fight, whether or not the punch that led to Ward’s TKO stoppage of Kovalev was an illegal low blow under the unified rules of boxing and whether Tony Weeks, the referee of the bout, failed to make the correct call.
In my judgement, it clearly was an illegal punch and Week’s did not make the right decision. A HBO replay supports these assertions. Kathy Duva, Sergey Kovalev’s promoter from Main Events, was infuriated at the post-press conference interview expressing to the media and fans in attendance that the stoppage was illegal. Her concerns and outrage are justified. The last punch of the fight appeared to be clearly below the belt and the referee seemed to fail to take appropriate action.
Unfortunately, boxing received a huge black eye when Jim Lampley and Max Kellerman, two of HBO’s commentators for the fight, stamped Weeks’ decision as legitimate. Weeks is a highly respected referee in the boxing community, but, the video replay shows that he prematurely stopped the Ward v Sergey Kovalev 2 rematch in Ward’s favor, giving Ward an undeserved 8th round TKO victory at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. It is my belief that Lampley or Kellerman did or said nothing to change this injustice, but rather claimed the stoppage to be legit. Duva is justified in her outrage and this decision should be protested.
Under the rules concerning low blows, Andre Ward, the declared winner of the bout, should have received a warning or been deducted a point for the final punch of the fight, a punch clearly below the belt. Then, Sergey Kovalev should have been allowed time to recover and the most important prize fight in boxing with respect to the pound for pound rankings should have continued. Instead, in my view, the fight was illegally stopped after a low blow and a boxing injustice prevailed. In the post-fight conference, Duva said she will protest the fight. Her protests need to be heard and Kovalev should be given a third opportunity to prove himself.
HBO commentators, Lampley and Kellerman, went to great lengths to be “objective” and make sure that the viewers understood what the correct outcome should have been in the Guillermo Rigondeoux vs. Moises “Chucky” Flores fight, the final undercard bout. In that fight, the issue was if Rigondeoux illegally knocked out his opponent by hitting him after the bell in the 1st round. But then, when it came to the main event between Ward and Kovalev, it looked as though Lampley and Kellerman reverted back to the old American way of letting the public believe something that is not true. They told the American people the blow Ward dished out to finish Kovalev was legal even though the replay clearly demonstrated the punch was a low blow. They failed to look deep into the issue like in the Rigondeoux fight. To me, they got it wrong. They led the boxing public to believe that the Ward victory in the 2nd fight was legitimate when it was not in my view. HBO puts out the replays and these commentators work for HBO. So, the argument that they could not see the replay, even though they played it to a national audience, does not hold merit.
Andre Ward has yet to cleanly beat the “Krusher” Sergy Kovelev. In my opinion, he lost to the Krusher in their first fight and in the second fight Ward got away with a low blow that lead to his victory. The low blow being the last punch that caused the fight to be stopped.
My scorecard in the first fight showed 114-113 for Kovalev. All three judges in that fight gave the 10th round to Ward even though Kovalev seemed to decisively win the round. Ward demonstrated the heart off a true champion in that fight. He hit the canvas in round 2 and Kovalev still came at him hard. This enormous pressure mounted against Ward still did not sway his commitment. He got up off the canvas, stayed in it, and kept fighting. Ward took advantage of the situation after Kovalev gassed out in the 5th round. Kovalev lost the steam in his punches and Ward turned the heat up and upgraded his game. Changing his form to reflect the true tactician within.
Ward started throwing the harder punches in the later half of the fight and was able to dominate Kovalev with hard clean shots to the head and the body. Because the wind was out of Kovalev sails, Kovalev looked neutralized and unable to capitalize on his debilitating power that knocked out so many of his opponents in the past.
Despite a great showing by Ward in the second half of the fight and clearly winning most of the later rounds, Kovalev stepped up his activity in the 10th round in their first fight last November and fought back hard. Kovalev was the clear aggressor in the 10th round and he landed the harder cleaner shots. Kovalev’s one-round comeback in the 10th should have been enough, under all the judges’ scorecards, for Kovalev to win the fight, especially given the knockdown in the second round and that, although Ward looked much stronger in the second half, a few of the rounds were close and could have gone either way.
The second fight was much different. Ward was spectacular and showed true championship caliber, but, in my opinion, his win was seriously tainted because of the questionable stoppage. In the beginning rounds of the second fight, Ward had a much better showing. Going into the 8th round, where the fight was stopped, I had the fight 4 round to 3 for Ward. This was consistent with 2 of the 3 judges finals scores going into the last round. It was a back and forth spectacle, both fighters putting it all on the line. Although, according to the punch statistics throughout the fight, Kovalev was throwing and landing more punches and was the aggressor, Ward looked to be hitting Kovalev with the harder, cleaner shots. These punches clearly had a an impact on Kovalev. In the 8th round, Ward hit Kovalev with a monster right hand straight down the middle that wobbled Kovalev and then, after putting Kovalev on the ropes, Ward went to the body for the finish. An amazing showing by Ward no doubt.
The issue with Ward’s spectacular display of boxing intelligence is that the last punch that ended Kovalev was clearly below the belt. This was clearly shown on one of the replays. This replay, from my perspective, also showed that the final punches, including the last punch, was in view of Tony Weeks. While, even admitted by Kovalev, many of the body punches that Ward dished out to Kovalev were on the belt or borderline, the final punch that closed the fight was unmistakably below the belt from Week’s view. Thus, the fight should have not been stopped and Kovalev should have had time to catch his breath and then continue the fight. Therefore, what should have been the true outcome of this fight is uncertain. Kathy Duva is justified in being outraged in the decision, Lampley and Kellerman got it wrong, and Kovalev deserves another shot to get his belts back.