By Ben Sutherland: On Saturday night at Mandalay Bay in Vegas, boxing fans all over the world tuned in to see what many thought to be a decisive conclusion to one of 2017’s most bitter boxing rivalries between Andre “SOG” Ward and Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev. In what was in many ways was a similar fight to their first encounter, Ward and Kovalev left us with just as many questions as answers.
Once again, Kovalev was the aggressor in the opening exchanges, getting on his jab and trying to back Ward up. Once again we saw Ward on the back foot, seeing off the assault in his usual technical manner. Through six rounds it was anyone’s fight with the pundits and officials having the fighters more or less level. Then like the previous fight, Kovalev began to fade as Ward upped the ante. The 8th round saw a controversial stoppage featuring what appeared to be some very questionable shots to Kovalev’s lower body.
For my money, it isn’t exactly clear cut. The subjective nature of boxing certainly doesn’t help. I think it was fair to say that Kovalev was running out of steam, but he was still firing back and was ahead on one of the scorecards. At full speed, it is hard to tell exactly what happened but the abrupt nature of Kovalev’s deterioration in the seconds before Tony Weeks jumped in suggests there could have been foul play. The outcome of this fight certainly won’t do much to silence the army of Ward critics who will now brand him a dirty fighter. Whilst Ward’s profile is much higher coming out of this pair of fights, his reputation may have actually been tarnished. He has at least become one of the more divisive characters that boxing has produced in recent years.
Perhaps more interesting than the fight itself was the post-fight press conference. First to the podium were Team Kovalev lead by Kathy Duva. Duva didn’t pull any punches and to the anger of the Ward supporters in the room, claimed that Ward should have been disqualified for the low punches he threw. Kovalev then came to the podium and remarked that he “didn’t have metal balls” and referred to Ward has the “son of judges”. Duva said that she will be filing an appeal on Monday morning to try and overturn the decision. It will no doubt result in nothing and it could be argued this whole episode reflects pretty poorly on Kovalev and the rest of his team. Many will no doubt interpret what unfolded at a desperate attempt at making excuses to salvage Kovalev’s career. I think it is in fact incredibly savvy promotional work by Duva who to me, seems to be laying the groundwork for a third contest. The idea of trilogy had been mentioned before the fight by the likes of Bernard Hopkins and certainly provides a lucrative option for both fighters who have both experienced a significant elevation in profile and exposure following their two contests. Given the lack of decisiveness, despite the fact Ward is technically 2-0 up, I don’t think it would be hard to sell another rematch.
Team Ward then took their turn on the microphone. Following an initial rebuttal which dismissed Team Kovalev’s protests as excuses, conversation was deliberately turned away from the legality of punches. Most interestingly, Ward’s longtime trainer and mentor, Virgil Hunter, proclaimed that he would like to see his charge fight Anthony Joshua. Laughter and scoffs erupted through the worlds boxing media before there was a slow realization that Hunter, at least ostensibly, was serious. Hunter continued “I’m serious. I’m not playing, I’m serious. I think it would be a very interesting fight”. Ward is no doubt a very technically gifted boxer, but to say he could beat Anthony Joshua is absurd. Does he have better technical boxing skills than Joshua? No doubt. His Olympic gold medal at light heavyweight and his inside fighting style are evidence of this. However, if 175lbs of Sergey Kovalev put him on the canvas in their first fight, then what on earth is all 6’ 6” and 250lbs of Anthony Joshua going to do to him? Roy Jones Jr is just one example of a man who started his career at middleweight before slowly advancing up to the big boys. Whilst we must give well deserved respect to Roy Jones Jr for his bravery, I don’t think it’s controversial to say he was far from his best at heavyweight and it wasn’t much more than a publicity stunt. I put these Joshua comments down to delusional chat as a product of the emotional high of a high profile victory. However, Ward and Hunter will now no doubt be questioned further on this issue in the coming weeks.
This flows nicely into one of the most obvious questions coming out of rematch. What is next for both men? Ward is now confronted with a myriad of options. Given that he is entering the latter stages of his career he will now no doubt look for the biggest pay days he can find. As mentioned earlier, one of these could no doubt be a trilogy with Kovalev. The needle, genuine dislike and remaining questions mean it could be a big fight and especially profitable for Ward who would now very much have the bargaining power in any type of negotiations. Whilst moving to heavyweight seems like a stretch for the 6ft Californian, I wouldn’t rule out a fight at cruiserweight. Tony Bellew is now a household name, brings in big audiences and provides a diametrically opposing style to make an interesting fight. The prospect of Bellew’s grit and power against Ward’s technical ability and finesse is certainly an interesting one. Eddie Hearn loves a pound note and this has the makings of a mega fight. A potential unification with Adonis Stevenson was also floated at the post fight presser. However, Ward was pretty unwilling to discuss that option. Nathan Cleverly presents another possibility, but I doubt the regular version of the super WBA title Ward already owns balances the risk that comes with a fighter with the pedigree of Cleverly.
Operating under the assumption that there will be no trilogy, the options for Kovalev seem less obvious. How he comes back from these losses will define his career. Perhaps an easier warm up fight would be appropriate before he chases another name. There aren’t many genuine prospects aside from Ward and Stevenson at light heavyweight and I don’t think the Krusher is looking to move up to cruiserweight any time soon. Badou Jack has said he is moving up from super-middle and this would certainly be an interesting matchup. Since the year 2000, Kovalev has fought at light heavyweight but I am curious if his power would convert to super-middle if he were to step down to find a name in the weight division below. The thought of Kovalev and Eubank Jr standing in the middle of the ring and trading shots is also incredibly appealing for example.
First, we have to wait and see what the Kathy Duva’s appeal throws up. I strongly suspect it would be nothing but if it can catalyze enough of a public outcry about the result, perhaps we can at least get the trilogy down the road.