Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Belated Thoughts On Ward-Kovalev II

The first encounter between undefeated two-division world champion Andre Ward and longtime Light-Heavyweight world champion Sergey Kovalev in November of last year had all the elements that make a great fight. Two elite level world class fighters meeting for Kovalev's unified Light-Heavyweight world championship. By now, most Boring fans know that Ward overcame a second round knockdown at the hands of Kovalev to earn a razor thin twelve round unanimous decision to hand the previously unbeaten “Knockout Artist” Kovalev his first loss as a professional to earn his second world championship in as many weight classes.

The competitive nature of that fight along with what some felt was a controversial decision in Ward’s favor fueled demand for a rematch. On June 17th, the two fighters squared off for the second time in one of the sport's most anticipated fights of 2017 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, NV. In previewing the rematch this observer mentioned that much as is the case with movies that very seldom are rematches as good or even outdo the original encounter. There are times however, where much like a good movie or series of films, where the outcome of a rematch leaves more questions than answers and/or a conclusion that could best be described as a “Cliffhanger “ where there is not only debate as to what had taken place, but also what will happen next.

Andre Ward-Sergey Kovalev: part 2 offered such a “Cliffhanger.” Much as was the case in the first fight, the rematch was fought at a measured and tactical pace where both fighters were able to have periods of effectiveness. Through the first three rounds, this observer found the fight to be difficult to score due largely to the pace, but I felt that the former champion Kovalev had a narrow edge due to his being able to outwork Ward and landing the more effective punches similar to the first encounter as I had him winning two of the first three rounds.

As the fight progressed however, Ward as he had done in the first fight, stepped up his pace using lateral movement to set up counter punches as well as making going to Kovalev's body a key focal point of his offense. Although Kovalev was able to land some body punches of his own, it was clear in this observer's eyes that by the midway point of the bout, the tempo was being dictated by the champion.

Readers may recall in previewing this fight, I stated my view that I believed that it was crucial for Kovalev turn the rematch into a fight early and needed to cut the ring off from Ward consistently in order to be successful. Kovalev was unsuccessful in doing this and the tactical errors of not being able to push Ward back as well as his inability to cut the ring off from Ward, which worked against the former champion in the first encounter remained present in the rematch. Ward’s ability to place his punches and land the more effective punches as the bout progressed became the story. Even though Kovalev threw more punches than the champion, Ward was able to frequently make him miss. Although some Boxing fans may believe that the fighter who throws more punches than their opponent should get the benefit of the doubt in narrow rounds in a close fight based on mere activity, it will more often than not boil down to who is able to land the more effective blows that will determine who will get the upper hand with regard to the scoring of a fight. In this observer's eyes, in this bout the more effective fighter was Ward.

What seemed to be a fight that was evolving into a clear outcome would instead end in a scenario of a “Cliffhanger” where there were obviously more questions than answers. In the eighth round, Ward connected with a solid right hook to the head of Kovalev that staggered the former champion. Sensing he had his opponent in trouble, Ward pressed forward looking to finish Kovalev off with a series of punches to the body and the head.

The champion eventually got Kovalev pressed against the ropes and landed a series of uppercuts to the body that caused Kovalev to sit on the middle rope and Referee Tony Weeks stepped in and stopped the fight. What appeared to be a clear technical knockout in favor of Ward however, quickly emerged as a controversy as video replays showed that the uppercuts that Ward had landed were in fact low blows.

Although the low blows did not appear to be intentional and did appear in my eyes to be borderline, there was a legitimate cause to call the stoppage of this fight “Controversial.” It should not be overlooked that Kovalev was hit low in both the second and seventh rounds, but when he was hit low in round seven there was no break in the action and no warning from Referee Tony Weeks. There was also no warning from Weeks in round eight, but rather a judgment call by him thinking that Kovalev was hurt to stop the fight rather than issue a count seeing as Kovalev did sit on the middle rope even though he did not technically go down to the canvas.

For his part, Weeks stated on Twitter the day after the fight quote “I am being criticized a lot unjustly. I have watched the replay and have to admit I was wrong I missed the low blows from Ward. I stopped the fight due to Kovalev not protecting himself, had I saw the shots were low I would not have stopped the fight. My mistake.”

It is important to remember that referees, judges, the fighters themselves, and all of us are all human and make mistakes from time to time. Tony Weeks is rightfully regarded as one of the best referees in the entire sport and his statement following this fight should be applauded by anyone and everyone who is a fan and/or has any association or involvement in the sport.

The question is will there be a third chapter in the rivalry between Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev? Kovalev’s promoter Kathy Duva stated that she intended to file a protest of the outcome shortly after the fight with the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC). Whether or not a protest will in fact change the outcome of the fight from a knockout win in favor of Ward to a no decision remains unknown over a week after the fight took place. It should not be overlooked however, that there was a fight that took place on the undercard of Ward-Kovalev II in an attempted unification of the WBA and IBO Jr. Featherweight world championships between Guillermo Rigondeaux and Moises Flores, which was originally ruled a first round knockout win in favor of WBA world champion Rigondeaux was overturned by the NSAC last week via unanimous vote due to the punch that knocked Flores down and out striking the IBO world champion after the bell had sounded ending the first round.

Whether or not the result of the Ward-Kovalev rematch will be overturned remains unknown as of this writing. It is this observer’s opinion based not only on the video replays of the uppercuts that Ward landed appearing to be below the belt of Kovalev and Tony Weeks’ own acknowledgment that he missed the low blows that the result should be changed to a no contest and a third encounter between Ward and Kovalev should be ordered by the WBO, WBA, and IBF as soon as possible. Of course, each organization does have mandatory obligations where the world champion, in this case Ward, has to defend his championship against each organization’s highest-rated contender on an annual basis. This could present an obvious obstacle that could prevent a potential third encounter between Ward and Kovalev from taking place immediately.

If the stoppage of this fight were not marred in “Controversy” and there was no such protest filed based on video evidence, this observer would be discussing potential options for Ward going forward such as potential fights with contenders Dmitry Bivol and Artur Beterbiev, if not a fight to fully unify the Light-Heavyweight world championship against longtime WBC world champion Adonis Stevenson. Given that Kovalev does have a legitimate complaint however, it is my opinion that a third fight between Ward and Kovalev is “Warranted.”

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

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