At the T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas, Andre Ward beat Sergey Kovalev by a razor-thin decision to claim Light Heavyweight world supremacy. Ward, who dethroned Kovalev of his WBO, WBA and IBF titles, picked up a Unanimous Decision from all three judges who turned in identical scores of 114-113. Those scores are satisfying enough, with Boxing Base mirroring that exact tally.
So, the ‘0’s came extremely close to remaining intact after all, but it was to be Kovalev who picked up his first pro blemish. His slate now reads 30 wins, 1 loss, 26 knockouts, while new unified champion Ward leaves with a flawless 31 wins, 15 knockouts.
The fight itself won’t be on the shortlist for Fight of the Year, but it carried a good deal of excitement. Kovalev got off to a strong start, scoring the sole knockdown of the fight when a right hand counter connected to the jaw of a pivoting Ward. The challenger rose to his feet and survived an onslaught from Kovalev, and from then on, things got a whole lot more competitive.
There were at least four or five swing rounds in this bout, but again, the eventual scores should be palatable enough for most fight fans. Kovalev was strong and imposing, as expected, as he patiently stalked and calculated, and while he couldn’t nail his foe too cleanly with his booming right, he did land a healthy bunch of ramrod jabs. Throw in some cracking counters on occasion, and this guy was always going to be in the fight.
Ward gradually gained confidence following the knockdown, found a snapping jab, and finished strongly with some aggressive, eye-catching work in the second half, effortlessly plucking out some flashy artillery which included a vicious precision left hook.
There will no doubt be a whole army of Kovalev vs Ward detractors, however, voicing their distaste right now. Why? Because, let’s be honest, this bout was real scrappy. Like, a lot more than we’re used to seeing from top-tier boxers. To the point where the action became frequently disjointed, with both men having to keep on resetting and finding their rhythms. Holding, clinching, even a bit of wrestling. It happened a little too much.
Ward is a fighter who either likes to be far away at range, or, right up in an opponent’s chest. And that was exactly the type of Ward who entered the ring tonight. Skilled, but oh-so scrappy when he constantly tried to rough up Kovalev and remove himself from danger on the outside. Kovalev, having clearly done his homework for Ward’s in-fighting style, simply tied Ward up every time he got too close for comfort. We’re talking full on arm-locking here to be clear.
And hey, there’s nothing actually illegal about any of these scrappy tactics is there? No. It’s boxing, right? In-fighting and clinching rules are kinda…well, loose. So this stuff can happen a lot, and will. But as a boxing fan, it’s really frustrating to watch two of the world’s best Light Heavyweights and Pound for Pounders doing the tango just as much as they’re fighting.
But overall, when it’s all said and done, not a bad night of boxing at all. It will now be interesting to see how this fight is received by the masses in the coming hours.
Kovalev vs Ward: Undercard
Maurice Hooker vs Darleys Perez
Shocking judging or something more suspicious was at play in this chief support Junior Welterweight encounter. Darleys Perez arguably won at least 8 of the rounds here thanks to far greater ambition and overall work, which makes the 97-93 (Perez), 95-95 and 97-93 (Hooker) totals extremely questionable. We know scoring boxing’s long game is subjective, but how those ringside could have awarded Hooker, who fought negatively behind a pawing jab for the most part, a good share of rounds, is just wrong.
Hooker, an emerging prospect in the Roc Nation stable, may have managed to escape without an ugly blemish on his record, but this scoring, the way it all ended tonight, that’s the stuff that hurts boxing. Getting back to the fight, it looked like Hooker was in over his head a little too much with Perez, a seasoned former Lightweight champ who was stalking, countering nicely, and landing the meatier shots. It is what it is. Hooker now sits at 21-0-3, 16 KO, and Perez 33-2-2, 21 KO.
Oleksandr Gvozdyk vs Isaac Chilemba
Touted Light Heavyweight prospect Oleksandr Gvozdyk made a big splash in his US welcome party against the experienced Isaac Chilemba. A broken right hand was the official reason for Chilemba’s corner pulling out their man in the 8th, but it’s fair to assume Gvozdyk would have taken this one on the cards had it gone on beyond the 8th round.
Chilemba was game as ever, wily and awkward, but it was Gvozdyk who was pressing the fight when it mattered, firing off an eye-catching assault on a rope-bound Chilemba in the 4th, and then gradually finding the greater connects round by round. Chilemba’s bloodied nose and fading reflexes told the story here. Gvozdyk, who has become the first man to officially stop Chilemba, extends his record to 12-0, 10 KO, with Chilemba falling to 24-5-2, 10 KO.
Curtis Stevens vs James de la Rosa
HBO’s broadcast opener saw Middleweight veteran Curtis Stevens better a gritty James de la Rosa over 10 rounds, notching up a Unanimous Decision on scores of 98-90 (twice) and 96-92. Stevens kicked off the 1st round explosively, throwing powerful, whistling bombs, until de la Rosa hit the deck off a signature left hook in the closing seconds.
Stevens’ power and output clearly fizzed out from the 4th round onwards, leaving room for de la Rosa to gain momentum. Speculation says Stevens either gassed himself out early or may have injured his bread and butter left hand. Stevens, who wound up targeting the body, was docked a point in the 8th round for a low blow, but it seemed likely unintentional. He now moves up to 29-5, 21 KO, while de la Rosa reduces to 23-5, 13 KO.
Unload your opinions on the Kovalev vs Ward card below, plus the main event’s impact on today’s boxing scene going forward.