Reality sinks in: Andre Ward stops Sergey Kovalev
As the post-fight press conference to the year’s most anticipated rematch came to a close, James Prince stepped down from the dais to take a spot in the middle of a jubilant maelstrom. A big grin cracked across the quiet manager’s face. His charge, a triumphant Andre Ward, remained at the podium, smiling through oversized sunglasses as he mingled with his supporters to celebrate his victory. “RocNation is in the house!” yelled the company’s buoyant chief Michael Yormark. In the back, Noel Lee, the founder of Monster Products, wheeled around in his gold-rimmed Segway and employees of Life10, a New Orleans-based water company, posed for photographs. “It’s always a beautiful feeling for your fighter to bag up everything that he’s seeing, all the insults,” Prince mused softly in his Texan drawl. “You know what I mean? We weren’t getting along with some people…but reality has stepped in.” Prince’s eyes lit up. “Hey man, beautiful!”
For world light heavyweight champion Andre Ward and his team, something like poetic justice occurred in the ring at the Mandalay Bay Events Center last Saturday night: In a surprisingly conclusive, if controversial, effort, Ward cut down and stopped Sergey Kovalev in the eighth round with a flurry of body punches – the last of which was a clear low blow – that had Kovalev hunched over at the waist, defenseless. Referee Tony Weeks, not noticing Ward’s illegal punch, took Kovalev’s sagging torso as a sign of capitulation and stopped the fight.
“I don’t want to hear any excuses,” Yormark warned a press room that felt more like a Super Bowl gathering than a journalist’s work space. To the one reporter inquiring about the low blow, Ward smiled and simply retorted, “God bless you.”
“Well, look, this (promotion) hasn’t been easy for anybody,” Main Events’ Kathy Duva told UCNlive.com, moments before she took the stage to address a hostile, partisan crowd. A crestfallen look was strewn across her face. “I’m happy that the promotion is over but I’m not happy with the way this ended. I think that it’s embarrassing for a world-class commission to make an error that egregious. And I know people make mistakes but, my God, there were four low blows that were scored as legal punches and they stopped the fight on one of them.”
“I don’t know why fighters will come (to Las Vegas) and fight anymore.”
For months, Ward and his team listened to their Russian adversary blame inept judging and overtraining for the outcome of the first fight. They listened to a fighter nicknamed the “Krusher” repeatedly swear that he would end Ward’s boxing career. And they listened as Duva accused Ward of not lifting his share of the promotional workload because his purse was already guaranteed, regardless of how many tickets or pay-per-views would be purchased. They listened and took note. “We don’t always respond right away and sometimes our silence is misinterpreted as we don’t get it,” Ward explained to reporters ahead of the first fight last November. “We get it. We watch. We take notes…We keep working and then we produce, come fight night. That is what we specialize in.”
Excuses? This time, Ward and his team were not going to listen to them, not on this evening. Did Kovalev forget about the punch that kickstarted his decline? Ward uncorked a vicious straight right at the 1:14 mark of the eighth round that dazed Kovalev, causing the Russian stalker to teeter backward for the first time in 20 rounds.
“He’s really lucky – ‘Son of Judges,’” Kovalev said of Ward after the match.
In halting a fight due to, ostensibly, an illegal blow, Weeks may have made the kind of error that will be talked about for years to come – and yet his oversight does nothing to diminish this fact: Ward sucked the living fight out of Kovalev.
Truly great fighters do not look to a referee for a way out of a rough spot and, in the eighth round, Kovalev twice gestured to Weeks to indicate that he had been hit low by Ward: The first was in response to a negligible punch in the clinch that landed on Kovalev’s thigh, the second, a legitimate right hand that partially landed on the belt line.
“No, he didn’t hurt me,” Kovalev adamantly stated. His face was noticeably marked up, especially around the right eye, where Ward’s hooks frequently landed. “I was tired but I could keep fighting…I don’t know what happened. I don’t know why Tony Weeks stopped the fight.”
Kovalev’s manager Egis Klimas chipped in his two cents. “If this is a case about fighting dirty, we can fight dirty too. But we’re not. We’re boxers. We are boxers.
It is up to the fighter to take care of adversity that comes his way and Kovalev, looking for answers outside of his two hands, succumbed not to the better boxer but the better fighter. After viewing 20 rounds, this seems like a reasonable conclusion.
“Guys, we’re not going to nitpick tonight, man,” Ward said when he got up on the podium. “We’re not going to nitpick tonight.”
For Kovalev and Main Events, however, the nitpicking will continue. As a matter of protocol, they will file an appeal to the Nevada State Athletic Commission, contesting Weeks’ decision. But even Main Events realizes there is virtually no chance its complaint will be seriously considered. They’ll be back, however, with Kovalev heading an HBO telecast before the year is over. But a third showdown with Ward? Probably never.
“You (reporters) keep asking us this question of what is RocNation boxing doing next. Well, if I’m you guys, I’m asking Kathy Duva what she’s doing next. Her best fighter – and only competitive fighter – lost for the second time in seven months. You saw what we have tonight,” Yormark boasted.
In truth, RocNation will likely lose millions on a fight, which pay-per-view numbers figure to be meager. In addition, they recently lost Miguel Cotto to Golden Boy Promotions, after realizing they could not meet Cotto’s financial demands. And in what stands as a commentary on their ability to grow talent, Olympian Shakur Stevenson, managed by both Prince and Ward, elected to sign with Top Rank. No amount of sponsors or ringside appearances by Kevin Durant are going to change the fact that RocNation’s term, in boxing thus far, has been anything but dismal.
But none of that mattered on Saturday night. Ward beat the most sinister boxer at 175 – twice. And that, if nothing else, is an occasion to celebrate.
“Aw man, joy,” Prince said, as he surveyed the buoyant fracas swirling around him. ”This is a feeling of joy.”