In the end the big fight proved nearly everyone wrong. There were some, who have always underestimated Krusher’s boxing ability who felt that SOG would razzle-dazzle, would school him and it would not even be close. There were others who believed the Russian’s power would create a quick KO or a re-run of his domination of Bernard Hopkins. Neither group was right and in the end, what played out was absorbing, if not particularly dramatic. That is, until the scorecards were read.
The flurry of opinion that followed the three tallies of 114-113 in favour of Ward has been unbelievably vitriolic. The word ‘robbery’ has been thrown around on social media, while supporters of the American accuse Kovalev’s fans of bitterness. Difference of opinion can be a nuanced thing – and judging, unfortunately always boils down to opinion to some degree – but that has been lost in a cacophony of conspiracy theory and abuse. Everyone wants someone to blame.
At times like this it seems appropriate to return to basic boxing truths, the sorts of things my Dad used to tell me as a kid. Three, in particular apply to Saturday’s contest.
1. “A good big ‘un beats a good little ‘un.” Sergey Kovalev was clearly the bigger, more powerful fighter in Vegas. We all knew that from the beginning. And when you’ve got two men otherwise evenly matched, that can be a telling factor. Krusher is a natural light-heavy, but Ward probably isn’t, as could be seen in the thickness of his limbs and the size of his shoulders.
That creates a knock-on the effect with the punches. Kov staggered Ward with a jab in round one and knocked him down in the second. Later on he clearly hurt Ward around the left ear. That meant there were at least three occasions when Ward was genuinely troubled, despite his post-fight claims to the contrary.
On the other hand, nothing that Ward did really got to Kovalev. He pot-shotted and threw the odd beautifully timed punch, but never made the Russian look uncomfortable, even in the rounds he won. Particularly in close rounds, this should be accounted for. The fighter who lands the more hurtful blows should get the nod.
2. “If it’s too close to call, the champion should get the benefit of the doubt.” This is a big one. Obviously, Andre Ward is a huge star and rightly so. The man has been unbeaten since childhood, emerged victorious from the super six and is as well-schooled a technical boxer as exists in the modern world. But on Saturday night he was the challenger. The fight may have been in Vegas, with an American ref and judges, but Kovalev entered the ring with the three belts.
Perhaps the Russian tired towards the end, as some say, although I thought Ward looked tired too. Maybe Ward was busier in the last couple of rounds, but did he really do enough to take those titles?
I did not tot-up points as I went and I suspect many of the people angrily tweeting their scorecards don’t know how to score a bout properly, but my impression was that it was very, very tight. There were 3 rounds which were clear for Kovalev in my opinion, including round 2 which would have been 10-8. On the other hand, I only saw 1 which categorically went to Ward.
The others were all scrappy and technical without huge numbers of punches landing. Kovalev was on the front foot and more aggressive, but often missing. Ward was moving, occasionally timing a beautiful jab but frequently getting clipped on the way in. Both men took lots of shots on their arms.
In other words, there were 8 rounds – three quarters of the whole bout – in which it really came down to a toss of a coin. One man or the other may have edged each session but the line between them was paper thin every time. The whole thing was on a razor’s edge.
For reasons I don’t fully understand, judges are discouraged from scoring drawn rounds. It appears on Saturday that in that large chunk of the fight that was so desperately close, they veered mainly towards Ward. But on that basis a decision against the champion is harsh.
That’s not to say a 1 point Ward victory was out of the question. It was definitely arguable. But so was a Kovalev victory. It was the sort of fight where a round in either direction would not have come as a surprise.
Perhaps, on that basis, a draw would have been the fairest result. That way the Russian would have kept his belts and the rematch could still have happened.
In the aftermath, as the internet erupts with claim and counter-claim, only the most hardened Son of God fan can fail to feel some sympathy for Krusher. He has spent his life pursuing glory to have his titles taken like that.
If he or his promoter Kathy Duva are aggrieved, believing they were cheated by biased officiating, we should all be able to understand that. Not because the scorecards were wrong, as such, but because the benefit of the doubt seemed to be given to the challenger. Ward appeared to be given most of those rounds in which, in truth, it was virtually impossible to pick a winner.
3. You never know how good a fighter is until you’ve seen him lose. How refreshing, in a modern boxing world where prospects protect unbeaten records like babies, to see two champions with zero losses match-up. Andre Ward proved once again that he has remarkable heart. Many men have crumbled under Kovalev’s assault and after a difficult first two rounds things could have deteriorated for him rapidly. Unlike Hopkins in 2014, Ward held his feet, moving but not running and still firing back. That took massive courage.
Sergey Kovalev, on the other hand, will have to regroup after his first professional setback. It will be interesting to see how he handles it psychologically, although Krusher does not appear to be emotionally delicate. Of course, he can take heart from the manner of the defeat and use his sense of injustice to spur him on. Kovalev was not outfoxed or outmanoeuvred, as many predicted but rather dragged into an untidy, technical chess match, with lots of holding, which neither man won clearly. He certainly proved his doubters, who claimed he is nothing more than a crude slugger, wrong and was more than capable of living with Ward’s tactics. Could he do anything different in a rematch? That’s an intriguing question which deserves an answer.
Let’s hope politics or business do not prevent Ward v Kovalev 2 from happening. It was not exciting in the slap-and-giggle sense of watching a poster-boy KO a hapless fall guy, but it was real. This is the kind of boxing the world needs, two great champions in a contest of wits and styles. It really does not happen enough.
My book ‘Journeymen, the other side of the boxing business’ was nominated for the William Hill Sports book of the year 2015 and named one of the sports books of the year by The Guardian. It is still available from all usual outlets.
My next boxing book, ‘Into the Woods, one man’s journey through a life of violence’, about former light-heavyweight world champ Clinton Woods will be available to pre-order shortly.
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