Andre Ward deserves credit this time: Weekend Review

By Michael Rosenthal

A stunning knockout to fill a vacant RING championship and determine the best fighter pound for pound. A crazy ending to the co-feature on the same card. A night on which a respected state commission was far from its best.

Saturday certainly provided some interesting moments.

Here’s a look at the biggest winners and losers over the weekend.

BIGGEST WINNER

Andre Ward: The ending was far from ideal.

The final blow or two bordered on low at the very least, which isn’t how any fight should end. And I thought referee Tony Weeks stopped the fight too soon, which deprived Andre Ward and the fans of a more conclusive knockout of Sergey Kovalev on an entertaining Saturday night in Las Vegas.

The writing was on the wall, though.

Kovalev was hurt badly before the final punches landed, the result of a perfect right hand that rocked him midway through the eighth and final round and earlier body shots that seemed to sap Kovalev’s strength and perhaps take his will to fight. The Russian was in bad shape.

I think Kovalev probably could’ve continued but there was no point: Ward had taken firm control of the fight and Kovalev’s demise seemed imminent. Weeks probably saved Krusher from unnecessary punishment when he waved off the fight.

Stunning, just stunning.

Ward is 33, past his prime. He hadn’t knocked out anyone since 2015, a ninth-round TKO of overmatched Paul Smith in his debut at 175 pounds and first fight after a long hiatus from the sport. His days of spectacular victories seemed to be behind him.

And then this. He broke down and then stopped the No. 2 fighter in the world pound for pound – who also was perceived as the bigger man and a much harder puncher – to win the vacant RING light heavyweight championship and become the RING’s No. 1 fighter in the world pound for pound.

It is arguably the greatest victory in Ward’s career at a time when that didn’t seem possible. He certainly deserves the credit that eluded him after his controversial victory over Kovalev in their first fight, a unanimous decision in November.

Indeed, if there was any doubt about whether Ward (32-0, 16 knockouts) is a future Hall of Famer, there certainly isn’t now.

BIGGEST LOSER

Sergey Kovalev: Kovalev and his team have the right to gripe. The punches in question were at best borderline low blows.

The reality is that those shots were inconsequential. Kovalev seemed to tire as early as the fifth or sixth round, probably in part because of the body shots Ward was able to land consistently. And it was that big, clean right midway through the eighth round that initialed his swift downfall.

Kovalev (30-2-1, 26 KOs) would never admit it but he was a beaten fighter before those final punches. Ward was the better man.

That said, one clear defeat doesn’t leave Kovalev in a dire situation. Remember, he fought the best fighter in the world on even terms for seven-plus rounds. He was initiating the action, he was landing more punches than Ward, although Ward’s were cleaner.

Two judges had Ward leading after seven rounds 67-66 while the third had it 68-65 for Kovalev. I had it 67-66 for Ward. Close fight.

Kovalev obviously remains an elite fighter with plenty of options even if he’ll have to do some rebuilding. I doubt he’ll fight Ward again any time soon even though his promoter said she’s planning to protest the result, based on the low blows.

There are others in a solid division. Adonis Stevenson (if Ward doesn’t fight him)? Artur Beterbiev? The winner of Joe Smith Jr.-Sullivan Barrera? These are just a few of the opponents against whom Kovalev should – and probably will – get back to where he belongs: in the win column.

BIGGEST LOSER II

Nevada State Athletic Commission: The commission had one of its worst nights in recent memory.

First came the crazy ending of the Guillermo Rigondeaux-Moises Flores fight, which preceded Ward-Kovalev. Rigondeaux threw the punch that knocked out Flores after the bell to end the first round, yet the NSAC ruled it a legal punch and awarded Rigondeaux a victory after about five minutes of discussion.

The decision evidently was based in part on the opinion of an HBO producer who had access to the video and audio, as unbelievable as that seems.

Then, a short time after the ruling was made, NSAC Executive Director Bob Bennett watched a replay while being interviewed on HBO and realized that a mistake had been made. To his credit, he said Rigondeaux would be disqualified if further review determined that the punch was thrown after the bell.

The problem with that statement was that the most reasonable ruling might’ve been a no-decision, the result of an accidental foul.

In the end, the commission got it right. Officials reviewed the video and determined the punch was indeed thrown after the bell, ruled it accidental and indicated that they would recommend that the commission chairman changed the result to no-decision.

That was a wild ride.

And then there was the main event. Weeks decided that the punches near or below Kovalev’s belt line were not low enough to be ruled fouls, including one or two during the final flurry.

Some say he screwed up, especially on the last punch of the fight. Think about it: If he had ruled that shot low, Kovalev would’ve received as much as five minutes to recover. That might’ve been enough time for him to regain his strength and get back into the fight, although that’s speculation.

I’m not saying I would’ve ruled it that way – I think there was enough doubt to let it go – but one could argue that Weeks made a mistake.

I believe Weeks also stopped the fight too soon. He could argue that Kovalev, doubled up against the ropes, was badly hurt and not defending himself at the time of stoppage. I don’t think he was in danger of serious injury, though. I would’ve let it play out at least a few seconds longer.

All in all, the NSAC officials will have a lot to talk about on Monday.

RABBIT PUNCHES

Ward expressed some grandiose plans after his victory, including a possible move up to cruiserweight or possibly heavyweight. He wouldn’t even dismiss the name Anthony Joshua when it was mentioned. That was just talk amid the joy of victory. I’m guessing he’ll stay right where he is for the time being. I’d love to see him fight Stevenson, which would make for entertaining promotion and generate a lot of money, but I question the Canadian’s will to fight another top light heavyweight. There are other intriguing possibilities out there but none would be as compelling as Ward-Stevenson. It will be interesting to see how Ward and his handlers play their hand. … I find it interesting that so many are certain that Flores (25-1, 17 KOs) faked the knockout against Rigondeaux (18-0, 12 KOs). It’s possible. He wouldn’t be the first boxer to use his acting skills in an attempt to claim a DQ victory. But Rigondeaux landed a hard punch, one that would hurt most fighters. I, too, wonder whether it was enough to flatten Flores but no one except the Mexican knows with certainty. … I won’t shed tears if Rigoneaux is DQ’d. The final blow was set up by the Cuban holding Flores behind the head and punching him — a brazen, blatant foul. And the knockout blow was initiated after the bell. I don’t see how one can argue otherwise. …

Light heavyweight contender Dmitry Bivol (11-0, 9 KOs) fought a pushover in Cedric Agnew (29-3, 15 KOs) on the Ward-Kovalev card but it wasn’t difficult to see that the Russian has a bright future. Bivol toyed with the reluctant Agnew before stopping him in the fourth round, displaying a wide range of skills in the process. Can’t wait for him to face a legitimate opponent. … Luis Arias (18-0, 9 KOs) looked like a solid middleweight contender on the Ward-Kovalev card, stopping Arif Magomedov (18-2, 11 KOs) in five rounds. Magomedov, a Russian based in Los Angeles, doesn’t appear to be going anywhere. … Junior welterweight Fidel Maldonado Jr. (24-3-1, 19 KOs) improved his hopes of climbing into title contention by defeating veteran Pablo Cesar Cano (30-6-1, 21 KOs) by a split decision Saturday in Frisco, Texas. I thought Cano might’ve turned the tide in his favor when he put Maldonado down in the fourth round but the Albuquerque fighter overcame that obstacle. Maldonado is 5-0-1 since he was stopped by Amir Imam in 2015. Cano had high hopes after coming off a victory over Mauricio Herrera.

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Source:: The Ring – Boxing

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