Andre Ward wanted to put a stamp on his rivalry with Sergey Kovalev, and he did that, stopping Kovalev to retain the light heavyweight championship of the world tonight in Las Vegas.
Ward (32-0, 16 KO) and Kovalev (30-2-1, 26 KO) were pretty even through seven rounds, but there was some concern that Kovalev was gassing, trying to fight at a faster pace than he did in their first bout last November.
In the eighth, Ward cracked Kovalev with a hard body shot that Kovalev wanted to be called a low blow but ultimately was ignored — and it was a borderline shot, it appeared on replay — and then a monstrous right hand up top that stung Kovalev badly. Ward pounced, going against his usual style and looking for a finish, feeling he had Kovalev ready to go.
Kovalev never went down, but a sustained attack, mostly to the body, forced referee Tony Weeks to step in and call an end to the fight at 2:29 of round eight.
Ward landed 80 of 238 (34%) of his total punches, and Kovalev 95 of 407 (23%), busier but less accurate. The power punches were a real surprise, with Ward landing 53 of 144 (37%) and Kovalev scoring on 50 of 223 (22%), with Ward often seeming like he was landing the harder shots.
At the time of the stoppage, two judges had it 67-66 for Ward, and the other hand it 68-65 for Kovalev. BLH had it 67-66 Ward (Scott) and 67-66 Kovalev (Patrick). Scores on social media were all over the place, but most seemed to have it 4-3 one way or the other, so you can see that this, again, was a very competitive fight.
“I don’t take away from my opponents. He’s a great fighter. Not a lot of people are going to beat him,” Ward said of Kovalev. “When you fight great fighters, you gotta raise your game to the next level, and I’m thankful we did that tonight.”
“When I saw him react to the body shots that were borderline, I knew I had him. I hurt him with a head shot, and I just had to get the right shots in there to get it over with, and I did that.”
With a smile, Ward asked a question that his fans have been asking for years: “Can I get on the pound-for-pound list now at the top? Is it possible?”
Asked what was next, Ward said, “Maybe cruiserweight, I don’t know. Cruiserweight, heavyweight, that’s always been a dream of mine. It’s gotta be the right guy, but I dream big.” When asked if he’d fight Anthony Joshua, Ward smiled and replied, “Anything is possible, man.”
Kovalev, as expected, complained of low blows.
“I felt good in there. I don’t know. I can’t explain it. I feel that I fought a good fight. Both of us were better this fight. I didn’t feel like I was hurt by legal punches. Only low blows.”
He added, “I don’t know why they stopped the fight. I could have continued. I wasn’t hurt. He didn’t hurt me. I continued to fight. I don’t know why they stopped the fight. I want to fight him again and kick his ass.”
It’s unlikely Kovalev will get an immediate third fight with Ward, given that Ward is up 2-0 on him.