There was no blood sacrifice on Saturday night in Las Vegas when two men split seven million dollars and divided the public at the end of 12 rounds of boxing.
Andre Ward grappled his way to three of the four world light-heavyweight titles and Russia’s Sergey Kovalev, known as Krusher, was conned in the last six rounds into holding too often and not hitting enough. It was a tight decision, but not demented.
A few years ago in Atlantic City, Ward manhandled Carl Froch for twelve rounds, barely broke a sweat and took the decision; Froch complained that he was hit with the shoulder, the elbow, the head and far too many times with the left and right glove. Ward has been the best fighter you have never heard about for a long time.
“I knew there was a mystique behind Kovalev’s name,” said Ward. “He has knocked out a lot of people, he has been getting the attention and I’ve been inactive, in longer fights without the knockouts that he has.” Ward was still the slight betting favourite and received a guarantee that was three million dollars more than Kovalev was paid.
There was a rematch clause and both boxers seem to fancy doing it all again. Kovalev and his people seem genuinely outraged at the verdict, which incidentally was identical from all three of the judges, and made some bold claims as the night deepened in the casino city. Their noises should be enough to bring the money men back to the table with an offer that works for everybody; the alternative is that Ward is stripped by one of the tin-pot sanctioning bodies and the title is broken into slices. There will be no justice if that happens, but there will be a lot of hollow righteous talk.
“Too many people think that all I can do is pick and poke,” added Ward. “I had to take the heart out of Kovalev in that ring and I did. He can complain all he wants, but he dropped me and then ten rounds later I won the fight. I will sleep at night, he might not.” Ward was probably gently provoked by Virgil Hunter, the man that had overseen his development from a Bambi-legged boy of 12, to Olympic gold in 2004 and then to Saturday night’s victory. Hunter is a smart man at getting his boxers to say and do the right thing; he will think a rematch is easy.
Kovalev will be filled with rage over the coming months and their good-natured jostling before Saturday will inevitably be replaced with a bit of bad blood, which Kovalev will need and Ward will ignore, when they fight again. A smart boxer tends to win the second fight, even if he lost the first fight.
There is a chance that Ward will look at offers from the middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin for some type of catchweight fight. Ward fought most of his career at 168 pounds and Golovkin fights at 160; a fight at an invented weight would diminish the power and durability of both. Golovkin, incidentally, has always insisted that Kovalev is scared to fight him because of a sparring incident when the small man hurt the big man. There is also a chance that Kovalev could move to cruiserweight, which would be a move dictated by his size and not a pursuit of a big fight; the cruiserweight division has been in transit, searching for a star since it was introduced in 1979.
The fight on Saturday was a great event for some purists, hopefully their rematch will do big figures and attract a huge crowd. But, beware of the Cold War dialogue, the revisionist history about Saturday night and all talk of justice. Ward got Saturday’s verdict because he is a better fighter and made Kovalev play his game. It was boxing as an art, not some type of dark-trade trickery.