LAS VEGAS — Unified light heavyweight titleholder Sergey Kovalev and challenger Andre Ward, the former super middleweight world champion, stood face to face and icily stared at each other, seemingly ready to fight right there moments after making weight Friday inside the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Kovalev, set to make his ninth title defense, and Ward, in his third fight since moving up to the light heavyweight division, both weighed in at the division limit of 175 pounds.
The largely pro-Ward crowd cheered wildly in anticipation of the impending fisticuffs, which will take place Saturday (HBO PPV, 9 p.m. ET) at T-Mobile Arena.
The 33-year-old Kovalev (30-0-1, 26 KOs), a Russia native living in Los Angeles, and Ward (30-0, 15 KOs), 32, of Oakland, California, are universally ranked among the top five boxers in the world pound-for-pound, and many believe the winner will be worthy of taking over the No. 1 position from junior bantamweight titlist Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez.
“I am very happy to be here. I will disappoint you,” Kovalev said on an open mic to the Ward fans, eliciting booing. “[Saturday] will be a really great fight.”
Nicknamed “Krusher” for his lights-out power, Kovalev said he did not care that he is the betting underdog in the fight, which will mark the first appearance on pay-per-view for both of them.
“I don’t care at all,” Kovalev said. “[Saturday] we will find out who’s the best. I will crush him. I will knock him out. That’s my goal.”
The fighters have sniped at each other throughout the buildup, and Kovalev promoter Main Events and Ward promoter Roc Nation Sports do not get along at all, making it a difficult promotion.
“It’s simple. He don’t like me, and I don’t like him,” Ward said. “He’s the champion, so I respect him as a champion. I’m trying to become a two-division world champion, and I’m not leaving Las Vegas without those [three] belts. I believe [Saturday] night will be the best performance you’ve ever seen from me. I believe great fighters rise to the occasion, and that’s what I’ll do.”
Dallas junior welterweight Maurice Hooker (21-0-2, 16 KOs) and former lightweight titleholder Darleys Perez (33-2-1, 21 KOs), of Colombia, who meet in the co-feature, both came in under the 140-pound limit for their 10-round bout. Hooker was 139 pounds; Perez was 137.5.
Former light heavyweight title challenger Isaac Chilemba (24-4-2, 10 KOs), a Malawi native who lost a decision to Kovalev in July, and 2012 Ukrainian Olympic bronze medalist Oleksandr Gvozdyk (11-0, 9 KOs) both weighed in at 174.75 pounds, a quarter-pound under the limit, for their 10-rounder.
Former middleweight title challenger Curtis Stevens (28-5, 21 KOs), of Brooklyn, New York, weighed 157.5 pounds, and James De La Rosa (23-4, 13 KOs), of Harlingen, Texas, was 159.75 for their 10-round fight at the middleweight limit of 160 pounds.
Super middleweight Claressa Shields, the 21-year-old from Flint, Michigan, who won her second consecutive Olympic gold medal in August at the Rio Games, weighed in at 167 pounds for her four-round pro debut against Franchon Crews, 29, of Baltimore. Crews, a standout amateur despite losing multiple times to Shields, weighed in at the division limit of 168 pounds for what also will be her professional debut.
Also, the Nevada State Athletic Commission released the purses for the card. Ward will earn a career high — by far — of $5 million. Kovalev’s minimum purse is $2 million, but he stands to make millions more because his deal with Main Events gives him a percentage of the profits from the event.
Hooker’s purse is $75,000; Perez’s $25,000. Chilemba will make $150,000; Gvozdyk $100,000. Stevens will be paid $42,500; De La Rosa will get $22,500. Shields will earn $50,000; Crews is being paid $10,000.