Andre Ward’s bold claims about fighting Anthony Joshua were just as dubious as referee Tony Weeks’ decision to ignore the American’s final low blow into Sergey Kovalev’s unmentionables.
While Kovalev’s promoter Kathy Duva claimed she plans to appeal against Weeks’ decision to stop Saturday’s fight in the eighth round, IBF-WBA-WBO world light-heavyweight champion Ward was left asking whether he should be considered boxing’s best pound-for-pound No.1.
Ward also wondered whether he should jump two weight divisions and take on IBF-WBA world heavyweight king Joshua, who is six inches taller and would have an 11 inch reach advantage.
Both of these claims are debatable.
Duva complained Kovalev was caught by several, unpunished low punches and the controversial nature of the ending places an element of doubt into where Ward’s status should be among boxing’s best. Can he expect to be promoted in any list after some claim he clinched victory with illegal blows?
Kovalev made a good start, just as he had in the first fight when he floored Ward in the second round before losing a disputed points decision.
But Ward (32-0, 16 KOs), just as in the first fight, improved as it went on and it was close at the time of the stoppage. Two judges scored it 67-66 to Ward while the third had it 68-65. However, a lot of ringside reporters at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas had Los Angeles-based Russian Kovalev ahead.
Kovalev (30-2-1, 26 KOs), 34, looked to be fading in the eighth after being hurt by some precise punching from Ward, some of it legitimate and some of it not. A right hand to the jaw, it could be argued, had Kovalev in as much trouble as any of the low blows.
Before being sunk by the final blow that was indisputably illegal, Ward landed other punches that were south of the border. Even Weeks admitted so after the fight and apologised on social media.
I am being criticised a lot unjustly. I have watched the replay and have to admit I was wrong I missed the lowblows from Ward #WardKovalev2
— Tony Weeks (@TonyWeeks_) June 18, 2017
How much had those low blows, which went unpunished, contributed to Kovalev’s deterioration in the eighth round?
And can such controversy, for the second successive fight, mean Ward deserves to sit ahead of the likes of the winner of Gennady Golovkin (37-0, 33 KOs) against Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez (49-1-1, 34 KOs) in the pound-for-pound list? WBC-IBF-WBA middleweight champion Golovkin defends his belts against Canelo on Sept. 16.
“Let me ask you the question: Can I get on the pound-for-pound list now? At the top?” Ward asked after the fight. “Hopefully, against a great fighter like Sergey Kovalev, we’ll get our credit tonight and get atop that pound-for-pound list.”
There is unlikely to be a third fight with Kovalev and there are also obstacles — rival television broadcasters — in making a fight with WBC champion Adonis Stevenson (29-1), who holds the only world light-heavyweight title not in Ward’s hands. Ward also does not sound too keen on Stevenson.
“I’m kind of indifferent toward that match up [against Stevenson] right now because when I made the move to 175, the target was Kovalev, not Stevenson,” said Ward. “I’m not ruling it out, but we’ve got to see.”
Stepping up from light-heavyweight might be more appealing than facing the likes of Stevenson, or cruiserweight champions Oleksandr Usyk (12-0), Denis Lebedev (29-3) and Murat Gassiev (24-0). There would be more interest in east Europe to see Kovalev face Ukrainian Usyk or fellow Russians Gassiev, Lebedev and light-heavyweight contender Artur Beterbiev.
“Maybe cruiserweight, I don’t know,” Ward said of his next move. “Cruiserweight, heavyweight, that’s always been a dream of mine. I dream big and anything is possible.”
Stepping up two divisions to heavyweight would be more lucrative in an attempt to emulate the success of his fellow American Roy Jones Jr, who as undisputed world light-heavyweight champion beat John Ruiz for the WBA world heavyweight title in 2003.
Ward, who earned $6.5/£5.1 million from the rematch with Kovalev, would likely get a career-high pay-day from facing Briton Joshua (19-0, 19 KOs) and his trainer Virgil Hunter is serious about the idea.
“Fighting a bigger man doesn’t have to do with size, it has to do with your attributes and their attributes,” Hunter said. “If you are able to single out one thing that makes it a competitive fight for yourself, you take that chance.
“I’d like to see him fight Anthony Joshua. I’m not playing. I’m serious. I think it would be a very interesting fight. I know you have a lot of people saying ‘Oh that would be suicide’, but I believe he could outbox Anthony Joshua.
“There’s some things about Joshua that I see. He’s a good kid, I know him, but I see things with him in particular and he is the best [in the heavyweight division] but styles make fights. It would be a waste of time to go to the cruisers, we should just leapfrog it, go for it all.”