Andre Ward has an Olympic gold medal, and Saturday night the Oakland fighter showed world-class professional mettle to claim a spirited eighth-round technical knockout victory over Russian rival Sergey Kovalev.
After defeating Kovalev to take his three light-heavyweight world-title belts in a controversial decision in November, Ward (32-0, 16 knockouts) hurt Kovalev with a massive right-handed punch earlier in the eighth.
Then, after punching through Kovalev complaints that he was being hit low in the round, Ward battered Kovalev in a corner with two devastating body blows on the belt that forced the Russian to keel over as referee Tony Weeks stopped the bout 2 minutes, 29 seconds in.
“He was reacting to my body shots, and I knew I had him and I knew he was hurt,” Ward said. “Am I No. 1 [in pound-for-pound rankings] now?”
Ward was leading by one point on two of three judges’ scorecards when the fight ended, while Kovalev had a three-point bulge on one card thanks to an effective early start.
“It felt like I was up [on the scorecards], but a championship fight starts after the sixth round,” Ward said. “I knew I had him hurt. I knew he was hurt. He was trying to cover up his body. He was dazed so I just had to try to find the right shot. He just didn’t react, and the referee stopped it.”
Kovalev (30-2-1) said he believed he could’ve kept fighting.
“This is fighting. We are boxers. Why stop the fight? This is amazing,” Kovalev said.
Yet, while Kovalev added, “I want to get another fight,” the rivalry seems over with no rematch clause in effect and Ward saying afterward he might want to move to cruiserweight.
Earlier, super-bantamweight champion Guillermo Rigondeaux escaped a lengthy review by the Nevada Athletic Commission to post a first-round knockout of Mexico’s Moises Flores.
Referee Vic Drakulich, after consulting with commission Executive Director Bob Bennett, ruled that Cuba’s unbeaten Rigondeaux (18-0, 12 KOs) threw his knockout punch just before Drakulich was intervening as the bell rang.
An HBO replay appeared to show the knockout punch was delivered after the bell.
Flores (25-1), caught hard behind the right ear by the power punch, fell backward to the canvas, lay motionless with his arms sprawled upward for several seconds, then groggily moved toward his stool, raising suspicions that he exaggerated the effect of his condition to attempt to win a no-decision ruling.
“It’s not fair. It’s clear that the bell rang,” Flores said. “I was winning the round, and he waited for after the bell to throw a punch when I dropped my hands down.”
Bennett said on HBO the outcome could be revisited, and if it turns out the punch was delivered after the bell, the result could even be changed to a Rigondeaux disqualification.
A knockout “was only a matter of time,” Rigondeaux said. “I hope the whole world sees what it’s like to get in the ring with me. I am tired of the press and everyone saying I am boring.”
The Cuban retains his World Boxing Assn. title and said afterward, as one of the sport’s most avoided fighters, that he’d be willing to meet either former super-flyweight world champion Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez or super-featherweight champion Vasyl Lomachenko in a catchweight bout.