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Andre Ward resoundingly settles rivalry with Sergey Kovelev, but 'controversy' still reigns

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist

LAS VEGAS – The battles between Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev are over. It’s a far different story between their promoters.

Ward scored the most significant win of his career since his gold-medal clinching victory at the 2004 Olympic Games when he stopped the power-punching Russian in the eighth round Saturday.

Like he did in their first fight eight months earlier, Ward started slowly. Kovalev took the first three rounds on judge Steve Weisfeld’s card and the first two on Dave Moretti’s and Glenn Feldman’s. Ward stopped Kovalev in the eighth, hurting him with an obvious low blow, blasting him with a powerful right cross and then finishing him with shots on the ropes that were borderline.

Kathy Duva of Main Events, who promotes Kovalev, said she would file a protest on Monday because referee Tony Weeks refused to look at a replay of the finish to see whether the finishing blows were legal or not.

She admitted it was a long shot, but said, “We have to try.”

“We’re not coming here again,” she said of Las Vegas. “We came her [to fight Ward] twice. But [both] times, there was controversy and it went Roc Nation’s way. We really thought Sergey won that first fight and they gave it to Ward. And there was a controversial decision on the undercard that went to Maurice Hooker, who is with Roc Nation.

“Tonight, you saw what happened with Sergey. How many low blows do you expect him to take? And these were the ones that came from down low and pushed his cup up. And then, in the other fight, [Guillermo] Rigondeaux holds [Chucky Flores’] head, hits him twice and then hits him after the bell. Four controversies, every one of them favor Roc Nation. OK.”

Andre Ward (L) landed several questionable low blows over the course of his win over Sergey Kovalev. (AP)

The fight was a spectacular match, and the in-ring action was tense, as promised. But the promotion was an epic failure and given that Roc Nation was the lead promoter, it mostly falls on them.

The announced attendance was 10,592, but ticket prices dropped so low on Saturday it was cheaper for people in Las Vegas to attend the show than to buy it on pay-per-view.

Duva detailed a long list of grievances against Roc Nation, though promoter Michael Yormark shouted repeatedly, “We called this fight ‘No excuses!’ and I don’t want to hear any excuses.”

It overshadowed a brilliant performance by Ward and a step up in class. In building a 31-0 record entering the fight, he had a reputation as a cautious, defense-oriented fighter who took few risks.

Not only did he slug it out with Kovalev toe-to-toe on Saturday, he finished him at the first sign of Kovalev’s weakness.

Kovalev’s team blamed the low blows, of course.

“If I rob a bank and I get a million dollars from the bank and the police aren’t able to catch me, guess what?” manager Egis Klimas said. “I’m a lucky millionare and he’s a lucky [expletive] champion.”

It’s hard to calculate the impact of the low blows, but Ward was attacking the body with ferocity and it paid off. Not everything was low.

Afterward, emotions were so high that Virgil Hunter, Ward’s studious and normally cautious coach, was so full of emotion he suggested that the 6-foot-1, 175-pound Ward move up to challenge 6-6, 250-pound giant heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua.

Given a chance to think about his suggestion they fight, he didn’t back down. Asked what he saw that made him think Ward could compete with someone so much bigger, he provided a detail insight.

“Because I’ve witnessed it year after year, fighting a bigger man has nothing to do with his size,” Hunter said. “It’s his attributes, their attributes. One thing that would make it a competitive fight is he would take all the chances. There are some things about Anthony Joshua I see when I watch him. I see things with him in particular and he’s the best. Styles make fights.”

Leaving the post-fight news conference, Ward was asked if he wanted to fight Joshua.

“That’s my coach, man,” he said, a big grin creasing his face. “You have to talk to my coach.”

It seems a little much to ask Ward to beat a guy five inches taller and 75 pounds heavier, but after a win like this, guys are full of themselves and feel nearly bulletproof.

Ward has been one of a small handful of the best in the world for a while, and took out another of the best in a surprising performance.

Duva noted that the fight was close on the cards. Ward was up 67-66 on two cards and Kovalev was up 68-65 on the other. Yahoo Sports had Kovalev 67-66 at the time of the stoppage.

The finish was either exhilarating, if you were on Ward’s side, or devastating if you were on Kovalev’s.

“This was embarrassing,” Duva said of the officiating of Saturday’s card and Weeks’ refusal to look at the replay, which is allowed under Nevada rules.

Yormark and Team Ward saw it differently. A Roc Nation publicist was shouting to reporters at ringside about the Warriors’ win in the NBA Finals, Ward’s win and a Jay-Z event.

“Roc Nation is here to stay,” she said.

Yormark left the stage beaming and shouted repeatedly, “Andre Ward is the best fighter in the world. Andre Ward is the man.”

He was dressed in a black tuxedo with black patent leather shoes and looked like a father headed to his child’s wedding.

It was a costly night for his company, as Roc Nation is expected to lose millions, but it was clear he’d worry about that another day.

“I told you on the first day that Andre Ward was going to win this by knockout and here we are,” Yormark said. “I’m a man of my word.”

Andre Ward (L) and Sergey Kovalev trade blows during their rematch on Saturday. (Getty)