After the controversy on the scorecards from their first fight, Sergey Kovalev vowed to keep his fortunes out of the three judges seated at ringside on Saturday.
It turned out, that's exactly what Andre Ward had in mind, too.
Ward (32-0, 16 KOs) defended his trio of light heavyweight titles and cemented his status as the world's best pound-for-pound fighter with a stunning eighth-round TKO of Kovalev at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas.
In the most important victory of his great career, Ward put the bad taste of his contested decision win last November behind him. That doesn't mean, however, that this victory was without controversy.
Ward, 33, held a slight edge on two of three scorecards following seven close and tactical rounds. But a fading Kovalev saw his exit from the fight come quickly in Round 8 after Ward began his attack with a left hook to the belt line that could've been considered low.
A massive right hook to the chin that followed from Ward left no doubt and sent Kovalev scrambling to the ropes. Ward followed up by digging to the body with a trio of left hooks, some of which appeared borderline in terms of being low.
A badly beaten Kovalev (30-2-1, 26 KOs) slouched over in pain and stopped defending himself, which left referee Tony Weeks no choice but to jump in and stop the fight without a count, with Kovalev still on his feet.
Kovalev, 34, a native of Russia, didn't immediately protest the stoppage but later voiced his anger during a post fight interview.
"It was a low blow. It didn't hurt like I could go down on the floor but it was a low blow," Kovalev said. "Right now, I should've continued. I didn't feel it. This is fight. We are boxers. Yes, he punched me but I didn't feel it. It didn't hurt me. I wanted to continue fighting. Why stop the fight? I want to continue and kick his ass."
Ward admitted he knew the punches were borderline but continued to attack in hopes of forcing the stoppage.
"I knew it was close, I went right back to the body," Ward said. "He was hurt and he wasn't reacting so the referee stopped it."
Ten of Ward's 20 punches landed in Round 8 were to the body as he continued the trend that got him out of trouble last November, when Ward got up off the canvas early and rallied back by weakening Kovalev and wearing him down.
Kovalev outlanded Ward, 95 to 80, overall (according to CompuBox) but expended a great deal of energy in boxing with Ward on even terms. Kovalev was the aggressor early behind his jab, but started to fade as the fight wore on.
"I felt like I was up, I don't know by how many, but a championship fight really starts at the end of six rounds," Ward said. "I could tell he was getting a little tired but he was still in there, was still fighting. When I saw him starting to react to body shots that was borderline, I knew I had him and had to just keep going down.
"Then I hurt him with a head shot and I just had to get the right shots in there to get him all the way and we did that."
Kovalev did a better job fighting on the inside and equaling Ward's physicality from the clinch during the rematch. But Ward began to adjust and slowly figure Kovalev out, making some key adjustments midfight.
"I knew that this fight was going to be different," Ward said. "We had a good camp last time, we had some physical issues. Kovalev fought a good fight but once I compute a fighter in my brain and have him in there, I know what I need to do the next time around."
After the fight, Ward gave Kovalev his credit and admitted he was the most difficult opponent of his career. He also had a plea for his critics.
"Let me ask you a question? Can I get on the pound-for-pound list now at the top?" said Ward. "I don't have a vote, I keep saying that. So I just have to keep my head down and keep working.
In terms of his future, Ward teased about a possible move to cruiserweight or even heavyweight.
"That's always been a dream of mine," Ward said. "It would have to be against the right guy but I don't put a limit as to what I'm capable of."
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Ward vs. Kovalev 2 scorecard
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