Many will feel the Russian was robbed of victory by home judges. But fights between two skilled operators can be incredibly tough to call
Kathy Duva is no stranger to disappointment. The veteran promoter behind Sergey Kovalev has been on the wrong end of more than a few controversial decisions in her nearly three decades in the sport. Call it an occupational hazard.
But that experience doesnt assuage the sting of Kovalevs razor-thin unanimous-decision loss to Andre Ward on Saturday night in Las Vegas, a verdict that stripped the Russian champion of his light heavyweight titles and saddled him with the first loss of his professional career.
Im pissed off like I was the night that Whitaker fought Chavez, and the night Rocky Lockridge fought Wilfredo Gomez, and the night that Holyfield fought Lewis, said Duva, as arena workers cleared the floor and broke down the ring at the T-Mobile Arena. Its a shame. Two guys fought their hearts out and I feel Sergey was the better man.
Shes not alone.
The Guardian scored it 115-112 to Kovalev, as did the Los Angeles Times and ESPN.com. The Associated Press, Fox Sports and HBOs Harold Lederman each had it 116-111, while The Ring magazine saw it 117-110 for the champion.
The vehement cries of robbery on social media were immediate and not entirely without merit. Yes, its bad look that an Olympic hero from the United States fighting a Russian on home soil is the beneficiary of a close verdict handed down by three American judges.
But lousy decisions can be attributed to either corruption or incompetence. This was neither. This was a close, competitive fight that could have gone either way.
Boxing matches are scored on a round-by-round system. The basic idea is to evaluate what happens over the course of an entire fight without putting too much emphasis on one or two key events that may loom larger in the minds eye. A razor-thin fight could theoretically be scored a 120-108 shutout if the judge, who is charged with scoring each round as an independent event, tips each round to the same fighter.
Four of the rounds on my 115-112 scorecard could have gone either way: the third (which I scored to Kovalev), the fifth (Ward), the 10th (Kovalev) and the 12th (Ward). It doesnt take much to get to 114-113 for Ward from there. Then consider the ringside judges are seated on different sides of the ring without the benefits of monitors or instant replay, their views of critical punches sometimes obstructed.
Then you have a case like Saturday night when Kovalev won his rounds on a mandate, while Ward nicked his with body work, precision punching and ring generalship as his opponents power and accuracy began to wane.
Ward deserves credit for coming back after an extremely precarious opening four rounds against perhaps the biggest puncher in the sport, making the necessary adjustments to make it a contest, then showing the finishing kick of a champion.
So while it might not be ideal to have the perception of controversy hanging over boxings fight of the year (especially when the sports reputation has taken a battering of late), the fact that a showdown between two top-drawer operators in their primes was too close to call instead of the one-sided showcases weve seen more and more in pay-per-view events in recent years is not a bad thing.
Minutes after the decision came down, Duva said that Kovalev would be exercising a clause in the fight contract that calls for an immediate rematch unless both parties agree to forgo it. While Michael Yormark of Roc Nation Sports, which promotes Ward, declined to acknowledge the rematch clause, the lack of an immediately attractive alternative for either fighter augurs well for a rematch next year.
That means another big payday for both fighters and, more importantly, an even bigger audience given the buzz about Saturdays bout.
So Kovalevs loss is boxings gain and it wont be so bad for his bottom line either.