Sergey Kovalev vs Andre Ward Plus Undercard
BY KID HERSH
From the T Mobile Arena in Las Vegas came the most anticipated fight of the year between two undefeated pound for pound fighters. Even down to the wire people were calling it a 50/50 fight as you could easily make a case for either man winning and in almost any fashion imaginable.
Clarissa Shields won her professional debut against the hard hitting Franchon Crews. Crews came out with no respect for the two time gold medalist but she soon had respect for her after Clarissa established her dominance with her strength and faster hands. She also looked more athletic with straight punches. Clarissa looked like she had a potential knockout going in the final round, especially at nearly two minutes in when she blasted Crews with a right hand that nearly took her head off. Had it been another two rounds she likely would have gotten the knockout. Tough fight for a professional debut but Shields showed the potential that everyone knows she carries.
Next up was Darmani Rock (5-0, 4KO's) vs Brice Ritani-Coe (4-4-1, 3KO's). Rock showed that his hands were too fast and skills far too much from the start. Coe was fighting off the back foot and any time he tried to get aggressive he was simply outgunned. Coe did not take any bombs from Rock, who was more so picking off his man from the outside for four rounds and then showing solid defense in the fourth in final round as he bobbed and weaved with his hands down but Coe could not hit the target. Rock won the shutout unanimous decision.
Curtis Stevens (28-5, 21KO's) vs James De La Rosa (23-4, 13KO's) was another anticipated fight on the card. Stevens is always a crowd pleaser and De La Rosa typically a bit of an underrated fighter. In the first round it was action packed as usual with Stevens as he blasted home a left hook to the exposed chin of De La Rosa one minute into the round that snapped his head and shook him. De La Rosa spent the remainder of the round fighting to get Stevens off of him but went down in the waning seconds of the first round from a left hook. He got up and made it through the round but Stevens looks fast and powerful tonight! The second round was a bit slower as Stevens stalked his man but couldn't land the explosive shots he was having success with in the first round. In the third round Stevens went for the knockout early on, pouring everything he had into power shots. He was landing many of them and hurting his man but De La Rosa is one tough cookie and is not going anywhere tonight! Or so he has shown, thus far. The fight turned slower in the coming rounds as it looked like Stevens was getting tired because any time he is backing up he is not winning rounds - everyone knows that about Stevens. In the coming rounds De La Rosa was getting hit flush in spots but would taunt Stevens, letting everyone know he had taken his best shot and could take it more if he needed to. The rounds were getting tough to score because the output and ring generalship of Stevens has been tanking in the mid rounds. Midway through the eighth round Stevens was docked a point for hitting low and it was not received very well. The fight waned in the remaining rounds as De La Rosa was moving about the ring and boxing his man while Stevens looked a bit lost but the rounds were tough to score. He would end up winning the UD, however, in a fight that started fast and seemed like it was going to be a real good scrap but waned as De La Rosa's tactics changed to boxing Stevens and using his length. Would find out after the fight that Stevens
Next up was Oleksandr Gvozdyk (11-0, 9KO's) vs Isaac Chilemba (24-4-2, 10KO's). The first round was fairly uneventful as "The Nail" looked rot find the always elusive Chilemba with his jab and feel out the distance. In the second round The Nail got a bit busier and was throwing more power shots. He was not hitting Chilemba flush but he won the round off of activity. In the fourth round The Nail upped the workmate to something rarely seen when midway through the round he threw what seemed like an endless supply of punches while trying to get the referee to stop the fight. Chilemba was not answering back but he was not hurt at all and smiling while on the ropes. He was getting hit, however, but came back afterwards to walk his man down and show that he was not going anywhere. In the fifth round Chilemba landed his best of the fight in a blistering right hand that thudded home but the combination of him not having amazing power and also lacking that killer finishing instinct that contributed to him not being able to take advantage of it. Chilemba had a funny look on his face in the eighth round after he landed a right hand that shook The Nail, causing him to clinch and hold on. Then by the end of the round, with the look of concern on his face, Chilemba was fading fast. The fight was stopped before the ninth round with Chilemba claiming a broken right hand - although Roy Jones Jr. (working his corner) would later state that he re injured an old elbow injury. Big win for Gvozdyk here and a good rebound from his last fight where I thought he did not look very good.
Pre main event time featuring Maurice "Mighty Mo" Hooker (21-0-2, 16KO's) vs Darleys Perez (32-2-1, 21KO's). In the first round Hooker was boxing his man off the back foot and giving ground while looking to counter while Perez was pressing forward and trying to go to the long body of the massively tall Mighty Mo. It was more of the same in the second round with Perez finding the rare home for an overhand right every few minutes. Hooker can take his punch just fine, however, and continued boxing like nothing ever happened. This continued through the coming rounds until the fight got a bit ugly in the sixth when Perez was really trying to press his way inside and stay there and Hooker was hooking away, hitting behind the head a couple times. This looked to me like it was only because pos the range/distance they were fighting at combined with his extreme length and lanky nature of his punches. Referee Kenny Bayless warned both fighters to keep it clean and the fight continued. Perez was trying to draw his man into a war but Hooker was on his bike and looking to hit and move. Hooker looks very off balance and it was an ugly fight going down the stretch.
In the first round Ward was jabbing to the body and trying to work his way inside Kovalev's power. Sergey landed a jab midway through the round that appeared to hurt Ward and got everyone on the edge of their seat as it indicated that Kovalev con indeed hurt Ward and his power is going to be a big factor. Sergey was boxing beautifully and in the second round while pressing Ward heavily and landing 1-2's. Then suddenly everyone was in shock when he landed a right hand in the final minute of the round that thudded home and dropped Ward on his rear for the first time since waaaaay back at the Darnell Boone fight. He got up and recovered, having a funny smirk on his face as if to say "you got me" and the crowd was roaring on it's fight as the whole venue had a beautiful deafening roar that can only happen in mega fights with drama. The third round action slowed a bit but Ward came out firing away and not playing it too safe. He landed jabs and right hands and made a good recovery in the round compared to the previous ones. In the fourth Sergey was content with sitting on the outside and was looking a bit perplexed and confused about what to do next. In the fifth round Ward had his best of the fight as he stuck his jab in Sergey's face and got his punches off first. He piled on the momentum from the previous round and it was a round that he definitely needs because he needs to turn the fight around after the slow start. The sixth round was more of Andre Ward being Andre Ward. He is like a python that won't let his prey go when he drops inside and its weird because he makes it look totally legal. Holding, that is. Kovalev landed some good short right hands in the sixth round but it is clear that he is having trouble finding the distance against the now slippery Ward, who is not the same fighter that Kovalev was facing in the first couple rounds. Also Sergey is not cutting off the ring and is instead following his man around the ring while not setting up his punches. In the seventh round Ward continued his surge but Kovalev holds so much power that even when he lands a stiff jab it looks like it could buckle Ward. Ward was landing really good jabs of his own though and was further getting into a great rhythm and taking the fight over. He carried this through to the next round, beating Kovalev to the punch in the eighth. Ward continued landing one hard jab at a time but was banking rounds because while he was throwing great jabs and sometimes left hooks he was blunting the champions output almost entirely. By the end of the eighth round I could not remember the last time that Kovalev landed a clean shot. Ward continued banking the rounds and was also putting in excellent body work. In the ninth round the action heated up after Wards body work appeared to start showing on Kovalev, who breathing a little heavy and as Roy Jones Jr. pointed out: he looked like his punches have lost some steam on them. By the end of the ninth Kovalev seemed to catch a second wind though, likely knowing he had to dig deep and get his work rate back up as answered Ward in exchanges and was wrestling him a bit more on the inside instead of allowing Ward to dictate the distance. Kovalev had his best round in a long time in the tenth as he was jabbing effectively and being the ring general by not following Ward around the ring. It was a very tense, drama-filled fight again as a person could sense that both men were vying for the win in these late rounds. Ward was trying to showboat with bolo punches but Kovalev put an end to it with an effective jab that slightly embarrassed Ward as he would up for a right hand and got nailed with Kovalevs left. Both men had good success in the eleventh round but it was Ward that left the bigger impression due to landing the cleaner and bigger shots. The twelfth and final round was a good one and tough to score as both men scored good punches. The cards came in 114-113 across the board for Andre Ward, the winner and NEW champion.
The interesting thing about Ward vs Kovalev, aside from Kovalev showing his great power and drama early on and then making a late push and also aside from Andre Ward showing that he can dig deep like a true champion to come back from being hurt early on, is that the vast majority of boxing media had Kovalev the winner while the vast majority of ex fighters had Andre Ward as the winner. There is a TON of controversy over nothing at all here; the fight could have swung either way and was decided over one point on each scorecard. Case closed.