George Carlin once quipped, “If it’s undisputed, what’s all the fighting about?”
Andre Ward and his fans have been asking that same question since November, when the Olympic gold medalist defeated Light Heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev in front of 13,310 fans at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
Ward walked away with the unified World Boxing Association, International Boxing Federation and World Boxing Organization lightweight titles, as well as an untarnished 31-0 record, and The Ring magazine’s ranking as the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the sport.
Undisputed, one would think.
But boxing is unlike most professional sports, in which athletes and teams are judged by wins and losses and people rarely look at the box score. Prizefighters are held to a standard akin to—forgive the comparison—presidential candidates, meaning one can win on the scorecards but still lose the popular vote.
Ward has no doubts that he won both. Yet the voices proclaiming Kovalev the victor in a close bout (all three judges scored the fight 114-113 for Ward) have been grating on the champion.
“That’s not the first close fight that’s ever happened in the sport of boxing,” Ward says. “There are plenty of people, plenty who say, ‘Look, bro, you won that fight; don’t let these people change your mind.’
“Those people don’t get acknowledged, but the people that felt like he won seem to get a front-row seat.”
On June 17, the champion faces Kovalev for a second time in Las Vegas. The rematch at Mandalay Bay Events Center is billed as “No Excuses.”
“I don’t want anything that I don’t earn or anything that’s not mine,” he says. “I earned that victory and I earned it the hard way, and I’m not gonna let anybody tell me any different.”
Ward, who claims he doesn’t pay lip service to boxing media—“That’s why we’re talking,” he says—knows that criticism comes with the territory.
“I respect a person’s opinion,” he says, but is quick to disagree with claims that the three American judges robbed Kovalev of the victory.
“If you feel like he edged me, hey man, we agree to disagree,” he says. “I feel like I won, you feel like I didn’t. But anybody crying [robbery] that’s another agenda.”
Ward hasn’t spoken to Kovalev since the two fighters left the ring in November. “I don’t talk to that dude. We’re not cool,” he says. His jab appears to be aimed directly at his opponent’s camp, which reportedly lobbied the Nevada Athletic Commission, albeit unsuccessfully, to have at least one non-American judge scoring the rematch.
In recent interviews, Kovalev has dismissed Ward as a “fake champion.” He’s promising to “destroy” him in the rematch and partially blames his only loss on overpreparation, which he says left him gassed in the later rounds.
“Man, it’s embarrassing, really, the way that they’ve acted,” responds Ward, giving his opponent only the slightest compliment with regard to their first match.
“I give [him] credit for coming out, you know, strong and establishing his jab,” he says. “I give him credit for that, and that was my fault.
“That punch that he landed [in the beginning], that was a good shot. We were both getting ready to trade right hands and his got there first. [I’ve] got to keep that left hand up and can’t let that happen.”
The champ is quick to add that he’ll make the “necessary adjustments” to his strategy in order to finish the fight in a dominant fashion and ensure there’s no talk of Ward vs. Kovalev III.
“My job is to close the book on this,” he says. “[To] put a muzzle on him and close the book on this chapter.”
More Words From Ward
On his confidence level
“I’ve been building confidence for the past 20 years doing what I do. I’m ready and it’s just about going out there and executing. That’s what it boils down to and I’m looking forward to it.”
On fighting in Las Vegas
“Obviously the rich history in Vegas is just in the air. You can feel it. It’s tangible.”
“To be the main guy in the main event, [it’s] just an unbelievable feeling that it was just literally like a dream come true. And to be able to do all over again for part two is an amazing feeling. It’s amazing.”
On the judges of Ward vs. Kovalev 1
“The judges did what they were supposed to do, and I’m not just saying that because I won. But if you look at the scorecards, they were aligned. You have three judges who scored a few rounds differently here and there. But at the end of the day, they were aligned in their score. Three judges. Did they all three get it wrong?”
Ward vs. Kovalev 2 “The Rematch”
June 17, tickets start at $105, Mandalay Bay Events Center, axs.com/events.