AMERICAN champion boxer Andre Ward kept his IBF, WBA and WBO titles by stopping Russian brawler Sergey Kovalev in the 8th round of their light heavyweight rematch on Saturday.
The unbeaten Ward hurt Kovalev with a right hand that buckled his knees and then finished him off on the ropes 30 seconds later with a series of body shots around the mid-section at the Mandalay Bay hotel and casino in Las Vegas.
“He’s a great fighter, not a lot of people are going to beat him,” Ward said. “But when you’re facing a great fighter you have to raise your game to the next level.”
Referee Tony Weeks stopped the fight with 31 seconds left in the 8th with Kovalev kneeling down from what he said was a low blow.
Ward improved to 32-0 with 16 knockouts as he held onto three of the four major boxing belts that he snatched from Kovalev by winning the first fight in November by a slim unanimous decision.
The 33-year-old Ward needed this victory to validate his first win as many felt the Russian won that fight and that Ward had been given a gift decision by the three judges.
“I’ve never been the most talented, I have never been the biggest, I just keep knocking down giants 1 by 1,” said Ward.
Kovalev (30-2-1, 26 KOs) sent Ward to the canvas in the first fight, and while he landed several big shots in the rematch, once again he failed to close the deal and appeared to tire after the 6th round.
“I cannot explain,” Kovalev said.
Kovalev added he wants an “immediate” rematch because he felt he got hit with a series of low blows in the eighth.
“It was a low blow, again another one,” he said as he watched a replay of the stoppage with an HBO interviewer.
“We are boxers. I could still continue. Why stop the fight?”
Kovalev was the much busier of the two from the opening bell of the entertaining fight. He was the aggressor backing up Ward who seemed content to wait for his opportunity to land a punch.
Both fighters landed solid blows in the 4th round, Kovalev with his stinging jab and Ward scoring with well-timed counter punches. But by the 6th, Ward said he could sense Kovalev was fading.
“Championship fights start in second half, in the 6th round. When I saw him reacting to the body shots that were borderline I knew I had him,” Ward said.
On the undercard, two-time Olympic champ Guillermo Rigondeaux beat Moises Flores with a controversial fight-ending punch at the close of the 1st round to retain his WBA junior featherweight title.
The victory was disputed as replays showed Rigondeaux landed a left hand after the bell had rang. He also landed 3 punches while holding Flores’ head from behind just before the KO.
Cuba-born Rigondeaux improved to 18-0 with 12 KOs, while Flores, of Mexico, dropped to 25-1, with 17 KOs.