This past weekend featured arguably the biggest boxing fight made in 2016, as two elite unbeaten boxers gave the world what they want: a truly intriguing contest between well-matched competitors in which something, surely, had to give.
Andre Ward vs Sergey Kovalev did not disappoint over 12 rounds, either. The dangerous Russian and the slick American not only lived up to the ‘puncher vs boxer’ billing, but did more than that. A thrilling war concluded with the sport’s fanbase pretty much unanimous in feeling they got their money’s worth.
And then the judges made their decision, and everything went to pieces.
Kovalev, the aggressor as many predicted he would be, lost his ‘0’ to Ward despite knocking Andre down and having him in serious trouble at times. It led to outrage, with many screaming ‘daylight robbery’.
The thing is, it wasn’t daylight robbery at all.
Am I saying Ward definitely deserved to win? Not really. In fact, on my scorecard Kovalev was up 114-113. I had six rounds for each fighter, with that knockdown giving Sergey a 10-8 and thus, the leanest of wins.
But if I can only give a boxer the nod by a solitary point, I certainly wouldn’t refute any fan who claimed their opponent won by the same margin - and all three judges did exactly that, scoring it 114-113 to Ward.
That’s a two-point swing. And over 12 rounds of boxing, two points’ difference is always arguable grounds. But because this particular instance changes who wins the fight, people are up in arms.
In fact, there’s so much fracas about the judges’ scorecards that something important is being overlooked: the fact that Ward and Kovalev had such a great, close fight that it came down to one or two points.
In a year where the likes of Canelo vs Golovkin, Brook vs Khan and any one of several mouthwatering heavyweight superfights eluded us, Andre and Sergey delivered and gave us enough reason to see it happen all over again. And if it wasn’t intriguing enough the first time, an inevitable rematch is certainly going to draw big numbers.
Ward may not have been the ‘front foot’ boxer, but his ring generalship of Kovalev - especially late on - showed why he’s one of today’s finest technical pugilists. He also showed a toughness few fighters have been able to bring to the surface. He has argued since the bout that a rematch would have a far more decisive conclusion in his favour, asking aloud what else Kovalev could possibly offer that wasn’t already on display on Saturday.
Kovalev, meanwhile, truly feels he did enough to stay unbeaten and will have a serious chip in his shoulder if he gets Ward again, in the best possible way for the spectator. He has also never fought an opponent quite like the ‘Son of God’ and will surely put a lot more focused preparation into overwhelming Ward’s cerebral performance the second time around - perhaps with a little extra guile and nous of his own.
It could be said that the disagreements over the first Ward-Kovalev instalment take away from the quality of the bout. It could also be argued, however, that the debates only add to its greatness - and that only boxing’s unfortunate history of truly unfathomable decisions is causing many to cast the tight decision in such a negative light.
One judge seeing Floyd Mayweather’s rout of ‘Canelo’ as being a draw? That’s a bad call. Half the decisions made at Olympic boxing tournaments? Very bad calls. Kovalev-Ward doesn’t belong in the same conversation as such farces and more.
The only horrific decision regarding Saturday’s light-heavyweight superclash is if nobody actually books the rematch in 2017.