Three-belt light-heavyweight champion Andre Ward of Oakland announced Tuesday that he’s agreed to a June 17 rematch with Russia’s former champion Sergey Kovalev at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.
Ward (31-0, 15 knockouts) survived a second-round knockdown to pile up rounds in the second half of his Nov. 19 first meeting with then-unbeaten Kovalev and emerged with a unanimous-decision victory by three judges’ scores of 114-113.
In his first interview since posting his announcement on social media, Ward told the Los Angeles Times that he expects the rematch to be a “continuation” of his late-round success in the first bout.
“This is necessary,” Ward said in a telephone interview. “This is more for the fans who’ve been clamoring for the fight and to set the record straight once and for all. It’s less about me. I’m secure with the first fight. It was no robbery. It was a close fight that I won.
“Of course, in that situation, you’re going to have different people saying all sorts of things. That comes with the territory. In a nutshell, this is for the people who believe in me and have been believing in me, to continue to prove them right. That’s my true motivation.”
The bout will be broadcast on pay-per-view again by HBO.
Armed with a rematch clause inserted in the first contract by his promoter Kathy Duva, Kovalev (30-1-1, 26 KOs) told The Times last month in New York the deal was a foregone conclusion awaiting Ward’s announcement.
Ward said he’s receiving an increase in purse money, which he declined to immediately reveal, and his promoter, Jay Z’s Roc Nation Sports, will be the lead promoter this time around.
That position of authority is something Ward, the most recent U.S, Olympic boxing gold medalist (2004), said he intends to maintain against an opponent he now has valuable familiarity with.
“I know there are some adjustments I can make. We’ll see what he does. This is more about the mentality, the mind and the heart of each fighter,” Ward said.
“I’ve learned more about Kovalev in these last four months than I did by being in the ring with him for 12 rounds. There’s a lot about him in the things he’s said, the way he’s responded to adversity and what he felt was adversity. Very telling. That’s something I’ve taken note of and I’m going to tap into that weakness starting in Round One.”
Ward, who notoriously finds motivation in the criticism occasionally pointed at him, said he came to believe before the first fight that those against him would spare him no margin if he lost.
He said Kovalev, meanwhile, had the comfort of the rematch clause and the ability to lean on an excuse like preferential judging for the American in Las Vegas.
“He’s a lot of an excuse maker … while I kept saying [during the fight] that I have to find a way to win,” Ward said. “I knew if he fell short, he’d be given the benefit of the doubt, would make excuses and would have that soft cushion to fall back on. That’s exactly what happened. That’s what caused him to not be able to bite down and find a way when that fight got hard … me not getting that benefit of the doubt helped me find a way to win it, and that’s how [trainer] Virgil [Hunter] coached me.
“Kovalev has always made excuses when things couldn’t go his way, like not stopping the guy [Isaac Chilemba in July] in Russia. He said he had a cold, had to sell the tickets and was fighting back home. Well, welcome to the party and welcome to the big leagues. When you fight a big fight, you’ve got to find a way to compartmentalize that stuff and still get the job done. I’m looking at the things you’re doing and saying when that pressure’s on, and that’s what’s revealing to me.”
Ward said any delay in getting the deal done mostly had to do with finer points negotiated between Roc Nation and Duva. He said the Voluntary Anti-Doping Authority will again preside over drug testing.
The rematch, Ward predicted, will serve as an exclamation point to the respect he gained by rising from the Kovalev knockdown punch and finding a way to win.
“I understand the standard that’s over my career. It’s been that way since I was a kid. I hope this doesn’t sound arrogant, but I’m not supposed to be on the canvas,” Ward said. “But we understand those things happening in boxing. The key is how you respond. It’s amazing how the questions have been to me about, ‘How’d that happen?’ instead of asking him the tough question of, ‘OK, Krusher, why couldn’t you finish him? Where were you at the second half of the fight? How’d the fight unravel on you and you had no answers?’
“Those questions were never asked. And now it is going to be a continuation of the first fight and it’s going to be me or him, because I’m not going to be hard to find.”