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Ward impressed with 8th-round stoppage of Kovalev

 (Lance Pugmire / Los Angeles Times)
(Lance Pugmire / Los Angeles Times)

Andre Ward has an Olympic gold medal, and Saturday night the Oakland fighter showed world-class professional mettle to claim a spirited eighth-round technical knockout victory over Russian rival Sergey Kovalev.

After defeating Kovalev to take his three light-heavyweight world-title belts in a controversial decision in November, Ward (32-0, 16 knockouts) hurt Kovalev with a massive right-handed punch earlier in the eighth.

Then, after punching through Kovalev complaints that he was being hit low in the round, Ward battered Kovalev in a corner with two devastating body blows on the belt that forced the Russian to keel over as referee Tony Weeks stopped the bout 2 minutes, 29 seconds in.

“He was reacting to my body shots, and I knew I had him and I knew he was hurt,” Ward said. “Am I No. 1 [in pound-for-pound rankings] now?”

Ward was leading by one point on two of three judges’ scorecards when the fight ended, while Kovalev had a three-point bulge on one card thanks to an effective early start.

“It felt like I was up [on the scorecards], but a championship fight starts after the sixth round,” Ward said. “I knew I had him hurt. I knew he was hurt. He was trying to cover up his body. He was dazed so I just had to try to find the right shot. He just didn’t react, and the referee stopped it.”

Kovalev (30-2-1) said he believed he could’ve kept fighting.

“This is fighting. We are boxers. Why stop the fight? This is amazing,” Kovalev said.

Yet, while Kovalev added, “I want to get another fight,” the rivalry seems over with no rematch clause in effect and Ward saying afterward he might want to move to cruiserweight.

Earlier, super-bantamweight champion Guillermo Rigondeaux escaped a lengthy review by the Nevada Athletic Commission to post a first-round knockout of Mexico’s Moises Flores.

Referee Vic Drakulich, after consulting with commission Executive Director Bob Bennett, ruled that Cuba’s unbeaten Rigondeaux (18-0, 12 KOs) threw his knockout punch just before Drakulich was intervening as the bell rang.

An HBO replay appeared to show the knockout punch was delivered after the bell.

Flores (25-1), caught hard behind the right ear by the power punch, fell backward to the canvas, lay motionless with his arms sprawled upward for several seconds, then groggily moved toward his stool, raising suspicions that he exaggerated the effect of his condition to attempt to win a no-decision ruling.

“It’s not fair. It’s clear that the bell rang,” Flores said. “I was winning the round, and he waited for after the bell to throw a punch when I dropped my hands down.”

Bennett said on HBO the outcome could be revisited, and if it turns out the punch was delivered after the bell, the result could even be changed to a Rigondeaux disqualification.

A knockout “was only a matter of time,” Rigondeaux said. “I hope the whole world sees what it’s like to get in the ring with me. I am tired of the press and everyone saying I am boring.”

The Cuban retains his World Boxing Assn. title and said afterward, as one of the sport’s most avoided fighters, that he’d be willing to meet either former super-flyweight world champion Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez or super-featherweight champion Vasyl Lomachenko in a catchweight bout. 

It was a low blow. I don't know why the fight was stopped. 

Sergey Kovalev after his loss

Is it possible now to get on the pound-for-pound list?

Andre Ward, asking sarcastically after his win over Sergey Kovalev

Power punches and judges card favored Ward

 (Arash Markazi / ESPN via Twitter)
(Arash Markazi / ESPN via Twitter)

Ward gets the edge on power punches with 53 power punches while Kovalev landed 50 punches. 

The judges had Ward leading at the time of the stoppage. Two judges had Ward ahead on the cards with 67-66, and the third judge had it at 68-65 for Kovalev.

Both the L.A. Times and columnist Dylan Hernandez had the fight scored 67-66 Kovalev. 

The cards show just how close this fight was right until the stoppage.

Round 8: Ward stops Kovalev after barrage of body shots

Here's the best of the fight. Andre Ward is looking really strong, and Sergey Kovalev is looking like he wants to go down. He is in survivor mode. 

The referee stops the fight after some low-looking shots, but Ward gets the TKO after a series of body shots. 

Surprising finish to this fight since it looked like Kovalev was leading on some cards. Ward finished. 

Round 7: Little action, but Ward gets the round

Sergey Kovalev is still stalking Andre Ward and landing a bit more punches. The HBO crew is realizing how difficult this fight is to score. It is really close. No clear-cut winner in the round, but Ward did a bit more to get the round. 

L.A. Times Card: 10-9 Ward (67-66 Ward)

Dylan Hernandez Card: 10-9 Ward (67-66 Kovalev)

Round 6: Kovalev, landing more punches, gets another round

These rounds are exceedingly close. Andre Ward is being more selective in his punches, though Sergey Kovalev's jab is superior. 

Kovalev gets the round because he is busier than Ward and is landing more of the punches. This might be another controversial ending.

L.A. Times Card: 10-9 Kovalev (57-57)

Dylan Hernandez Card: 10-9 Kovalev (58-56 Kovalev)

Round 5: Ward gets the fifth with his work to the body

This fight is missing the fireworks of the first matchup. There's a good exchange in the middle of the ring with Sergey Kovalev landing a body shot, and Andre Ward sticks a right to Kovalev's chin. 

Ward is on a streak. He wins the second round in a row thanks to landing some effective body shots. 

L.A. Times Card: 10-9 Ward (48-47 Ward)

Dylan Hernandez's Card: 10-9 Ward (48-47 Kovalev)

Round 4: Ward has his best round of the night

Sergey Kovalev looks to be the more aggressive fighter tonight. He continues to move forward. A stiff left jab stops Kovalev's momentum. Andre Ward showed his hand speed on that round. 

This is Ward's best round. He is landing his jabs and has had success evading Kovalev's jabs. A quick combo at the end of the round for Ward gives him the edge. 

L.A. Times Card: 10-9 Ward (38-38)

Dylan Hernandez Card: 10-9 Ward (39-37 Kovalev)

Round 3: More jabs by Kovalev give him another close round

Lots of clinching and much less action than the first fight. Sergey Kovalev keeps sticking the jab, and Andre Ward is looking pretty strong himself. 

This is a slower round and one that is very close, but Kovalev landed a few more power punches.

L.A. Times Card: 10-9 Kovalev (29-28 Kovalev)

Dylan Hernandez Card: 10-9 Kovalev (30-27 Kovalev)

Round 2: Kovalev gets a close round with solid jabs

Pretty boring round for the first couple of minutes, but Sergey Kovalev is starting to land his jabs. The fight is stopped for a bit after an Andre Ward low blow at the one minute mark. 

Nice action in the corner with both fighters landing combinations. A close round, but it goes to Kovalev.

L.A. Times Card: 10-9 Kovalev (19-19)

Dylan Hernandez Card: 10-9 Kovalev (20-18 Kovalev)

Round 1: Ward opens with a close round

Sergey Kovalev is stalking Andre Ward and lands the first solid punch of the night with a right to the body. A couple of clinches early and both boxers needed to be separated. More clinching.

Ward lands the first good punch of the night with a left hook and then a body shot. A straight right by Ward, and it's going to be a very close round. Not too much action to speak of. 

L.A. Times Card: 10-9 Ward

Dylan Hernandez Card 10-9 Kovalev

The fighters are in the ring; main event about to start

Kovalev and Ward prepare for their ring walks

Moises Flores on his controversial loss to Guillermo Rigondeaux

It's not fair. It's clear that the bell rang. He didn't throw a punch the whole round. I was winning the round, and he waited for after the bell to throw a punch when I dropped my hands down.

Moises Flores after his controversial loss

Kovalev and Ward getting ready for their showdown

Controversial finish in Rigondeaux-Flores fight

 (Arash Markazi/ESPN via Twitter)
(Arash Markazi/ESPN via Twitter)

Super-bantamweight champion Guillermo Rigondeaux escaped from a lengthy review by the Nevada Athletic Commission to post a first-round knockout of Mexico’s Moises Flores.

Referee Vic Drakulich, after consulting with commission executive director Bob Bennett, ruled that Cuba’s unbeaten Rigondeaux (18-0, 12 KOs) threw his knockout punch just before Drakulich was intervening as the bell rang.

An HBO replay appeared to show the knockout punch was delivered after the bell.

Flores (25-1), caught hard behind the right ear by the power punch, fell backward to the canvas, lied motionless with his arms sprawled upward for several seconds, then groggily moved toward his stool, raising suspicions that he exaggerated the effect of his condition to attempt to win a no-decision ruling.

Bennett said on HBO the outcome could be revisited, and if it turns the punch was after the bell, the result could be changed to even a Rigondeaux disqualification.

A knockout “was only a matter of time,” Rigondeaux said.

The Cuban retains his World Boxing Assn. and said afterward, as one of the sport’s most avoided fighters, that he’d be willing to meet either former super-flyweight world champion Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez or super-featherweight champion Vasyl Lomachenko in a catch-weight bout.

Will Kovalev's rage inspire or sabotage his second chance at Ward?

Sergey Kovalev at a news conference June 15 in Las Vegas. (John Locher / Associated Press)
Sergey Kovalev at a news conference June 15 in Las Vegas. (John Locher / Associated Press)

Sergey Kovalev’s black hat inscribed with one word, “WAR,” nearly said more than he did before he angrily walked off the stage at his news conference with bitter rival Andre Ward.

Kovalev, 34, is stewing about many things as Saturday’s rematch looms, raising the most important question that looms before the HBO pay-per-view bout: How much fighting rage is too much?

In November, Kovalev suffered his first loss and surrendered his three light-heavyweight belts to Oakland’s unbeaten Ward by the narrowest of margins, 114-113 on all three scorecards.

Ward and his team have salted the wound by saying things that have left Kovalev to fend off questions about a social media post with racial overtones; the possibility that his trainer, John David Jackson, considered leaving him for Ward’s team; and that he’s fortunate to be receiving the rematch.

“I can say they are liars,” Kovalev told the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday before failing to attend a larger group interview with reporters Thursday morning. “[Ward] said he gave the boxing fans a present” by permitting this rematch. “It was in the contract before the first fight. I don’t like a lot of things they say.”

The depth of that disdain — seen when Kovalev started his news conference walk-off by pointing to Ward and saying, “You, be prepared,” with Ward replying, “Don’t point your finger at me” — left Kovalev promoter Kathy Duva to offer her assessment that the Russian is “as mean as a snake right now.”

Ward plays up U.S.-Russia tensions in lead-up to rematch with Kovalev

Andre Ward dances during an open media workout on June 2 in Hayward, Calif. (Alexis Cuarezma / Getty Images)
Andre Ward dances during an open media workout on June 2 in Hayward, Calif. (Alexis Cuarezma / Getty Images)

Andre Ward is seizing the moment, and vice versa.

The three-belt light-heavyweight champion from Oakland whose talent has long deserved a greater audience arrives for his Saturday pay-per-view rematch against Sergey Kovalev with U.S.-Russia tensions once again front and center.

Confronted by a truly hostile enemy in the ring, Ward (31-0, 15 knockouts) said he can’t deny the parallels between his feelings and those of many of his countrymen who’ve been drawn this month to the Capitol Hill testimony of fired FBI Director James B. Comey and Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions regarding President Trump and the intrusion of U.S. affairs overseen by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“There’s definitely a lot of similarities between everything’s that going on with our politics, and what’s going on with people taking sides in this fight. They want to really show allegiance to their country,” Ward said.

Ward, the most recent U.S. Olympic male boxing champion (2004), has struggled to gain the same patriotic support that made Olympic champions Sugar Ray Leonard and Oscar De La Hoya household names during their professional rises.

After defeating a slate of foes best known in Europe while winning a super-middleweight tournament in 2011, Ward fought only once between September 2012 and June 2015 while splitting from the late Southland promoter Dan Goossen.

In November, Ward rose from an early knockdown to pile up rounds in the second half of the bout against Kovalev (30-1-1, 26 KOs) and win a unanimous decision by 114-113 scores on all three cards.

Mayweather's first comment about McGregor is ... a compliment?

Conor McGregor. (Julio Cortez / Associated Press)
Conor McGregor. (Julio Cortez / Associated Press)

The time will come soon enough for Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Conor McGregor to start launching verbal daggers at each other, but in what are believed to be his first public comments about the fight since it was made, Mayweather was complimentary toward his Aug. 26 opponent.

Asked in an impromptu meeting with the Los Angeles Times late Friday night if he was in agreement with those who speculate that he’ll defeat McGregor in a one-sided laugher, Mayweather responded, “No, he’s tough.”

Mayweather repeated, “He’s tough,” when asked how much he respects the UFC lightweight champion from Ireland, who is 21-3 after posting impressive stand-up striking victories over featherweight champion Jose Aldo, former lightweight title challenger Nate Diaz and lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez in a 12-month stretch.

The Westgate Superbook in Las Vegas has listed McGregor as a 7-1 underdog, respectable odds considering McGregor, 28, will be making his pro boxing debut in the Showtime pay-per-view fight at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas against the 49-0 Mayweather.

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