Column: Sergey Kovalev wants to take his rematch with Andre Ward out of the hands of the judges

Sergey Kovalev lands a left to the head of Andre Ward during their light-heavyweight title bout in November of 2016.
(Al Bello / Getty Images)

Parts of boxing are as backward as ever and Kathy Duva won’t pretend otherwise.

“If you’re not concerned about judges in a boxing match, something’s wrong with you,” Duva said with a laugh.

So, yeah, some things don’t change.

Duva’s company, Main Events, is co-promoting a rematch of boxing’s highest-level offering from last year, Andre Ward’s victory over Sergey Kovalev. The light-heavyweight championship fight is scheduled for June 17 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, down the street from where Ward was awarded a controversial unanimous decision in November.


Duva promotes Kovalev and acknowledged her fighter might have to do something dramatic to avoid the same fate he endured seven months earlier. As was the case in the first fight, all three judges will be from the United States, the country Ward represented at the 2004 Olympics. Kovalev is from Russia.

“I think he has to win every round decisively,” she said of Kovalev. “I prefer that he knocks him out.”

Duva laughed again. How could she not?

Of course, this raises the question of why anyone should take boxing seriously — or why I spent my Tuesday covering Kovalev’s media workout, other than to avoid visiting the Rams for another week.

How can a sport call itself a sport when the deck is perceived to be stacked in favor of one side?

“It happens so much to us,” Duva said with a sigh of resignation, “that always we go into the fight with the idea that if you don’t beat the crap out of the other guy, you’re going to lose.”

Main Events used to promote Pernell Whitaker, who was deprived of deserved victories against Jose Luis Ramirez and Julio Cesar Chavez. The company also represented Meldick Taylor, the victim of a controversial stoppage loss to Chavez, and Lennox Lewis, whose lopsided victory over Evander Holyfield was officially declared a draw.

“You look at the 10 worst robberies in boxing history, we are on the wrong side of half of them,” Duva said.

The power-punching Kovalev’s defeat to Ward wasn’t one of them.

From ringside, I scored the fight the same as three judges, 114-113 for Ward. We were in the minority.

“You’re entitled to your opinion, even if it’s wrong,” Duva said playfully.

I watched the replay on television a week later and reversed my score. Either way, the fight was extremely close — close enough to where it didn’t feel right that the American managed to receive the nod over his Russian opponent on all three scorecards. Duva theorized the judges were influenced by the pro-Ward crowd.

The unpopular decision diverted attention from what happened inside the ring, where two elite technicians showcased their resolve and tactical acumen. Instead of talking Tuesday about Kovalev’s previously overlooked boxing ability or Ward’s determination, Duva spoke at length about the judges appointed by the Nevada State Athletic Commission for the rematch: Dave Moretti of Nevada, Steve Weisfeld of New Jersey and Glenn Feldman of Connecticut.

The irony was that to finalize the second fight, Duva had to concede the very point that might have cost her fighter a decision the first time around.

Kovalev had a rematch clause that he invoked right away, only for Ward to threaten to retire if certain conditions weren’t met. So when Duva’s request to ask the commission for non-American judges was rejected by Ward’s camp, Duva didn’t push back.

She couldn’t. Kovalev wanted the fight.

The demand cost Kovalev his leverage, which was that he won the first encounter in the eyes of the public. Kovalev could have moved on to another opponent without any damage to his reputation. But he couldn’t forget about his three championship belts, which were now in Ward’s possession.

“A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon,” Napoleon once remarked.

The same is true of fighters and belts. Boxing’s sanctioning bodies have diminished in stature over the last couple of decades, but their championships are still treasured by fighters.

“He does not deserve these belts,” Kovalev said. “They were gifts to him from the judges for Christmas.”

Ward’s claims that he was the clear victor irked Kovalev.

“I want to destroy this guy, as a boxer, as a champion,” Kovalev said. “For me, he’s not the champion. He’s a fake champion.”

Kovalev said he overtrained for his initial encounter with Ward, resulting in him being unable to further push the advantage he gained by scoring a second-round knockdown. He said he modified his workout program for this camp.

But the judges?

“I believe in judges,” he said.

Even after November?

None of the three judges from the first fight are returning for the second, he pointed out.

He can only hope that makes a difference.

Follow Dylan Hernandez on Twitter @dylanohernandez