Kovalev vs. Ward in rematch? It's complicated

Kovalev vs. Ward in rematch? It's complicated
Andre Ward lands a left jab against Sergey Kovalev during their light-heavyweight title fight. (Al Bello / Getty Images)

What makes perfect sense has real potential to develop into a perfect mess.

Unbeaten Andre Ward's come-from-behind, unanimous-decision victory Saturday night to claim three light-heavyweight belts from previously undefeated Sergey Kovalev was a bout that realized the hype and hopes.


The third meeting of unbeatens ranked in boxing's mythical top-five pound-for-pound list fulfilled expectations and boosted the profiles of two more fighters at a time boxing could use more name brands. It also had a rematch clause.

Russia's Kovalev (30-1-1) and his promoter, Kathy Duva, barely let minutes expire from Saturday's defeat by three judges' scores of 114-113 before invoking their intention to exercise their contractually agreed-upon rights.

Ward and his side were not so quick.

The Oakland fighter recovered from a second-round knockdown and a major scorecard deficit to sweep the final six rounds on two of the judges' cards and claim a decisive 12th round from two judges who had the bout tied after 11.

Although Kovalev objected to the scoring, pointing to possible "politics" that favored the last U.S. men's Olympic boxing gold medalist, Ward boasted more accuracy in punching success, landed more jabs and was game until the end.

"After the knockdown, I needed every single round. Responding to adversity, we got a tough victory and we did what champions do," Ward said. "We can take a big shot and get up."

Ward (31-0) suggested from the success he had in the second half against Kovalev that he believed a rematch would be a more convincing victory. He acknowledged there was controversy, but said the rematch is up to his manager, James Prince and his lawyer.

Prince later opened negotiations cryptically.

"All things are possible," Prince said. "We're going to soak in this one we have here now. We're never scared, you know what I mean? We know what it is. When the time and place comes in, we'll start talking about that.

"We're driving the ship now. [Kovalev's team] drove it the first time. We're behind the wheel on this one."

Duva was quick to react to that claim, reminding that the contract gives her significant control over terms of the rematch, with protective language that would discourage Ward from deviating from Chapter Two.

Most importantly, Duva said, both she and Ward's side have to agree to any request he'd make to fight someone else. Such an agreement would likely involve a payoff from Ward to Kovalev.

Given the debate over who won, there certainly isn't a better option for Ward than Kovalev after the Oakland fighter earned a $5 million guaranteed purse Saturday.

But there are interesting alternatives.


Ward has previously discussed a possible date against former middleweight champion Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., which would sell, and he could also opt to unify the light-heavyweight division against World Boxing Council champion Adonis Stevenson, who called out Ward  on social media late Saturday.

Several fighters from Stevenson's promotional company, Premier Boxing Champions, attended Saturday's fight and met with Ward, with a PBC official explaining, "It was just about supporting a great guy [Ward] and going to a big fight. The guys don't worry about those politics."

And while it's unclear if Ward is still connected to rapper Jay Z's Roc Nation Sports promotional company, Duva and Roc Nation endured a notoriously rocky co-promotion fraught with petty disagreements.

Duva further heightened the tension between herself, Ward and his trainer, Virgil Hunter, by telling a reporter of Jay Z and James Prince, "I come from a different type of business."

While Duva said she was referring to their work in the music industry, Ward and Hunter interpreted the comment differently and sniped at her during fight week.

"That's why I say, 'Why did they get $5 million and you only got $2 million [for Kovalev] then," Hunter said. "She puts off that air, that superior air, that entitlement air. She's upset because it didn't work."