LAS VEGAS — They came to the middle of the ring on Nov. 19, standing on each side of referee Robert Byrd.
Sergey Kovalev was convinced he had won. Andre Ward thought he had, but he also knew his opinion didn’t matter. Their fates were on the cards signed by Burt Clements, Glenn Trowbridge and John McKale, the ringside judges.
All three cards were the same: 114-113. Announcer Michael Buffer, after a pause to stop everyone’s breath, said, “And the NEW…..”
That meant Ward was the light heavyweight champion and Kovalev wasn’t, at least on the books of the WBA, IBF and WBO and in the minds of the public square.
Kovalev shook his head helplessly. Ward thrust his hands upward and jumped onto the turnbuckle. Few moments in sports are more stark or dramatic. That particular moment lent particular gravity to Saturday night’s rematch at Mandalay Bay.
Kathy Duva, Kovalev’s promoter, said Ward’s wild reaction indicated his surprise over winning.
“Well, she wasn’t jumping out of her seat,” Ward said. “She looked dejected. The look on my face….I just won the light heavyweight title of the world. If I felt like I’d lost by six rounds and they gave me the decision, I’d be the first to say, ‘Thank you, judges, but I’m not taking this belt.’”
“But I’m not going to apologize for winning a close fight.”
Virgil Hunter, Ward’s trainer now and forever, remembered a guy who once asked him if Ward would become a superstar in the game.
““He won’t be a superstar,” Hunter said. “But he’ll beat superstars.”
Kovalev had sculpted a 30-0-1 record on the basis of big punches and glowering intimidation. Almost everything about November’s outcome grated on him. He didn’t like the fact that Ward is making $6.5 million for the rematch and he is probably looking at not much more than a million, depending on what everyone expects to be a tepid pay-per-view.
He didn’t like the fact that Ward had said he was granting Kovalev a…