Ali vs Frazier. Robinson vs LaMotta. Pep vs Saddler. Barrera vs Morales. Pacquiao vs Marquez. Every great rivalry in boxing history has led to legendary battles and pushed both warriors to heights they would not have otherwise reached. In every case, when faced with their fiercest competitor, both fighters knew the slightest mistake could have devastating consequences and nothing less than their ultimate effort could lead to triumph. Intense rivalries create great performances and great fights, not to mention anticipation and buzz for the sport at large.
But these days, genuinely heated rivalries are few and far between in a boxing landscape where so many boxers seek out the biggest paydays for the least degree of risk. But maybe, just maybe, we have a new rivalry to breathe fresh excitement into boxing. Based on Saturday night’s dramatic showdown, more than one meeting is needed to determine who is in fact the better fighter between Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev. We need Kovalev vs Ward II and we need it now. And maybe, just maybe, a second highly competitive battle could mark the birth of a significant new rivalry in boxing.
Reportedly, a rematch clause was in the contract for Kovalev-Ward, but no marinating is needed before they lock up again. We need contracts signed and a date set for Kovalev vs Ward II as soon as possible. Why? Well, for starters, Saturday’s clash was an extremely close and hotly contested battle with numerous swings in momentum. As we all saw, Kovalev won the early rounds, but Ward came back in the second half and did enough in the eyes of the judges to earn the win by a single point. But not all agree, not by a longshot.
The simple truth is the majority of ringside press and, it would seem, the majority of fight fans, thought Kovalev deserved the victory. Regardless of who you think was the true winner, no one can argue the fact that it’s an unpopular decision. But regardless of the verdict, there are valid arguments to support either fighter winning. Which means a rematch is the logical next step. But let’s not wait around, people.
It’s important to keep in mind that although Ward won the fight, he can’t wholeheartedly claim to be the best 175 pounder in the world. The controversy surrounding the judges’ verdict makes it clear that division supremacy is still up for grabs. One of the reasons for the high anticipation was that this match was to determine the best fighter in the weight class, but after 12 rounds of drama-filled action, we still don’t know who that is. An immediate rematch with even greater stakes will undoubtedly push both warriors to their limits to prove who is the undisputed best. With added motivation, Kovalev vs Ward II has the potential to be an even better contest.
Some might think it would make sense for both Ward and Kovalev to take on an interim bout against a lower tier contender before they fight again. This is an incredibly bad idea. Look, everyone and their mother knows that Kovalev and Ward are 1A and 1B in the division, and beating up other fighters won’t change that. Tune-up fights would only bore the fans, putting a serious damper on the significant buzz that currently exists after Saturday’s great show.
As they say, you have to strike when the iron is hot, and the iron right now couldn’t be any hotter. No one is going to get excited about either fighter taking on an opponent who likely isn’t in the top ten in the division. Besides, there’s the risk of them losing. Neither man impressed in their previous tune-up outings against Brand and Chilemba and it’s entirely possible they would look less than elite-level in matches against secondary opponents which they have trouble getting motivated for. And if either should suffer defeat, all the excitement and anticipation for a return bout goes down the drain.
Lastly, let’s not forget that both fighters are getting up there in age; Ward is 32, Kovalev 33. They’re at or close to their peak but the longer they wait, the farther they will be from their best form. Father time is undefeated, and if the rematch is pushed back unnecessarily, both men could be slightly diminished by the time they meet again. Even minor regression might rob the fans of the satisfaction we’re looking for and of the fireworks that are possible right now.
In a time when boxing could use a big rivalry to stoke its fanbase, Kovalev vs Ward, and a controversial decision, come to the rescue. This could be the making of another classic pairing that is talked about many years down the line. But for that to happen, the rematch needs to be next and it needs to be as soon as humanly possible. And if the second clash results in a win for “The Krusher,” I don’t think anyone will complain when the rubber match gets announced. — Jamie Rebner