The Kovalev vs Ward decision has certainly proved to be controversial. And frankly, that doesn’t surprise me. But what does surprise me is how controversial it’s become. Seriously, when was the last time boxing dominated Twitter for a good long time after a fight? This one reached a lot of people. Got them talking, got them interested. But, given that we’re ruminating on yet another strange, if not suspect, decision, and all the negative attention that comes with that, is this actually good for boxing?
In fact, I think it might be. Why? Because this is not Pacquiao vs Bradley I. In other words the decision handed down in favor of Ward Saturday night is not universally condemned by fight fans as a robbery. Most fans may not like it, but a significant number actually believe it was fair.
Count me as one of the people who thought it reasonable. At least for now. Though I’m willing to admit I could be wrong. Because this fight was close, folks, and I mean down-to-the-wire close. So, yeah, I scored it the same as the judges did, which, as you’ll recall, was to give the win to one fighter over the other by a single point. This was not a one-sided fight by any means, for either guy. It was a close, exciting, edge-of-your-seat, neck-and-neck throw-down, people. And that’s why I think it was good for the sport.
Look at it this way: they say that all attention is good attention. I’m not so sure that’s true, but what I know is true is that competitive, high-profile battles generate interest for our sport and, make no mistake about it, Kovalev-Ward was a high profile bout. Sure, it wasn’t an event that made its way outside the margins of the sport’s core fan base, but even people outside the margins can hear. And, yeah, there’s been a lot of noise since Ward was given the nod from the judges on Saturday.
Of course things would be different if this had been a horrible fight. No one would really care who won a boring, 36 minute waltz. Saturday’s scrap, however, was exciting. While it may not have featured endless, toe-to-toe action, it had the air of a first-rate suspense thriller. And as a result, people were seriously invested in the outcome by the time the final bell rang, which is why so many are bitterly disappointed now.
Here’s the truth: close, controversial decisions don’t hurt the sport. Blatant robberies do. No one gave up on boxing after Sugar Ray Leonard, fairly or unfairly, got the nod over Marvelous Marvin Hagler close to 30 years ago. And it’s hard, for me at least, to imagine why a fight fan would turn away from the sport after Saturday. Though there may be those who have simply had enough after seeing boxing on life support for much of the last 12 months; no one can deny that 2016 hasn’t exactly been a banner year for The Sweet Science.
One thing that certainly won’t help matters is if Ward ends up trying to defer or delay a rematch. Fans want to see these two go at it again. For “S.O.G.” to play cute at the negotiation table or simply walk away from a return bout would do much harm. Boxing can move on unscathed after Saturday, but it will suffer if Ward doesn’t get back in the ring with Kovalev soon enough.
The problem with contemporary boxing is that we’ve all become so jaded that it’s hard to accept things as they appear on the surface. What’s even scarier is the fact that we who love the sport have every right to mistrust the motives of boxing’s power players. For instance, does anyone not at least suspect Oscar De la Hoya would jump at the opportunity to never have Canelo face Golovkin? And this was a guy who, in his day, would take on just about anyone.
So here’s what we need to remember: sometimes what appears bad can be good. Kovalev vs Ward will be discussed for ages. Sure Kovalev is stinging right now, but history is going to be kind to him as far as Saturday night is concerned. Count on it. He’s Hagler to Ward’s Leonard. Still, it would be nice to see him get a second crack at Ward. It’s what the fans want and thus it will be great for boxing if a rematch happens. In fact, if they do it soon, I’m pretty sure that Kovalev vs Ward II will be a bigger event than the first fight. Which shows how a little controversy can be beneficial and, more importantly, profitable.
— Sean Crose