Andre Ward and his trainer, Virgil Hunter, knew the only way to prove Ward’s first victory over Sergey Kovalev wasn’t a fluke was knocking out the Russian in the rematch.
Ward and Hunter promised that knockout and delivered Saturday night at the Mandalay Bay Events Center.
After a close seven rounds, Ward turned the tide with a series of body punches, followed by an overhand right to rock the boxer known as “Krusher.”
Ward, who is not considered a knockout fighter, didn’t let Kovalev off the hook; he continued attacking the body as his opponent crouched over.
Referee Tony Weeks stopped the bout at 2:25 of the eighth round before an announced crowd of 10,592.
The Oakland, California, native raised his two hands and unleashed a scream. His first win was vindicated, and he remained the WBO/WBA/IBF light heavyweight champion.
“I saw him reacting to the body shots that were borderline (low blows),” said Ward, 33. “So I knew I had him. He was hurt trying to cover up. The right hand started it.”
Hunter made sure to get his “I told you so” in.
“I told them this week,” Hunter said. “I’ve only trained Andre for a knockout twice. The first was Chad Dawson, the second was tonight, and they laughed at me, but I knew what was going to happen.”
Kovalev called the body shots low blows and said he thought Weeks stopped the fight too early.
“I don’t know what to say,” said Kovalev, 34. “I can’t explain it.”
Kathy Duva, Kovalev’s promoter, said she will appeal the result.
Kovalev (30-2-1, 26 knockouts) might have a case with the foul shots, but it appeared he was starting to slow down and hurt badly by the right hand.
The Russian dominated the first three rounds with his power, but Ward (32-0, 16 KOs) made him work for it. The 2004 Olympic gold medalist held and roughed up Kovalev every time he got close.
The first bout between the two light heavyweights was supposed to determine the new pound-for-pound king. That didn’t happen after a controversial decision.
After Saturday, it might be easier to put Ward atop the mythical list.
“Can I get on the pound-for-pound list now?,” Ward asked. “Is that possible?”
Rigondeaux vs. Flores
Guillermo Rigondeaux often is called a boring fighter. That might stop now.
Rigondeaux gave the undercard plenty of drama after he delivered an obvious after-the-bell uppercut that dropped Moises Flores, causing confusion for the Nevada Athletic Commission.
Flores was laid out on the canvas, forcing referee Vic Drakulich to end the bout after the first round. But some could argue that Flores flopped in an attempt to win the WBA junior featherweight belt on a disqualification on Rigondeaux.
A perplexed Drakulich spoke to fellow referee Robert Byrd and NAC executive director Bob Bennett for help on a ruling.
After about a five-minute delay, Drakulich and the NAC ruled Rigondeaux’s late shot was a legal punch because both fighters were exchanging toward the end of the round.
Rigondeaux was awarded a first-round knockout to improve to 18-0.
“I wasn’t worried,” the Cuban said about possibly losing his title. “We both threw combinations at the same time at the end of the first round. But mine was quicker and more accurate. It was only a matter of time.”
Bivol vs. Agnew
Dmitry Bivol sent a message to the light heavyweight champions and contenders.
Bivol dominated Cedric Agnew with a fourth-round stoppage as the Russian continues to shoot up the rankings of the 175-pound division.
Bivol came out firing with a vicious combination that featured a powerful left hook to drop Agnew in the first round. Agnew survived the next two rounds by refusing to throw a punch.
The bout was stopped at 1:27 of the fourth round. Bivol landed 49 shots to Agnew’s three.
Bivol, the WBA interim champion, could soon join the picture with Ward and Kovalev.
Arias vs. Magomedov
Luis Arias, a once promising middleweight prospect, is back on track after an impressive knockout over Arif Magomedov to open the pay-per-view undercard.
Arias landed a power overhand right to drop the Russian in the fifth round. Magomedov managed to get up, but immediately went back down after another shot from Arias. Byrd stopped the bout at the 1:16 mark.
Contact Gilbert Manzano at email@example.com. Follow @gmanzano24 on Twitter.