WHEN do you let the referee do his job and when do you take matters into your own hands? This age-old question has once again reared its head in the aftermath of the highly anticipated rematch between Andre Ward and Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev. The first fight was a contentious decision which had both sets of fans ferociously arguing that their man did enough to have his hand raised in victory. Months of back and forth talk in the media ensured that the flames of this grudge match were well and truly stoked. After another titanic tussle, we are once again left with controversy and perhaps more questions than we had in the beginning.
The fight itself actually played out very similar to the first encounter. This left most viewers surprised as they were sure a change of tactics from both men was on the cards. Kovalev started hard and fast, Ward once again made some adjustments and then proceeded to take over. Much like the first fight, Ward took the action into the deep waters of in-fighting. Kovalev once again found himself at sea and without a paddle.
In-fighting in its nature is a rough battle ground. You are close enough that every single punch in your arsenal is available. Close enough that heads, elbows and shoulders can and will bump. Close enough that shots to the body may invariably stray low … and this my friends is where the controversy of the rematch comes in. We as boxers know of the potential dangers of in-fighting, as do the referees. Our job is to fight and protect ourselves at all times. The job of the referee is to protect both fighters and make sure the rules of the contest are upheld.
As a fighter you can only imagine how difficult life in the ring could be when you feel the rules are not being respected and the one person in charge of enforcing them is not acting accordingly. One punch strays below your belt? You feel naturally inclined to respond. This kind of attitude is commonplace and almost expected within boxing. However most referees will pick up on any infringements and intervene/re-establish control before things can escalate out of hand. This exact handling was actually demonstrated to me in my last contest. Being hit after the bell, I decided to give one back, this then resulted in me and my opponent exchanging a few punches after the bell. The referee intervened and then stopped the action at the beginning of the next round, he gave us a stern talking to and then deducted points from the both of us to show he means business. Safe to say, we both made sure to not throw any punches close to the bell again. This in hindsight was great refereeing.
Back to the rematch, once Ward “got inside” on Kovalev he began to give the Russian a PHD in roughhouse tactics. Ward was frequently using his head to butt into the chest and chin of Kovalev and continually strayed low as he tried to stay committed to a dedicated body attack which was paying dividends throughout the fight. Kovalev for his part attempted to bring this issue to referee Tony Weeks attention but for whatever reason it was never acted upon.
I personally feel the roughhouse tactics of Ward were very effective, they were visibly tiring, hurting and demoralizing Kovalev. My question is, after trying to notify the referee was Kovalev not better suited to getting even rougher with Ward and thus forcing the refs intervention? Could Kovalev have forced the ref to take control? When is it the right time to take matters into your own hands?
The first fight gave us the controversy of people claiming “robbery”. This time I feel that due to the referee’s reluctance to step in when the rules were being flirted with, we may have actually witnessed a robbery. The question is who was the more likely victim? Kovalev of his chance of victory? Or Ward robbed of the opportunity to get a spectacular finish?
No low blows, how does the fight end? Do we now need to see a third fight? Where does each man go now?