LOS ANGELES: American Andre Ward scored a comeback unanimous decision victory over Russia’s Sergey Kovalev to claim the defending champion’s unified light heavyweight title on Saturday (Sunday in Manila).
Ward, the 2004 Olympic champion, recovered from a second round knockdown to defeat Kovalev by 114-113 on all three judges cards after a grueling battle at Las Vegas’s T-Mobile Arena.
The win saw Ward, 32, improve his unbeaten record to 31-0 with 15 knockouts.
It was defending WBA, WBO and IBF champion Kovalev’s first defeat, leaving him at 30-1 with 26 knockouts.
Ward, stepping up a weight division, bounced back after a disastrous start that saw Kovalev dominate the early rounds and send his American crashing to the canvas in the second round.
The Oakland-based fighter slowly began picking up rounds in the second half of the fight to take the decision, surprising many ringside pundits who felt Kovalev had done enough to win.
“It was a close fight,” a delighted Ward said. “You never know how judges are going to see it. But take nothing away from Kovalev.
“In a tight fight, he’s going to feel like he got robbed, I’d have been disappointed. But we got the belts tonight.”
Ward, meanwhile, was satisfied at the way he came back after his second-round knockdown.
“I knew it was going to be a tough fight but you never anticipate getting dropped,” he said.
“That was the first time in my career I got dropped. I’m pleased with the way I responded.”