He would defend the belt eight times, prior to losing to Ward.
Ward retained his title with a TKO in the eighth round. Referee Tony Weeks did separate Ward and Kovalev twice and advised Ward to keep his punches off Kovalev's trunks, but the shot that began Kovalev's demise in the 8th round landed right on the beltline.
Andre Ward: "I think it was plain to see that I broke him mentally and physically".
The 33-year-old Ward extended his flawless record to 32 wins in an impressive performance, albeit with a controversial ending, at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
And while Kovalev and his cadre of supporters may lament the way it ultimately arrived, it'll be much harder for them to argue the point the Californian proved at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.
Kovalev lost a close points decision to Ward back in November and forced a rematch after a number of pundits and fans scored the fight to him.
"It felt like I was up [on the scorecards], but a championship fight starts after the sixth round", Ward said. But he also was landing legit low blows throughout, the kind that slowed Kovalev in the first fight. It doesn't mean you stop a fight every time somebody gets hurt. Ward won by total knockout in the eighth round, but not without a controversial call of whether or not he went low with a shot on Kovalev. He was dazed so I just had to try to find the right shot. I didn't feel that hurt. Ward followed up by insinuating that he's going to make Kovalev pay for what he considers undeniably racist.
Fighters both tiring a bit. Kovalev connects with a right hand, then they clinch. I know it sounds insane when you're light-heavyweight and I'm not the biggest light-heavyweight. "I've been doing this for 39 years, and when you have that kind of perspective, you realize what happens at one event or one month or one day with one announcement isn't anything when compared to the larger scope of what's going on".
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"We want to talk about low blows tonight". "[Kovalev's] a great fighter".
The first time the two fought on HBO PPV, they recorded a reported 160,000 buys.
Two fights with Andre Ward have not only tamed Kovalev. It could go one of two ways: Ward could get the nod and stake his claim as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, or Kovalev could get his redemption and possibly force a rubber match.
Ward received a guaranteed $6.5 million payday for the fight.
Rigondeaux and Flores were trading punches when the bell rang to end the first round and both threw after the bell.
Former Floyd Mayweather protege, Luis "Cuba" Arias (17-0, 8 KOs) will fight Arif Magomedov (18-1, 11 KOs) in a middleweight USBA title bout.