Matthews: Crime Victim Kovalev Deserves a Rematch, and Soon

Having been at ringside in Seoul for Roy Jones’ “loss” to a Korean boxer in the 1988 Olympics and at Madison Square Garden the night Evander Holyfield was gifted with a draw against Lennox Lewis, the decision in Saturday night’s Sergey Kovalev-Andre Ward fight was hardly the worst I’ve ever seen.

But a robbery is a robbery — a guy holding up a 7/11 is just as guilty as the crew that pulled off the Lufthansa heist — and make no mistake, the 114-113 nod in favor of Ward was a small-time robbery.

It is not nearly as serious, of course, as the financial robberies that are committed against fighters every day — according to reports, Kovalev was paid just $1.5 million against Ward’s $5 million — or against the atrocities the New York State Athletic Commission is committing against small-time fight promoters, forcing them to take out $1 million insurance on every fighter on every card staged in the state, a move that is sure to put a lot of second-tier guys out of business and a lot of young fighters out of work.

Those last two are not easily remedied; fighters have long needed protection from the federal government in the form of strong legislation, and unfortunately the Muhammad Al Act isn’t it. It would help if the big-time promoters were taxed a small portion of their net proceeds to provide for health care and retirement benefits for the men and women who sweat and bleed for them.

It would also behoove the state government — Gov. Cuomo, that means you — not to buckle under to a clear attempt by the UFC to snuff out boxing at its lowest levels, because even Dana White seems to understand that if you want to kill something the way he wants to kill off boxing, you kill it at the roots.

Unfortunately, politicians have proven themselves far too corrupt and unconcerned with the problems of working people — and make no mistake, if professional sports has a working-class, it is made up of boxers — to do anything about it any time soon.

But the Kovalev-Ward mistake can be rectified rather easily, with a prompt, if not immediate, rematch.

Bad decisions really aren’t a tragedy; Jones came back to have a wonderful pro career and the tainted Lewis draw did not diminish the legacy of Holyfield, who even came back well enough to probably deserve the decision in the Lewis rematch.

The worst thing that happened to Kovalev Saturday night is that he was deemed a loser in the opinions of three strangers in a fight that many informed spectators, including this one, think he won. He dominated the first six rounds, knocked Ward down in the second, and closed the show strongly with good 10th and 12th rounds.

Somehow, all three judges gave Ward the 10th and two of them gave him the 12th, both of which he clearly lost, providing Ward with his slim margin of victory.  Granted, Ward performed better in the second half of the fight and made an impact with some solid body punching, but he fought the entire fight going backward and never for a moment, in my mind at least, looked like he was winning the fight.

Conspiracy theorists can point to his financial relationship with HBO, who staged the PPV telecast and will broadcast a tape delay of the fight on Saturday, but there probably is nothing more sinister going on here than incompetent judging.

The bright side for Kovalev is, as the loser of a controversial fight, public sympathy is on his side. And so, too, will be the momentum of calls for a rematch, one that hopefully pays him better than the first bout did. Ward, who has been notoriously inactive throughout his career, no doubt blunting what might easily have been an all-time great career, may be reluctant to enter the lion’s den again.

But throughout history, at their core all fighters have the same thing in common: They fight not for love, but for money. And Kovalev-Ward I was entertaining enough, and controversial enough, that no promoter worth a bucket of warm spit should have any trouble selling the rematch.

I’d pay to see it, and I’d venture to say so would you.

And in its way, what looked like a crime against Sergey Kovalev could turn out to be a career blessing.


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