Matthews: “Immediate” Ward-Kovalev rematch? Not so fast

Literally hours after Andre Ward had been awarded a gift decision over Sergey Kovalev Saturday night, Kovalev’s promoters, Main Events, sent a letter to Roc Nation Sports, Ward’s promoters, with the following line:

Kindly be advised that Main Events hereby exercises its option for a rematch.

  Now, if only it were that simple.

According to Main Events, the contract for Ward-Kovalev I contained a provision for an immediate rematch pending the approval of both sides. Translated, that means if either side wants to fight someone else first, the other side must in some way be compensated. And in boxing, that generally means in money.

But that is not the real concern for the Kovalev side. Their worry is that considering the difficulty that had getting Ward into the ring in the first place, it will probably be even harder to get him back for a second go-round.

The highly-talented Ward is in many ways a reluctant warrior; he has fought just seven times in the last five years and sat out for 18 months between 2013 and 2015 while waiting for a previous promotional contract to expire. Plus, he demanded, and received, from HBO, two tune-up fights against nondescript opponents on his home turf of the Oracle Arena in Oakland just  to test the light-heavyweight waters before stepping up against Kovalev.

Add to that the fact that Roc Nation overpaid him for the Kovalev fight — $5 million, his contractual guarantee for any subsequent pay-per-view fights — and it becomes obvious that it will be very difficult to coax him back into the ring against Kovalev, especially since he took a fair amount of punishment in the first bout, the decision be damned.

The truth is Ward is a difficult character to deal with, and Roc Nation an erratic and inexperienced performer. According to sources in Las Vegas, the fledgling promoters, unaware that boxing nearly always does a strong walk-up  business in the days leading up to a major bout, were panicking about empty seats and wanted first to slash ticket prices, and later, to paper the house with 1,500 free tickets. The bout wound up selling a strong 13,000-plus tickets and doing a $3.5 million gate.

And no one is completely sure Ward is even still with Roc Nation — there were strong rumors leading up to the bout that Al Haymon, the shadowy “adviser” who has scooped up nearly every major fighter in boxing, was about to take over Ward, as well — although a Roc Nation spokesman assured me on Tuesday that Ward was still in the fold.

No one will know for sure until the pay-per-view numbers come out, but it is likely Roc Nation lost a significant chunk of money with its guarantee to Ward, since the odds are strongly against Ward-Kovalev having done good PPV numbers. Boxing aficionados knew it would be a good matchup, but it was the first pay-per-view fight for either fighter, neither of which is well known outside fight circles. And it was the third pay-per-view event of the month, following the Manny Pacquiao-Jessie Vargas fight and a UFC event featuring Conor McGregor. Not too many people who bought one, or both, of those was likely to add another $70 to their already exorbitant monthly cable bill, especially with the holidays coming up.

So the odds are that when Roc Nation gets the news, they will not be rushing to put Ward into another pay-per-view bout right away.

And let’s not forget that despite the decision, Ward knows better than anyone how unpleasant sharing a 20-foot square with Sergey Kovalev can be. He may have won in the electoral college, but in the school of hard knocks it was Kovalev’s night. Ward, in fact, was lucky to survive the first two rounds and only got back into the fight in the second half when Kovalev inexplicably went away from his powerful jab. Although Ward said after the bout he thought he would win a rematch more easily, it is just as likely that Kovalev will improve off the first bout and finish what he started in the rematch.

It all adds up to an “automatic” rematch that will be anything but.

Ward and Kovalev put on a great show Saturday night and it is only natural that they should do it again, and soon. It will be a mistake if they delay it, because even the greatest fights in history lose some of their luster if you put too much air between them — those of you old enough to remember will recall how diminished the second bout between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier was since three years passed after their first epic battle, and both had been beaten in between.

That should not be allowed to happen with Kovalev and Ward. Clearly, Kovalev wants to do it again, and right away.

But it takes two to tangle. We’ll see if Ward and his people want it as bad as the rest of us do.


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