Boxing: Andre Ward stuns Sergey Kovalev in eighth round to retain titles

Andre Ward (left) and Sergey Kovalev trading blows during the sixth round of their light heavyweight bout in Las Vegas on June 17, 2017.
Andre Ward (left) and Sergey Kovalev trading blows during the sixth round of their light heavyweight bout in Las Vegas on June 17, 2017.PHOTO: AFP/GETTY IMAGES

LAS VEGAS (AFP) - American Andre Ward stopped Sergey Kovalev in the eighth round to retain his International Boxing Federation, World Boxing Association and World Boxing Organisation titles on Saturday in an entertaining rematch of their light-heavyweight fight seven months ago.

The unbeaten Ward hurt Kovalev with a right hand that caused his knees to buckle and then finished him off on the ropes with a series of body shots around the mid-section at the Mandalay Bay hotel and casino.

Referee Tony Weeks stopped the fight with 31 seconds left in the round with Kovalev kneeling down from what he said was a low blow by Ward.

Ward improved to 32-0 as he held onto three of the four major boxing belts in the 175-pound fight.

The 33-year-old Ward needed this victory to validate his first win over Kovalev as many felt the Russian won the first fight and that Ward had been given the decision by the three judges.

Kovalev (30-2-1, 26 knockouts) sent Ward to the canvas in the first fight, and while he landed several big shots in the rematch, once again he failed to close the deal and appeared to tire after the sixth round.

On the undercard, two-time Olympic gold medallist Guillermo Rigondeaux defeated Moises Flores with a controversial fight-ending punch at the close of the first round to retain his WBA junior featherweight title.

The victory was disputed as television replays showed Rigondeaux landed a left hand after the round-ending bell had rang. He also landed three punches while holding Flores' head from behind just before the knockout.

Rigondeaux improved to 18-0 with 12 knockouts, while Flores, of Mexico, dropped to 25-1, with 17 KOs.

The Cuban-born Rigondeaux was announced the winner, but after the fight Nevada Athletic Commission executive director Bob Bennett told broadcaster HBO that they might have to review the decision.

"We will take a look at it. If the punch landed after the bell it is a disqualification," Bennett said. "We want the right fighter to win. Anything is possible. We could take a look at it and do the right thing."

Flores stayed down for several minutes and had to be helped back to his corner where he sat during a lengthy review that eventually resulted in Rigondeaux being crowned the winner.