Few would dispute that the excellent light heavyweight world title fight between Sergey Kovalev and Andre Ward, two of boxing's pound-for-pound best, in November was close.
Sure, many have quarreled with Ward being given a 114-113 victory on all three scorecards -- after being knocked down in the second round and outclassed early on -- as he claimed three 175-pound world title belts. But even those who believed Kovalev deserved the decision -- and there seem to be a lot more people with that view than those who think Ward won -- would be hard-pressed to call it a robbery, even if that's how Kovalev understandably felt.
As the fighters stood in the ring waiting for the scorecards from judges Burt Clements, Glenn Trowbridge and John McKaie -- all experienced in major fights -- to be read, Ward looked quite concerned, while Kovalev had the body language of a winner.
"In boxing, you never know. It was a close fight," Ward said as he reflected on those agonizing moments waiting for the scores to be announced. "I felt like I won [but] I never know until the scorecards are read. I've been up in fights and still been on pins and needles. It's boxing, and you never know how it's gonna go. I was nervous, on pins and needles."
And then there was joy and to many a look of surprise when he was announced as the winner and handed the belts.
Kovalev, of course, was crushed -- and shocked.
"When you have three different judges who aren't communicating throughout the course of a fight, who do this professionally and you look and yet they had some rounds here and there that may have been different but they have the same conclusion whether it's my fight or any other fight, I think you got to tip your hat to them." Andre Ward
"Yes, I was quiet because I was empty," Kovalev said. "I had no emotions, no energy to do something, you know? I was empty and I was just killed by [the] decision. I shouldn't do something. I couldn't change something. What happened has happened. I just understood that I was robbed and I don't have any more belts now. I already thought, "When will be the rematch?'"
Kovalev had the contractual right to an immediate rematch and exercised it immediately, so Ward and Kovalev will meet again on Saturday night (HBO PPV, 9 ET) at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, where most expect another top-notch fight.
On HBO's "24/7" preview of the rematch, the opening minutes juxtapose Ward and Kovalev each returning to his respective dressing room after the November fight.
In Ward's, there was jubilation and smiles all around from the gathered crowd as Ward gave a short speech and thanked those closest to him.
In Kovalev's room, it was quiet. Not many people were there. Kovalev paced around in his underwear, trainer John David Jackson sat on a folding chair with his head down and manager Egis Klimas looked devastated. There were a few complaints and curse words uttered. It was only when Kovalev's wife entered with their young son and Kovalev picked up the little boy did the mood brighten a little.
Holding the boy, Kovalev said to him, "Did you see how your daddy got robbed?"
The scene then switches back to Ward's dressing room, where Ward showed off his new belts to one of his sons and gave him a hug.
Then it's back to Kovalev's room, and the father tells his son, "Next time we will hit him differently and much harder."
Obviously, Ward (31-0, 15 KOs) and Kovalev (30-1-1, 26 KOs) have very different views of how the fight went and how it should have been scored. So how did they have it?
Ward broke down the fight.
"You know, I thought I won the fight by at least two rounds," Ward said. "But at the end of the day, you know, there's close rounds that you can call a swing round. I don't know how this individual is judging the round or how they feel about it but, you know, you look at the scorecards [and] I think the judges did a tremendous job because they were in accord.
"When you have three different judges who aren't communicating throughout the course of a fight, who do this professionally and you look and yet they had some rounds here and there that may have been different but they have the same conclusion whether it's my fight or any other fight, I think you got to tip your hat to them."
Virgil Hunter, Ward's career-long trainer who guided him to the super middleweight world title and now the light heavyweight belts, said he shared Ward's view.
"I had no emotions, no energy to do something, you know? I was empty and I was just killed by [the] decision. I shouldn't do something. I couldn't change something. What happened has happened. I just understood that I was robbed and I don't have any more belts now." Sergey Kovalev
"I had Andre winning by two rounds," Hunter said. "I've actually challenged anyone -- anyone -- to sit with me and watch the fight and show me where Sergey Kovalev won the fight. So far, no takers because I understand when you have a personal fighter that you like you're only going to see what they do. You're not going to look at what's going on with the other person. So I understand that.
"How can three judges [have it the same], who don't have a phone and are not texting each other 'What did you have? OK, well I'm going to put [my score] that way. What did you have? OK, I think I'll put mine that way.' And these are top judges and they called the fight the same. Sky Sports [broadcasters in the United Kingdom] had us winning by two [points]. We're going to put their opinion down? They're able to look at a fight the way it's supposed to be looked at. They're not looking at it in a way that favors one guy and you can only see one guy."
Hunter also took a shot at those who disagreed with the decision and thought Kovalev won.
"In this particular fight you had people coming out of their lanes," Hunter said. "You have announcers that all of a sudden they're better than the judges. You have writers who are judges all of a sudden, and they never signed up or sat ringside and judged a fight in their life, but all of a sudden they're experts. So we understand. And like Andre said, it's our job to force you to look at the beating that's going to come and you have to accept it. And that's just the way it's going to be."
Kovalev had an entirely different view of the first fight, which he said he has watched again only once.
"I don't know what they counted, you know, but it's not my job," Kovalev said. "I saw that I won the fight eight rounds out of 12 and, like, I really don't care. It doesn't matter what happened. For me the most important work will happen June 17."
Jackson said he had it wide for Kovalev when he watched it again.
"I scored the fight. I had a 9-3 at best for us and 8-4 worst for us, but [Kovalev] won the fight," Jackson said. "He dominated the first half of the fight. The second half of the fight he didn't dominate as much as he could have, but what Ward did didn't really justify him getting the decision. Sergey won the fight hands down. The judges, why they scored it [how they did], only they know exactly. We can't dwell on the past. But whatever Ward did to survive those rounds didn't really merit a victory for him, but he got it and we have to move on with that and just prepare for the second fight."