Ward to Kovalev: Time to back up your claims

LAS VEGAS — Unified light heavyweight world titleholder Andre Ward and former titlist Sergey Kovalev did not come face-to-face following the final pre-fight news conference on Thursday because Kovalev, so irritated by Ward during the lead-up to their rematch, walked out along with trainer John David Jackson and manager Egis Klimas after Ward’s team began to speak.

But he had no choice but to come face-to-face with Ward on Friday at the Mandalay Bay Events Center as they weighed in for the rematch, which will take place on Saturday (HBO PPV, 9 p.m. ET).

First Kovalev came to the stage and was booed relentlessly by the pro-Ward crowd. Moments later Ward appeared on stage and drank in the cheers. Then they both looked in tremendous condition as they stepped on the scale and each weighed the division limit of 175 pounds. Then came the faceoff.

They stared in at each other, and even when directed several times by members of the public relations team to break the stare and look to the cameras and pose, neither would relent. They held the stare for what seemed like forever. Ward, still looking right at Kovalev, motioned for Kovalev to turn to the crowd but he wouldn’t. Finally, Kovalev broke the stare and did turn to the crowd, and Ward motioned as though he had scored at least a moral victory.

There has been no love lost between these two. There was none before they met last November and it has been even worse between them heading into the rematch. In the November fight, Ward claimed three light heavyweight world title belts from Kovalev by controversial unanimous decision — 114-113 on all three scorecards. Kovalev, with the right to an immediate rematch, quickly exercised his option. Ward (31-0, 15 KOs), 33, of Oakland, California, came on strong in the second half of the fight after Kovalev knocked him down in the second round and looked good early.

Ward said he plans to make the first round on Saturday more like Round 13 of their rivalry.

“It’s my job to pick up where we left off,” Ward said after stepping off the scale. “At then at end of [Saturday night] I don’t want to hear any excuses. We always add new wrinkles, but we didn’t make any major changes.”

Kovalev (30-1-1, 26 KOs), 34, who is from Russia and fights out of Los Angeles, has said throughout the promotion that he wants to beat Ward up and hurt him. He has even said he wanted to end his career.

“He put it out there. Now he’s got to back it up,” Ward said.

Kovalev’s only message after weighing in was to the smattering of fans he had in the crowd.

“[Saturday] you will see ‘Krusher’ in the ring. Thank you very much. We kick his ass together.”

Ward is guaranteed $ 6.5 million from promoter Roc Nation Sports, which is likely looking at heavy losses in the fight. Kovalev’s deal with promoter Main Events has no minimum guarantee. He will earn his money from a percentage of the pay-per-view and ticket sales.

Junior featherweight titlist Guillermo Rigondeaux (17-0, 11 KOs) weighed in at 121½ pounds for his defense against interim titlist and mandatory challenger Moises Flores (25-0, 17 KOs), who was on the division limit of 122 pounds. Rigondeaux’s purse is $ 125,000 and Flores’ is $ 25,000, according to the Nevada State Athletic Commission.

Interim light heavyweight titlist Dmitry Bivol (10-0, 8 KOs) was 174½ pounds for his 10-round non-title fight against Cedric Agnew (29-2, 15 KOs), who weighed in at 175 pounds. Middleweight Luis Arias (17-0, 8 KOs) weighed the division limit of 160 pounds, and opponent Arif Magomedov (18-1, 11 KOs) was 159¾ for the pay-per-view opening bout. They’ll make $ 25,000 apiece.

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