LAS VEGAS - Whatever doubts there were after Andre Ward was handed a highly controversial unanimous decision and three light heavyweight world title belts following his November showdown against Sergey Kovalev, there were none on Saturday night.
But this bout was once again marred by controversy after the Russian was stopped in the eighth round by a big right hook followed by a succession of apparent body-shots after which referee Tony Weeks stopped the fight. "Great fighters have to raise their game to the next level, and that's what I had to do tonight".
Ward's assault didn't slow down until he had Kovalev pinned against the ropes and as he bent over from the succession of punches, the referee had no choice but to stop the fight at 2:29 of the eighth round.
Ward won the first fight between the two by a 114-113 margin on all three judges' scorecards, earning the US boxer the IBF, WBA, and WBO championships.
Andre Ward's unbeaten career record as he retained his IBF, WBA and WBO titles.
The bitter rivals had produced another evenly contested fight, with Ward sending out an early warning to Kovalev by landing his crisp right hand in the closing seconds of the opening round.
The 33-year-old screamed to the world that he is now the undisputed No 1 following his conquering of Kovalev.
Kovalev complains of another low blow by Weeks says to fight on.
'I thought the stoppage was awful, ' said Malignaggi.
"I was empty one month before the November fight", he said. Ward's final flurry included several borderline shots and Weeks should have given Kovalev a standing count rather than waved it off.
"You got to look at the other side of the coin, there's a lot of people that thought I won the fight and he got what he asked for [a rematch]". It's an interesting development with the two power punching terrors of the sport in their last couple bouts: Opponents have proven that if you take the fight to Kovalev and Gennady Golovkin at tactical intervals, they suddenly aren't quite so fearsome. Now he's a good kid, he's swell but I'm telling you. Tony Bellew-a fighter whom Ward is objectively better than in every way, was able to make the leap from failed 175 pounder to victor over top heavyweight David Haye. The Oakland native has also said that this is a "statement" fight in which he hopes to remove any doubt about the outcome.
Following his win, Ward mentioned the possibility of even testing higher weight divisions but for now he'll celebrate his TKO over Kovalev while shutting the door on that rivalry for the time being.
Ward, who won an Olympic gold in 2004 and hasn't lost a fight since he was 12, jokingly talked about moving up to heavyweight and taking on Britain's Anthony Joshua. Ward was ahead on two judges' scorecards and behind on a third when he landed a right hand midway through the eighth round that caused Kovalev's legs to wobble. [Ward] punched me low blow already a few times during the fight. "I didn't want him to be comfortable and I don't think he was". I didn't feel the punch. He would defend the belt eight times, prior to losing to Ward.