In a surprising unanimous decision on Saturday, Olympic gold medallist Ward edged the powerful Russian 114-113 as he improved his perfect record to 31-0.
With Gennady Golovkin and Lennox Lewis in attendance, unified light-heavyweight champion Kovalev imposed himself early, flooring Ward in the second round, with the latter happy to just rise from the canvas and make it to the bell, having looked dazed and out of sorts.
But Ward – in just his third bout at light-heavyweight – slowly worked his way back into the fight, so much so that the judges felt he won the contest, condemning Kovalev to his first defeat in 32 professional fights and stripping the Russian of his WBA Super, IBF and WBO titles.
Afterwards, Kovalev made it clear he was not happy with the result in the United States.
“It’s the wrong decision. … Witnesses are here. Everybody saw what happened,” he said in the ring.
“I’m a guest here in the USA. He’s a local. And all the judges were from the USA.”
Minutes earlier, Ward said: “I knew it was a close fight. I think the crowd feels like the real winner won. In a tight fight, he’s going to feel like he got robbed.”