Nobody ever wants to be that guy.
The one who – after a controversial clash like Sergey Kovalev and Andre Ward’s on Saturday in Las Vegas – says something along the lines of: “The real winner here was boxing.”
A tad sickly? Perhaps.
Yet it’s tough to think of a time in recent years where such a phrase was more appropriate.
In some quarters the reaction to Ward’s unanimous decision win at the T-Mobile Arena – which saw him take home the WBO, WBA and IBF light-heavyweight titles – has been hysterical.
We’ve heard fans and journalists calling the result one of history’s most blatant ring robberies.
On first watch [Sky Sports] I thought the Oakland man edged it.
Repeat viewing on Sunday night [HBO] resulted in a 114-113 scorecard for the Russian; I gave him the opening four plus six and ten, with the second-round knockdown vital.
What’s clear is that the first half of this engrossing encounter was Kovalev’s.
Most of the press guys went for the 33-year-old but boxers past and present were split. It was that kind of showdown.
And, frustratingly, praise for a brilliant bout between two future hall-of-famers has been lost in a frenzy of anger and arrogance over the outcome.
What transpired was one of the finest exhibitions of elite boxing we’ve watched in recent years – a masterclass in strategy and distance control coupled with a reaffirmation of the jab’s significance.
It was also ferocious punching power taking on a granite chin.
Crucially, in contrast to last year’s Floyd Mayweather Jr and Manny Pacquiao super-fight, this was two pound-for-pound stars performing on the biggest stage at their peak. The risks were real.
I wrote: “To triumph he must establish his own jab and hurt Ward in the early rounds, a la Carl Frampton against Leo Santa Cruz. The right hand is the game-changer.”
And it appeared to be – in favour of his rival.
Ward’s recovery from the thunderbolt that struck him in the second – which would’ve finished or at least hastened the demise of many others – was astonishing [a Kovalev jab has also rocked him in the first].
An argument could be made for him taking the following stanza and he grew in confidence before really putting his stamp on the action in round seven.
In the post-fight press conference, the 2004 Olympic gold medallist namechecked the great Sugar Ray Leonard several times. There were shades of Leonard’s meeting with Marvin Hagler as he let go the more eye-catching shots late on as Kovalev’s output faded.
The result itself has proved just as controversial as the 1987 super-fight.
Amid the post-fight outrage, however, there were a few comments for the more cerebral boxing fan to find comfort in.
George Foreman wrote on Twitter: “I did not like the decision either, but the best fight I’ve seen in a long while.”
Meanwhile on Reddit’s r/Boxing, LaJoyaDeBoxeo said: “Fans have become so accustomed to seeing blowouts and mismatches that when a competitive close matchup comes along, the first thing they yell is robbery.
“Just goes to show how ‘casual’ some of these ‘hardcores’ really are.”
But the last word on the decision should go to the account of boxing news site Bad Left Hook.
“Everyone always has to be so dramatic. There are close fights sometimes.”
The punch-stat brigade were out in force after the decision, quoting numbers from CompuBox like they are more than just a couple of guys at ringside pressing a button when they think something lands.
However the worst aspect of the outrage was the growing number of people who use the fighters’ facial damage as an indicator of who won.
Even Kovalev went down this road at the post-fight presser.
Unsurprisingly, Floyd Mayweather didn’t approve of Kovalev-Ward.
The risk-averse five-weight world champion felt HBO made the light-heavyweight scrap to get Ward out of the super-middleweight division – thus keeping him away from the network’s middleweight superstar Gennady Golovkin.
Harold Lederman’s unofficial scorecard for HBO was 116-111 Kovalev.
Ward’s trainer and father figure Virgil Hunter earned his pay cheque on Saturday.
After his protégé hit the deck in round two, Hunter screamed: “Look at me! You know what we’re here for! Don’t even entertain it!”
At the end of round five he urged Ward to “take that smirk off his face”. Then there was his rallying cry before the final round.
“You got to go like a dog! This is it Dre!”
HBO’s Max Kellerman said Hunter’s words evoked memories of Angelo Dundee’s legendary “You’re blowin’ it, son” speech to Ray Leonard before the 13th against Thomas Hearns in 1981.
It’s hard to disagree.
Since our beginnings in May, Boxing Truth has written at length about the sport’s ridiculous obsession with undefeated records.
Saturday was the perfect example of how defeat can have a positive impact on the loser’s stock.
Had Ward suffered his first setback as a professional, we’d be talking about his heart, courage and unbelievable powers of recovery. Instead, many have expressed their surprise at just how impressive a boxer – much more than a banger – Kovalev is.