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Ward, Kovalev do it again in light heavyweight title bout

(AP Photo/John Locher)

By TIM DAHLBERG

AP Boxing Writer

LAS VEGAS (AP) Andre Ward won't apologize for the close decision that Sergey Kovalev insists should have gone his way when the light heavyweights fought in November.

Still, he's eager to clear up any remaining doubts when they meet Saturday night in a 175-pound title rematch.

"I am looking forward to making a statement in this fight, and removing any doubt that may be out there," Ward said. "Some of you think I lost the fight, but you've got to look at the other side of that coin. There a lot of people who are convinced I won it."

Ward is among those people, and the fact that he rallied from a second-round knockdown to win makes him even more confident about the rematch. Kovalev faded in the first fight, and Ward plans to do everything he can to ensure that happens again.

"When he can't get you out of there he fades," Ward said. "You kind of see a theme in his fights. He's so used to people trying to get away from his power that he's able to rest between the action. He's not used to someone pushing the action."

The rematch is as intriguing as the first fight, when the question was whether Kovalev's vaunted power would carry the day against a fighter who never really excites fans but always leaves the ring with his hand raised. Ward, the 2004 Olympic gold medalist, hasn't lost since age 12, though Kovalev is convinced there should be one big loss on his record.

"I know I will get my belts back," Kovalev said. "I was empty in the first fight. For him it was like fighting a heavy bag."

If the matchup isn't attractive enough, the two fighters have a genuine dislike for each other they were not afraid to voice this week. There's also a bit of an undercurrent about a Russian meeting an American, though Kovalev spends much of his time in Los Angeles.

Unfortunately for both fighters, those outside boxing don't seem terribly interested. The fight at the Mandalay Bay resort is being held in a smaller arena than the first, and pay-per-view sales are expected to be tepid.

And any efforts to generate buzz this week were dashed when Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Conor McGregor announced their own fight.

"The people who are going to buy our fight are still going to buy it and come out," Ward said. "I don't feel like it affects me. It is what it is."

Anyone who watched the first fight would have to be intrigued by the rematch. Kovalev appeared on his way to beating Ward in November before Ward gained control midway through the fight and eked out a one-point win on all three scorecards.

Kovalev claimed he overtrained for the first bout and had nothing when he went into the ring. Regardless, he said, he plans to not only win the fight but take out his frustrations on Ward.

"When I see his face I want to bash him," Kovalev said. "I don't like this guy."

Ward (31-0, 15 knockouts) isn't about to invite Kovalev over for dinner, either. He's not happy about what he said were racist overtones in videos sent out by Kovalev and his team, and unhappy Kovalev keeps questioning the legitimacy of his win in the first fight.

"I've been through adversity in and out of the ring," Ward said. "I'm not perfect but I make an effort to be an asset to the game."

The fight will be televised on HBO pay-per-view, which has some in boxing scratching their heads. The first bout was on pay-per-view, too, and drew only a reported 150,000 buys, despite it being an attractive matchup for boxing fans.

Though Kovalev (31-1-1, 26 knockouts) made his mark as a power puncher, he was unable to put Ward away after putting him down in the first fight. Ward said that will play in his favor in the rematch.

"I'm not averse to getting hit," Ward said. "But I'm not going to put my head out there on a platter. I'm not into taking two (punches) to get one."

Updated June 16, 2017

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