He knocked Ward down in the first light heavyweight title match in November, and now he wants to knock him out. Kovalev tried to tie the American up, but Ward was relentless, slamming punches to the head and body.
With another close round taking place in the 8th round, Ward uncorked a hellacious right hand that clearly took Kovalev's legs from underneath him. "I didn't feel he could throw the punch that would end the fight. It takes something to do something". Though brilliant on the back foot, Ward has a fighter's heart and looks to hurt with either hand when he attacks from behind that defensive shield.
Ward found a weakness in Kovalev (30-2-1, 26 KOs) to the body and honed in on it.
Then, after punching through Kovalev complaints that he had been hit low in the round - and previously in the bout - Ward battered Kovalev in a corner with two devastating body blows on the belt that forced him to keel over and inspire referee Tony Weeks to stop the bout two minutes, 29 seconds into the round.
Shaped by attitudes more readily associated with those Russian supremacists attached to the nation's football team, Kovalev has run into a wall of righteous anger over his clumsy publicity moves that look like downright racism to western cultural sensibilities. I knew tonight was going to be different.
"Go back down there". This is (expletive). I could have continued. "He was hurt and he wasn't reacting so the referee stopped it".
The reactions naturally ranged from "Ward cheated, Kovalev got screwed" to "There were no low blows, Kovalev is a pussy", because not many people in boxing are game for considering a world that's less than black and white.
"It's a shame", said Kovalev's promoter Kathy Duva. "I saw someone who should have been disqualified get his hand held up".
The thrill of victory did not last too long as Ward was bombarded at the post-fight press conference with questions of the repeated low blows. We asked the commission for an instant replay analysis, and they did not give it to us.
However, Ward's trainer Virgil Hunter sees things differently. "When I hit him he was acting like I hit him low".
It wasn't that nobody expected Ward to prevail, but he simply isn't known for his firepower, and prior to Saturday had enjoyed only two early nights since 2009 - against Chad Dawson and Paul Smith Jr - and both were mercy stoppages. They laughed at me, but I knew what would happen because Andre was healthy. "Now we quieted all those who were whining and thought we didn't take it the first time".
So Kovalev becomes the 31st and 32nd fighter to have a bad night against Ward, who has never lost and now has a legitimate chance to retire unbeaten.
Ward stopped Kovalev in the eighth.
As for Kovalev, he was calling for a rematch.
"I am looking forward to making a statement in this fight, and removing any doubt that may be out there", Ward said.
"Once I compute a fighter in my brain, I know what to do the next time around", he told Kellerman.