By Joseph Santoliquito

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — It still bothers him, and it’s a ghost that won’t let go. Sergey Kovalev feels he won the first fight with Andre Ward, when the two light heavyweight stars met last November. Ward overcame a second-round knockdown to win a 114-113 unanimous verdict on all three judge’s scorecards, winning the last six rounds on two of the three judges’ sheets.

Kovalev has issues with that, considering most respected ringside observers felt Kovalev won the fight.

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The “Krusher” will get a chance to avenge his only loss on Saturday night, at Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino Events Center in Las Vegas, when Ward (31-0, 15 KOs) and Kovalev (31-1-1, 26 KOs) do it again.

“Ward got a gift the first time, the best gift he received in his life,” Kovalev said. “He hit me with little punches, punches like a girl. None of his punches hurt me. They were little punches and the judges counted them. That’s what they saw. The public and anyone watching that fight saw something else.

“I won that fight, like I’m going to win this fight. I know what I did wrong. I trained too hard. I over worked for that fight. I worked more than I should have. By the end of the fight I was empty. I won’t make that mistake again. I will kick his (butt) this time.”

Ward, the defending the IBF/WBA/WBO light heavyweight champion, heard all kinds of derision aimed at him after he beat the Krusher. He also thinks Kovalev is full of excuses.

“Look, he lost, plain and simple, he lost,” said Ward, the 2004 light heavyweight Olympic gold medalist who last lost a fight in 1996, when he was 15. “Look at the punch stats. Look at the fight again after the fifth round. I dominated.”

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Ward does have a point. He landed the higher percentage of total punches (34.4% to 26.6%), landed a higher percentage of jabs (32.75 to 19.8%) and a higher percentage of power shots (36.1% to 33.6%).

But John David Jackson, Kovalev’s trainer, counters that.

“Sergey is telling me he ran the last training camp, and I asked how much did you put in,” Jackson recalled. “He told 14, 15 miles. I was shocked. I told him, ‘Sergey, you’re training for a fight, not a marathon race. It’s a 12-round fight. My fear going into that first fight was that he used his legs up, and this time, that won’t happen.

“If does what he’s supposed to do, Sergey won’t have any problems at all this time around. We should have stopped him the first time, and Ward knows it.”

This time, Ward says, he too will make up for the mistakes he made the first time. This time, “S.O.G.” wants to squash all excuses.

“I know what I did wrong, and I won’t repeat that again, believe me,” Ward said. “There’s nothing scary about this man. The reality is, I saw him the first time. I know what he brings. He still doesn’t know what I bring. That’s the reality of the situation. He felt me, he knows. I respect him, but I don’t like him.”

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Joseph Santoliquito is the President of the Boxing Writers Association of America