SERGEY KOVALEV produced a stunning display of power to destroy Vyacheslav Shabranskyy and reclaim his WBO world light-heavyweight title.
And the Russian then vowed to unify the light-heavy division and reign supreme following Ward’s decision to retire from the sport.
Kovalev said: “I worked very hard to return to champion status. I reloaded my brain, my mental conditioning and my body – I’m back.
“It’s my goal to be the best, I am ready to fight for all the titles and unify the division.
“I love boxing and I am here to make great fights.
“I am happy that the belts have different owners, it makes boxing interesting, we can make good fights for boxing fans.
“I want to find out who is the best in the light-heavyweight division.
“I’m ready for any champion, Bivol, Beterbiev, anyone, let’s do it, I’m ready.”
After his defeats to Ward there had been some questions wether 34-year-old Kovalev would still have the hunger and power to stay at the top.
But he quickly buried any of those doubts as he set about ending the world title dreams of his Ukrainian opponent right from the first bell.
Kovalev unleashed a series of blows to the head and body of 30-year-old Shabranskyy to send him crashing to the floor midway through the first round.
Shabranskyy was caught in the eye of a storm as he regained his feet, with Kovalev swarming all over him and another combination earned a second knockdown.
He somehow survived to hear the bell, but was so shell-shocked he was like a sitting duck in the second as Kovalev went in for the kill.
Another crushing right sent Shabranskyy to the canvas for a third time, and though he managed to regain his feet he was unable to withstand the next onslaught and the referee called a halt.