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Ready to make a point: Andre Ward returns to the ring

Photo © J.Raspanti, MaxBoxing
Photo © J.Raspanti, MaxBoxing

By John J. Raspanti


“But GGG is like all punchers.  That’s why with a guy like GGG, -- you have to show them, and by the time they figure it out, guess what? Fight’s over."   

 

Andre Ward       

                     

In 2004, Andre Ward surprised many by capturing the gold medal at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece. 

 

Ward debuted as a professional a year later when he beat Chris Molina.

 

In 2008, he defeated Jerson Ravelo to win NABO super middleweight title. There were whispers about the strength of Ward’s chin and the power of his punch. His team matched him with hard-hitting Edwin Maranda 12 months later.


In the days leading up to the fight, Miranda did everything he could think of to intimidate Ward. Nothing worked--Ward dominated Miranda over 12 rounds.

 

Experts questioned his move to compete in the Super-Six World Boxing Classic. Better known fighters like Carl Froch, Arthur Abraham, and WBA super middleweight titleholder Mikkel Kessler were considered the favorites to win the tournament.

 

Many considered Ward an afterthought.

 

He went into the ring to face Kessler at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, Ca. on November 21, and 2011 as the underdog. A minute into the fight, Ward’s standing changed as a clueless Kessler met up with the dynamic Oakland native.

 

Kessler looked for answers but ate punches for 11 rounds until the fight was stopped due to a bad cut over his right eye.

 

Ward would go on to defeat Sakia Bika, Allan Green and, Abraham. He met Froch for the Super-Six trophy in Atlantic City, NJ in 2011. Ward boxed circles around the Nottingham battler, winning an easy 12 round decision.

 

In little over two years, Ward had risen to the heights of his profession. After a layoff of 10 months—due to a broken left hand suffered before his fight with Froch, Ward squared off against the light heavyweight champion of the world, Chad Dawson.

 

Dawson was so confident that he could beat Ward that he came down in weight--roughly seven pounds for their match. Ward stopped Dawson in 10 rounds.

 

Shelved by another injury for 11 months, Ward traveled to Southern California to fight undefeated Edwin Rodriguez in 2013. The fight was ugly at times, but Ward used his stinging jab to shutout Rodriguez.   

 

The win over Rodriguez was the 27th straight for Ward, with 14 knockouts. There were options galore, but Ward wanted out of his contract with Goossen Promotions. He sued twice, and lost. He was so frustrated that he considered hanging up the gloves.

 

“Every time I reached that point, my wife or my pastor, or Virgil (Hunter), would say, ’Look, itʼs not time. Itʼs going to pass’, Ward told this writer a few weeks ago at his gym in Hayward, CA.

 

Five months ago it did pass. Ward signed a promotional contract with entertainment company Roc Nation.

 

His first fight, under the “Nation” banner is June 20 against fringe contender Paul Smith.  He’s excited to be back in the ring and harbors no ill will against Goossen Promotions, the company that signed him after the Olympics. 

 

“If I could have avoided it (the lawsuit) I would have,” said Ward. “I love the Goossen’s. But I felt like I was in a situation where I either stood up and made a stand -- or there’s no telling how my career might be ran right now."

 

Signing a promotional contract with Roc Nation was something that the East Bay native didn’t see coming. 

 

“Roc Nation was not on my radar because they had just started getting into the boxing thing,” said Ward. “I had heard a little bit about them wanting to get in but didn’t know the details of it."

 

First and foremost, Ward was impressed by the teamwork Roc Nation offered.   

 

“Just that meeting and seeing everything they can bring to the table from the marketing standpoint, the promotional standpoint, and the seeing that the chief officer understands,” Ward said. “And it was something different. I just fought two years to get out of the old regime and the old way of thinking in boxing. This was fresh and new. Some say itʼs a risk. Some say why not, I mean why try....and I say why not try? Itʼs time for something fresh. Itʼs time for something new.”  

 

The 31 year-old Ward hasn’t had a fight in 19 months. There’s always a question of rust when a fighter is out of action for a long time. 

 

“I haven’t felt anything noticeable in sparring,” said Ward. “But instinctively I know that, getting the groove, the more training camps you have under your belt--things just become seamless. So I know even though I feel good right now there is another level of groove that I can get in just for consistency. So, no notable rust, but I’m sure there’s some rust there.

 

“All I can do is show up every day and work hard, like physically, work hard on my drills and different things. But by no means is that going to be any kind of excuse, or any kind of crutch, going into this fight. Win, lose or draw, this is what it is. And Iʼm more than confident....I feel good about this fight.”

 

Ward’s old rival Carl Froch recently made some noise about wanting a rematch. The WBA ordered a fight between the two, but nothing came of the efforts. 

 

“I was open to talk about it,” Ward said with a smile. ”So I did that, my team reached out to Eddie Hearn, the promoter. All of a sudden we hear about a possible showdown at Wembley Stadium which is the biggest house for a fight. And all of a sudden Froch was on vacation and he couldn’t get a hold of him. He left word with his promoter that he wanted the fight in Nottingham in a 35,000 seat arena and it’s either Nottingham or nothing.

 

“I’m not doing that," said Ward. "I feel like I’m doing him a favor even coming to the UK and risking maybe getting a bad decision or things not going my way."

 

Despite the apparent cold shoulder response from Froch, Ward refuses to disparage his competitors.

 

“These guys like to insult, they like to lie, and they want to switch the story. And those are things that personally, I can deal with it. But fans don’t really have time to dig and do the research.  They read what they read, and they only know what they know and I feel bad for them. I have respect for Froch. He’s a warrior. Whether I fought him in the United States or I fought him in the UK, it’s not going to be an easy fight. He’s a competitor and I respect him, but I don’t think he wants to fight. I really don’t.”

 

Criticized by some as "boring" outside the ring, Ward seems content with his low-key image, shrugging off attempts to brand him as the combative bad guy he believes has become the stereotype for African American fighters.

 

“Self-promote how?” Ward told an AP reporter. “It’s just funny to me that a lot of times they only want certain people to be that way. They don’t ask Canelo Alvarez to do that. They don’t ask Golovkin to do that. They don’t ask Chavez to do that. It’s ok for those guys to be soft-spoken. My question is why? See the reality is, like, I’m not playing the race card here because I’m half white and half black. I know both sides very well. But a lot of times, historically, in the sport of boxing, it’s almost like this myth that the African American fighter has to be a villain in order to make it.

 

“That may have worked before Mayweather but you have to tip your hat to Floyd whether you agree with him or not. He’s made what he’s made doing what he does. I’m going to continue to push back on that. I’m very outspoken. I’m just not going to create a monster and have to deal with that monster twenty years from now. I go to my kidsʼ school and I interact with the principal. I’m more concerned about the individual that I am not just to sell a few tickets. And I only know how to be real. I’m not going to be a chameleon. What you see is what you get. I’m real, I’m honest and people respect that.”

 

Ward sees his role outside the ring is to improve his sport and to serve as a role model for young boxers.  

 

“I don’t want to leave boxing any worse than when I came into it,” said Ward. “Personally, this is just my opinion, I feel like I have an obligation to try to leave this sport a little bit better than when I got here. No matter how that is. It may not even be seen by the general public. It may be off the record conversations that I with young fighters, up and coming fighters, or other peers that I have.

 

“I got guys like that kid over there watching me. He may be our next gold medal winner. He’s in training camp because he wants to watch me. So that’s a serious responsibility, he wants to watch me train. See how I conduct myself. And to me that’s a great responsibility. So I’m not going to show him anything that’s not authentic. And I’m not going to lead him down the wrong road, at least intentionally, and then walk away and say, ’Hey, deal with the aftermath. I don’t think that’s right.”

 

There’s been talk for a while now of showdown between Ward and undefeated champions Gennady Golovkin or Sergey Kovelov. Does he have a preference on who he’d like to box?

 

 

“I think probably the closest to that happening is probably Golovkin,” Ward said. “But I try not to get into picking and choosing. So, to me, I’m willing to take all comers. I’m not patting myself on the back when I say this, but whoever it is, I’ll be ready.”

 

Golovkin stopped Willie Monroe for his 20th consecutive knockout a few weeks ago. His performance was uneven and drew criticism from many levels. Did Ward have an opinion about the fight?

 

“I did not watch it,” Ward said. "No disrespect, but Iʼm not a fan. I’m aware of what happened, but I’m not a fan. Willie had some moments. And then GGG ended it, but I knew that before it happened. This is the thing. With a guy that is touted as a puncher, he’s got a hard head. And I mean literally. You can’t tell him anything. Because everybody that’s he’s touched has gone down.  

 

“But GGG is like all punchers.  That’s why with a guy like GGG, -- you have to show them, and by the time they figure it out, guess what? Fight’s over. That’s just how it works. So, I know GGG gets hit a lot. I know he has no reason to focus on the individual because nothing has happened to him in a professional boxing ring that would make him cognizant of caution. It’s all gone his way.

 

Paul Smith, Ward’s upcoming opponent on June 20th, gave Abraham fits during their first fight last year. He lost, but earned a rematch. He sports a record of 35 wins and 5 losses. He’s a scrappy pugilist.

 

Ward looks forward to meeting up with the Liverpool native.

 

"Paul Smith is a guy that, he doesn’t care where he’s fighting, “Ward said. “He doesn’t care who he’s fighting. He doesn’t mind bleeding. You know, he’ll get cut. He’s a veteran. But he’s coming to win. I like fighting guys like this, but it’s also tough fighting guys like this because heʼs not going to lay down and you’re going to have to be everything that you say you are. He’s tough, he’s durable, he’s gonna come. And he’s gonnaʼ be in shape. He showed with his last two fights against Abraham.

 

“So I respect the guy," Ward said. "I met him. He’s a great guy. He’s a warrior. Don’t be fooled by that. If I have any ring rust or something’s off, he’s the kind of guy that will bring it out. And that’s what’s dangerous about these kinds of fights because, you know heʼs a winner no matter what happens.

 

“The pressure’s on me to show that I don’t have ring rust. Because trust me, all the guys that are talking in my division are waiting to see some weakness.”

 

Ward’s been down this road before. He’s thrilled to be fighting at the Oracle Arena for the sixth time in his career, but he knows the pressure is on.

 

“I’m in front of my hometown fans,” Ward said.”I’m supposed to beat Paul Smith. I got a lot riding on this, but I compartmentalize that and just go out there and do what you do. And that’s what I plan on doing. Let the fight unfold. I want a knockout. I want a spectacular victory. But I can’t go for that. A veteran like Paul Smith, he’ll make you look like bad. I mean, he’s a crafty guy. He’s got thirty some odd fights. So, I respect him a great deal.”



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