By John J. Raspanti
Andre Ward (28-0, 15 KOs) makes his debut in the light heavyweight division March 26th when he faces hard-hitting light heavyweight contender Sullivan Barrera (17-0, 12 KOs) at Oracle Arena in Oakland, CA.
Ward, 32, was last seen in the ring nine months ago dispatching over-matched Englishman Paul Smith in nine one-sided rounds. Some criticized his performance—saying he appeared a step slower.
How did the former undisputed super middleweight champion think he looked that night?
“I did what I had to do,” Ward told this writer during an interview last week at his gym in Hayward, Calif. “People are entitled to their opinion. Some people are never going to like you. So, yeah, I was pleased with the performance.”
Ward’s fight with Barrera will be his first officially in the light heavyweight division.
His trainer, Virgil Hunter, likes the match-up.
“I told Andre that’s a good fight to start out with because he’s got some height behind him,” Hunter told fighthype.com
Ward, a heavy favorite going into the match, is taking nothing for granted.
“I know he’s a good fighter,” said Ward about Barrera. “We’ve trained for him like we would (Sergey) Kovalev. There’s no difference in the preparation. We don’t play the name game."
The Cuban-born Barrera, 34, first came to prominence in 2000 when he captured the gold during the World Junior Championship games in Budapest, Hungary. Nine years later, Barrera turned professional—starching Anthony Adorno in the opening round. He’s steadily worked his way up the rankings, stopping an over-the-hill Jeff Lacy in four rounds, and in his most recent fight, knocking out Karo Mura.
Ward shocked many boxing fans in 2009 when he stopped heavily-favored Mikkel Kessler in Round 11 during Showtime’s Super Six tournament. A year later, he dethroned WBC champion Carl Froch. That victory earned the 2004 Olympic gold medalist the top spot in the tourney.
After laying off for 10 months due to a broken left hand suffered a week before before his fight with Froch, Ward met light heavyweight champion of the world, Chad Dawson. Ward stopped Dawson in Round 10.
Shelved for almost a year after another injury, Ward dominated Edwin Rodriguez in Southern California three years ago.
His return against Smith last June was also his first fight under the Roc Nation banner.
Ward’s inactivity has caused some to wonder if his skills are starting to fade.Smith was able to catch him with a pretty good right hand in Round seven, but the lapse seemed more due to ring rust than erosion. Ward broke Smith’s nose in Round eight, and stopped him minutes later.
The slightly taller Barrera believes he can stop Ward.
“I’m a warrior,” Barrera said at a recent news conference. “I’m fully prepared for Andre Ward. I highly respect him as a boxer and former world champion. My goal is to knock out Andre Ward.”
When told of Barrera’s intent, Ward responded, “He’s got to come stronger than that,” Ward said. “I’m going to take him at his word, but it’s not going to be what he thinks it’s going to be.”
If victorious, Ward intends to fight again in a few months and meet Kovalev sometime in November.