My style of writing is a little different than most; different in the way that I have easy access to a lot of the boxers. I have also been on their side of the fence, so I know how irritating some senseless questions can be. With that being said, I telephoned the 2004 Olympic light heavyweight gold medalist Andre Ward and asked him to speak to The Sweet Science readers directly, in his own words. So now here goes God’s chosen one:
“It’s everyone’s perception that a silver spoon comes with an Olympic gold medal. How wrong they are. Everything I’ve gotten has been from God and the long journey he has carried me through. The journey began in 1993 when I was a 9-year-old kid who just wanted to be like his dad. My father was a boxer and my idol. I was a rough, tough kid growing up in Oakland California, so the combination made it a natural that I box.
“One of the first lessons I witnessed was at the 1996 Olympic trails in my hometown. I was really too young to understand the importance of the tournament, but I knew certain things that intrigued me. Antonio Tarver was known because of his accomplishments. Fernando Vargas was a big name in California. I saw those guys perform and I knew that if I believed, then the Lord would pave the same path for myself. I began to hone my skills by watching old fight tapes and adding a little bit of boxers like Sugar Ray Leonard and Roy Jones Jr. But now I live right, believe in God, and I’m evolving into Andre Ward.
“During the Olympic games in 2004, I was confident that the entire team would win a gold medal. We swept the first round and then we started getting knocked off one by one. I remember sitting in the back watching Andre Dirrell’s semi-final bout and being nervous. Dirrell went on to lose that bout, although I thought he really won. Now looking up, I was the last one standing. I was beaten on the national level, but unknown to the world on the international level. I never competed in the Goodwill or Pan-Am games. I never competed in the World Challenge either. But God had his plans laid out for me, and that was to sneak up on them quietly. After a 10-year struggle, I kept my faith in God and seized the gold medal of my country. I truly believe that he was showing off in me, so now I’m here to promote his word. The gold medal is now starting to sink in, but I remain focused on the new task at hand. My dad always stressed the importance of moving forward. The Olympic gold happened yesterday. I have to appreciate it that and move onto the next goal.
“Now I am on a professional level, and just as in my life before, I don’t expect it to be easy. The gloves are smaller and there is no headgear to protect the skull. The punches in the amateurs and pros are like night and day. In the pros you can get hit four times during the bout and it will hurt for two days. My training habits have remained the same. I train so hard that my trainer Virgil actually makes me scale back at times. But my mindset is slightly different now. The professional ranks have made my mental intensity increase, because it’s more geared around money. The promoter/manager and networks are all about the money and boxers should start to think the same way. My goal is to make money and to be the greatest boxer that ever lived, and that’s what’s motivating me now. I’m hungry but I do realize that I am in a no-win situation. The saying that goes: “It’s lonely at the top” is so true. Let me give you an example of what I mean. I can go to any gym and spar with someone that has the same amount of experience that I do. If he handles me then they will hear the whispers of me being over rated. If I handle him, they will say so what. Don’t get me wrong. I’m blessed to be in this position. But the pressure let’s me know that it won’t be all peaches and cream for me. I’m growing as a man both spiritually and mentally. I was shook up in my last bout for a split second, but I got through it and picked up some valuable experience.
“I know there are a lot of haters out there and I know a lot of people are sleeping on Andre Ward. But I’m here to defend the stripes that I have earned. I look at challenges as obstacles God has set for me to hurdle. In closing, I would like to quote a phrase that is in the bible: ‘Faith without worship is dead is dead.’ I was placed on this platform to spread the word of God. I want all boxers, present and future to understand that we as a group have to learn how to be decent and proper when we are out in public. I want to lead the change and not just for myself, but for the next generation. I don’t mind taking the lumps as long as it helps for tomorrow. It’s sickening to see and hear the perception of boxers from the public. It’s nothing wrong with being human when the cameras come on. Now that’s not keeping it real when you act like somebody or something that you are not. I already proved that through faith, and not the bad image, that one could indeed succeed. I won an Olympic gold medal and didn’t even compete internationally prior.
“I want to set the bar on the new image of boxers. I realize that I will only have to get what the lord wants me to have and get. I feel I’m ready for a whole lot more, but I have faith and understand my role in his plans. No one is speaking about Andre Ward as a future champion and I’m cool with that, because at the end of the day, I’m God’s chosen one.”