Ever since winning the gold medal in the 2004 Olympics the boxing world has waited for Andre Ward to show the almost inhuman speed and skills in the professional world.

It’s taken five long years.

Kessler (42-1, 32 KOs) defends his WBA title against Ward (20-0, 13 KOs) at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, Ca. The fight will be televised Saturday, Nov. 21 on Showtime. Just last month the series opened with Arthur Abraham knocking out Jermain Taylor and Carl Froch out-muscling Andre Dirrell.

Here come the favorites now in the final match up of the first round of the Super Six Super Middleweight tournament sponsored by Showtime.

“I don’t think my road up to this point has been slow,” said Ward of finally fighting for a world title after half a decade. “I don’t know what the barometer is or who set the standard.”

Ever hear of a guy named Oscar De La Hoya?

The true gold standard was set by De La Hoya who grabbed the gold medal in 1992 and won two world titles in 1994. In 1995 the East L.A. boxer won another world title. But the Golden Boy always had that vaunted left hook to equalize any mistakes in the ring.

Ward has a left hook, it’s just not in the same league as De La Hoya’s. But he has a right hand and has slowly learned to adapt to the pro level with its penchant for power punching, not scoring points with jabs and touches.

“I don’t think our road up to this point has been slow or stagnant,” Ward says.

Still, there is precedent. But, not all fighters are the same or can adapt to the more intense and painful professional boxing level. Amateur boxing is slap fighting. Pro fighting is hurt or get hurt.

It’s a big difference and Ward’s journey has been calibrated to allow him room to acclimate to the harder hitting version of boxing.

Ward captured the gold medal for the U.S. in 2004 with his blend of quick-moving legs and blinding combinations. But fans just don’t like seeing a boxer on his toes and flicking jabs for 12 rounds. That’s amateur stuff.

For the past five years Ward has been transforming his pure amateur style into a more offensive and fan-pleasing puncher style. It hasn’t been easy for the Oakland native who was also set back with a basketball knee injury.

Kessler, whose only loss came to the now retired Joe Calzaghe, has proven in fights with California’s Librado Andrade and Australia’s Anthony Mundine that he possesses boxing elements that enable him to defeat opponents in a variety of ways. If he needs power he can easily supply that with both hands. If he needs to box and counter he’s shown that in many fights.

The Danish destroyer has been in California the past two weeks to acclimatize to the different temperatures and time changes.

“It took me three or four days to get used to it,” Kessler said. “You have to be here at least three weeks before so you can adapt to the time change.”

Adaptability is one of Kessler’s greatest strengths, but can he adjust to Ward’s blinding speed and deadly accuracy?

The last time Ward stepped in the ring he breezed through Shelby Pudwill with ease in Temecula. The fight before that he handled feared Colombian slugger Edison Miranda who had nearly beaten WBO titleholder Abraham in their first contest. Ward had no problems with Miranda even when fighting toe-to-toe.

“I expect a very, very, very tough fight,” said Ward who attempts to be the first American to win in the tournament after Dirrell and Taylor suffered defeats to European fighters. “I expect a better Mikkel Kessler than I saw against Calzaghe.”

No longer does Ward stick and move in an amateur style he employed for most of his boxing career. Now he slides left or right and keeps his distance with a rocket jab and furious combinations. But can he be successful against an elite fighter like Kessler?

“I’m planning on bringing the total package,” says Ward. “If I didn’t expect to beat every man in this tournament then I shouldn’t be in this tournament.”

After five years Ward is finally stepping up for the challenge.

“If I beat Kessler it will send shock waves,” says Ward.

For tickets call (800) 745-3000.

Replay of Manny Pacquiao win over Miguel Cotto

HBO will replay Manny Pacquiao’s technical knockout win over Puerto Rico’s Miguel Cotto on Saturday, Nov. 21 at 10 p.m.

Pacquiao set a record for winning seven world titles in seven weight divisions when he took Cotto’s WBO title last Saturday with a blistering performance including two knockdowns. Last May 2009 the Filipino fighter considered the best fighter Pound for Pound won the junior welterweight with a second round blow out of Ricky Hatton.

Oleg Maskaev fights in Sacramento

Former WBC heavyweight titleholder Oleg Maskaev (36-6, 27 KOs) fights Nagy Aguilera (14-2, 9 KOs) on Dec.11, at the historic Memorial Auditorium in Sacramento, California.

The rugged Maskaev is working his way up the heavyweight ladder and has been told that a win would match him with big Ray Austin for a shot at the interim title and perhaps big Vitali Klitschko.

Maskaev, who is now an American citizen, recently notched two wins fighting in Russia. The former Soviet soldier is still very popular in his former homeland.

“They love him in Russia,” said Dennis Rappaport, who advises Maskaev. “He’s a quiet man who believes he can win the world title again.”

Tickets are still available for the fight. Call (916) 808-5291.

Fights on television

Sat. Showtime, 10 p.m., Andre Ward (20-0) vs. Mikkel Kessler (42-1).