Andre Ward: A Career Appreciation

What a year 2017 has been for boxing. We’ve seen a plethora of fantastic fights where the best have been fighting the best. On the downside, Floyd Mayweather, Juan Manuel Marquez, Shane Mosley and Timothy Bradley retired. This morning (Sept. 21, 2017) Andre Ward announced that he too was hanging up his gloves.

Ward, who hasn’t lost a fight since he was 13 years old, reached the highest level as an amateur, winning a gold medal at the 2004 Olympics fighting as a light heavyweight. He concludes his pro career as one of three fighters who recently retired undefeated, joining Floyd Mayweather and Tyson Fury. Andre departs boxing with a career record 32-0 (16). He won world titles at super middleweight and light heavyweight. On the day of his departure, Ward was the reigning WBA/IBF/WBO light heavyweight champion and was considered by many the top pound-for-pound fighter in boxing.

There are many things that stand out about Ward as a fighter, starting with his versatility and toughness. En route to winning the Super Six tournament, designed to crown the best super middleweight in the world, Ward defeated fighters with varying styles and skill sets. He nullified Mikkel Kessler’s reach and neutralized his jab. He out-maneuvered and out-muscled a strong and heavy handed fighter in Arthur Abraham and in the finale he beat Carl Froch at every turn. He forced Froch to box when Froch wanted to fight and when Froch became desperate and needed to fight with urgency, Ward boxed smart and avoided getting caught with anything meaningful.

After beating Froch, Ward induced WBC and lineal light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson, who was coming off a decision over Bernard Hopkins, to come down in weight. After two close rounds, Ward dropped Dawson in the third with a right to the body and a short left hook. In the fourth Ward put Dawson down again. Showing great resiliency, Dawson survived the round but Ward never let up and when a tired and beaten Dawson went down again in the 10th, the fight was stopped.

Due to injuries and contract disputes with his promoter, Ward was inactive for 19 months. In January of 2015 he announced that he would be fighting under the Roc Nation banner.

In his first bout with Roc Nation, he TKO’d Paul Smith in the ninth round fighting at a catch- weight of 172. Ward fought twice more at 175, beating previously undefeated Sullivan Barrera and the once-beaten Alexander Brand before back-to-back fights with WBA/IBF/WBO light heavyweight champ Sergey Kovalev, the opponent he will most likely be most remembered for. At the time of their first meeting Kovalev, a terrific boxer-puncher, was undefeated (30-0-1, with 26 KOs). He was considered one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world and clearly the elite fighter in the light heavyweight division.

Ward-Kovalev I was closely contested and went the distance. Ward was dropped by a big right hand in the second round, but once again Andre summoned great reserve, getting up and fighting off a charging Kovalev. He battled back and won the third round and eventually stabilized the tempo of the fight. He fought his best, counter-punching and going to Kovalev’s body from rounds six through 12. In what came as a surprise to many, Ward was awarded the decision, winning by scores of 114-113 on all three cards. The controversy over the decision made the rematch a natural. Seven months later, Ward and Kovalev fought again with Ward now in the role of the defending champ.

The bout was evenly contested in the beginning with little to choose between them, but as the bout progressed, Ward started to fight a little more aggressively, beating Kovalev to the punch. In the eighth round he hurt Kovalev with a big right hook and then backed him into the ropes where he landed three hooks to Sergey’s body that appeared to be at least borderline low. As Kovalev was doubled over against the ropes, the referee stepped in and declared Ward the winner. Kovalev complained that he had been fouled and that the bout shouldn’t have been stopped, but in the eyes of many ringsiders it was a moot point as Ward had seized control of the fight.

It’s plausible that a couple of Ward’s body shots did land a little south. Along with being a masterful technician, Andre wasn’t above stretching the rules and fighting rough. He was terrific at holding and hitting and made great use of his forearms and elbows on the inside, although he was seldom called on it.

Because he wasn’t flashy in or out of the ring, Andre Ward flew under the radar and was never a superstar. But he certainly had superstar skills. He was a quiet guy with integrity and failed to boast or do things against his character and good nature in order to bring attention to himself in the way that Floyd Mayweather did. And that cost him financially. (As a friend pointed out to me, Mayweather made more money in his last bout fighting a guy making his pro boxing debut than Ward made in his entire career.) So be it, but as a fighter Andre was Mayweather’s equal and maybe even more. And the reason for that is that Ward cleaned out two weight divisions fighting the most feared guy in both. And unlike Mayweather, he could not be accused of avoiding other elite fighters or waiting for the opportune time to fight them when their skills had declined.

As the years go by, not only will Andre Ward be inducted into the IBHOF, but his legacy will escalate. He had all the goods a fighter could want. He was a smart and versatile technician and he was much more durable and tough than he got credit for being. He had more than adequate speed and power and — something that’s often overlooked — he had an unbreakable will. It was impossible to shake his confidence or convince him that he couldn’t figure you out and beat you. Some considered his style boring, but I’d say efficient is more appropriate.

At the least Ward has to be considered one of the three or four greatest super middleweights in the history of the division. And he is without a doubt one of the greats to have fought over the last 25 years, right alongside Evander Holyfield, Lennox Lewis, Roy Jones, Bernard Hopkins, James Toney, Floyd Mayweather, and Manny Pacquiao.

He now says that his body is succumbing to the rigors of training and that the desire is no longer there. And because he took boxing so seriously, I believe he is serious and will never make a comeback. Andre Ward’s name will now be added to the short list of fighters who retired from boxing with their health, wealth and respect. Along with that, he leaves on top as champion when there’s still something left in the tank as a fighter if he wanted to call on it. 

For a closer look at Andre Ward the man, check out this piece by that Thomas Hauser that ran here last November.

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