Great boxing is relative to the beholder. Some enjoy exciting fighters like Manny Pacquiao, or give and take sluggers. Others take pleasure in watching pure boxers like Floyd Mayweather do their thing. There is no clear answer for pound for pound supremacy in boxing because unless the best fighters fight, the argument is an exercise in pure opinion. Yet the fundamental purpose for any boxer seeking victory is to hit and not get hit. Historically, thrilling, blood splattering type exchanges have not been a prerequisite for victory. In this sport, those that succeed at being hard to pin down with the greatest amount of skill typically win.
In that case, on Saturday, Carl Froch deserved no shame in losing to the second best fighter in the world. Moving directly behind Mayweather and ahead of Pacquiao, Marquez, or anyone else because of his ability to make damn-good opponents look ordinary, Andre Ward is the second best fighter in the world today. He is leading the next generation of fighters in boxing with class and intelligence in the ring.
During the unanimous decision victory over Froch for the 168 pound championship, ring announcer Antonio Tarver interestingly compared Ward’s fighting style to hall of fame fighter Pernell Whitaker.
Now, I have followed Ward for some time, probably more than most scribes, but never heard such a qualified judgment. Sweet Pea Whitaker was arguably the most gifted defensive fighter in the last fifty years. He slipped and counter-punched his way towards titles in multiple weight classes and pound for pound greatness from the 80s until the mid 1990s. The Whitaker comparison is a compliment to Ward’s ability to make us question his greatness.
At 25-0 with 13 knockouts, some say the 27 year-old Ward has little knockout power, while others praise his elusiveness in the ring, and there are those critics that reduce his accomplishments for various other reasons. Whitaker, a fighter who was never known for KO power, stopped only 17 opponents in 40 victories. In a short span, Ward has followed a similar trajectory but holds a greater knockout percentage. His punches are potent, not powerful.
Ward has said, “Looking for a knockout is like chopping down a tree with a dull axe. I am a sharpshooter. My shots are like lasers. I’ll zap you. I pick and choose when to fire.”
Two things are clear after Ward’s win on Saturday over Froch. One, we watched one of the best fighters in the world make it look easy. Two, he has never been in a close fight as a professional. Think about that last point for a second. Not once has Ward had to squeak out a close decision, or have a come from behind victory. All of his fights have been one-sided, and more recently he’s handled the best the 168 pound division has to offer with ease.
If pound for pound is about dominance and advanced skill over strong competition then Andre Ward is only behind Floyd Mayweather in the mythical rankings.
Today, Manny Pacquiao, the generally recognized number two fighter in the world behind Floyd Mayweather, is not nearly as dominant as Ward at this point in his career. Pacquiao’s achievements, and moving up to 154 pounds from 130 in just 26 months are fantastic. But some of the fights had catch-weight agreements which arguably gave Manny an advantage on fight night, and his last seven opponents, De la Hoya, Hatton, Cotto, Clottey, Margarito, Mosley, and Marquez lost a fight within 26 months before they fought him. Coming off of a loss does not boost confidence. Besides, many boxing media and fans think Pacquiao lost his last fight against Juan Manuel Marquez in November. Boxing is a ‘what have you done for me lately’ sport. Last month Pacquiao’s invincibility slipped.
Meanwhile, in a hotly contested tournament against elite champions, Ward controlled almost every round of his fights.
Ward and Hunter believe in skills above knockouts. Ward, like Whitaker, brought immense skill to the table.
“After he beats his opponent they are never the same and question themselves. They change their trainer, take time off, or lose a step,” Virgil Hunter told me that when Andre Ward was a 13-0 prospect. Long before his fighter was champion, long before Ward shocked Mikkel Kessler to become a super middle weight champion and more recently bewildered Carl Froch on Saturday night en route to the Super Six Tournament victory and super middleweight supremacy, Hunter spoke true.
Ward creates doubt for his opponents. “Nobody wins after they fight us. They lose,” said Hunter. Looking back at Ward’s last five notable opponents (Edison Miranda, Mikkel Kessler, Allan Green, Sakio Bika, and Arthur Abraham) they in fact have not been the same fighter after getting beat by S.O.G.
Miranda switched trainers twice and is 3-2 since Ward. Kessler got a new trainer and his career is on and off because of injury, Green found a new coach and lost by knockout to Glen Johnson, Bika beat a journeyman in his only fight after Ward, and Abraham left the 168 pound division. To Hunter’s point, Andre Ward has not been in a close fight as a professional. He wins - not with power, speed, defense, or quickness but with superior boxing skill.
I covered Ward’s quest for super middleweight supremacy from the beginning. Unexpected for most who follow the sport, there have not been many bumps along the way. The Super Six winner that started as a 5-2 underdog going into the tournament did not get much positive publicity from the media before the competition.
Then, focus was on his slow climb up the ranks instead of his undefeated record. Ward said the most media attention he received before the Super Six Tournament was after he tore the ACL in his left knee in 2008. Not exactly the interest an Olympic gold medalist comes to expect. In fact, Hunter said the knee did not fully heal until weeks before the Froch fight. The trainer said Ward generated power from one leg for more than three years. They needed to ice the knee constantly after training to keep it fresh.
Now all is good and he is healthy, just in time to prepare for the large target that has grown on his back. The Bay Area native has not lost a fight since he was nine years-old. Everyone in or around 168 pounds besides Bernard Hopkins, who Ward has always looked upon as a mentor, wants to break that undefeated streak. But who’s next? Whoever it is must try to make it competitive first against the second best boxer in the world.
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