Andre Ward’s Agenda: Five rounds of sparring, hitting the pads, and in-ring movement.
Focus: Cork Position
Ward’s trainer Virgil Hunter is constantly throwing advice towards the young champ during sparring. He rarely raises his voice, using a monotone approach while Ward circles his opponent. “Don’t leave the cork. Stay in the cork,” he says. “See it was there, and then you left it again.” Hunter continues to speak. Ward hears him almost as if it is the only sound in the room. There are tricks to the craft that has made Ward the favorite of the 168 pound championship bout and Super Six Tournament final against Carl Froch on October 29th, yet trainer and fighter agree, their game is a work in process.
So they continue to apply polish. Since mid August and until the end of this week, Ward works at King’s Gym every other day before training camp heats up on September 12th. Two weeks ago, I was in attendance when Ward sparred, a four round session watched by MMA fighters Nick and Nate Diaz.
This past Wednesday, Ward sparred five rounds, hit the pads, and worked on in-ring movement with Virgil Hunter. “My trainer is never satisfied. He is always angry,” Ward playfully told me. “Call it tough love,” I said.
“You’re right, it’s tough love,” Ward agreed. Hunter chimed in, “You were throwing wide punches.” Then Ward said, “You see what I mean, man?”
More than anyone else, Hunter has the champions’ ear. And he brings an extra level of incentive for a man that Hunter thinks does not need anyone else to push him.
“That man does not require outside motivation but when people doubt him, say he can’t do something, or question his skills or ability, man, it makes my job easy,” Hunter said. “He already works hard. Why critics give him more drive beats me.”
Mr. Hunter got more candid in a discussion we had after Ward finished training.
RM: First off, tell me about your thoughts going into the fight with Carl Froch.
VH: It was a fight that we wanted. We are really looking forward to it. It is a great way to close out the Super Six with two of the original participants ready to close it out. I am happy about it.
RM: Carl Froch is coming into this fight confident. Do you put any stock in that?
VH: No, it is good that he is coming in confident because it eliminates any avenue of excuse. That is who he is. I respect him for it. And particularly, it is good for boxing for him to be confident. The only way he could put a damper on it is by coming up with excuses: ‘Why the fight didn’t go this way or why it didn’t go that way,’ he has done that before. Getting this far in this business, with all of the praise from the fans and media, he would be doing him a disservice to make any excuse.
RM: Both you and Andre spoke about Froch trying to minimize your accomplishments. Explain that.
VH: Well, I think it is just in him. If you notice he will say that he ruined Kessler or ruined Arthur Abraham. It is really a shame. He won the fight against Abraham. You didn’t ruin him. You fought a good fight. You lost the fight against Kessler. You said you handled Dirrell easy. You lost that fight. You know, Dirrell hit you and hurt you. He put you in frustration mode. We’ve seen how you react when you get frustrated and how dirty you get. If he would have fought that fight anywhere besides Nottingham, he would have gotten disqualified.
RM: Do you consider Froch is a dirty fighter?
VH: I consider him dirty when his back is against the wall and he gets frustrated. When he gets frustrated, he resorts to tactics that are definitely not in the Queensberry rules.
RM: Can you give me a specific example of when Carl Froch was dirty in a fight?
VH: Well, hitting Andre Dirrell behind the head and throwing him to the ground. Froch should be professional enough to know how to handle himself in those situations. The bottom line was that he was able to get away with it. Once he knew that he was able to get away with it, he kept doing it.
RM: Right. Froch also said that if he gets hit with head butts against Ward, he is going to retaliate.
VH: When you look at Andre’s fight, with the exception of the Kessler fight, Kessler was just as responsible for the head butts as Andre was. European styled fighters just stand there. So when you are making a maneuver, they will just stand there and crash right into you. A lot of Kessler fans want to minimize Andre’s performance, saying that Kessler would have won the fight if there were not head butts or cuts. That is totally untrue. It would have been different if Kessler was winning the fight and all of a sudden he got head butt and it turned the tide. You know, Kessler went downhill from round one on. You can’t use the head butts as an excuse. So that is why we want to give Kessler a shot to redeem himself. After the Froch fight, we want to give Kessler a chance. We have it out for Kessler.
RM: You want to fight Kessler again?
VH: Yes we do. We have it out for him. We want to set the record straight once and for all. We hope that he takes the fight because it is something that we want personally.
RM: So after the Froch fight, although there are a number of other challengers out there, your personal choice is a Kessler rematch? You beat him decisively, why fight him again?
VH: Well, Showtime made Kessler champion emeritus. Showtime said that he will get the winner of the Super Six. So after we win the Super Six, we want to make sure that Showtime gets what they want. We want to fight Mikkel Kessler right after we fight Carl Froch.
RM: What about Bute?
VH: Bute will come in time. Bute should fight Froch, Dirrell, and some of the other top contenders in the division. Bute is a great fighter. I am not minimizing him at all. But in all fairness he should at least satisfy the fans with fights against Froch or Andre Dirrell. Right now the fans don’t know that he belongs. They could only base it off of the competition that he has fought. You want the fans to believe that he truly belongs based on who he beat. Right now both participants, Andre (Ward) or Bute, are not going to get what they deserve if they fight each other. If Bute beats Froch, Dirrell, and Abraham you will have a hot fight with Andre Ward.
RM: So you think that Lucian Bute needs to prove himself?
VH: I think he needs to prove himself, yes. And with all due respect, I think Glen Johnson is a step in the right direction for Bute. But he has shown signs of slowing down. I’ll put it this way; the Glen Johnson fight will tell us more about Bute. If he decisions Glen then he will just do what Carl Froch did. But I will give Bute all the credit in the world if he knocks Glen Johnson out.
RM: So you still have Kessler and Bute in the radar. Going back to Froch, how do you compare his performance against Kessler to Andre’s? Froch stated that his fight against Kessler was an all out war, and Ward’s fight against Kessler was unwatchable. Froch told me that he has not seen Ward’s fight against Kessler because it was unentertaining.
VH: Well when Froch fought Kessler, neither one of them showed dominance. Kessler just showed that he was a better technician so he out boxed Froch. If Froch did not look at Andre’s fight against Kessler he is fearful. He is having a problem facing what he is going to face. He really needs to look at what he is going to face because I don’t want any excuses after he loses. Froch has watched our fight against Kessler, trust me. When you get two evenly matched guys going toe to toe or trench for trench it will be entertaining because neither one of them is showing enough skill to get away from the other. That is what happened in the Froch vs. Kessler fight. But when you have a situation like Andre’s, when he dominated Kessler, there was not any need for him to go blood and guts. He just controlled the fight.
RM: So Froch’s performance against Kessler was exciting because they have the same type of skills?
VH: Exactly, their talents are balanced in the same areas. But Kessler is a better technician. If they fought again I think Kessler would dominate Froch.
RM: Do you feel like Andre will get all of the credit he deserves after this fight?
VH: No, he might not be that superstar that transcends boxing. But he will be that superstar that defeats superstars.
RM: So how are you going to defeat Carl Froch?
VH: You know, there is no strategy involved. We are not even training for strategy. We are training to win the fight.
RM: Do you normally train for strategy?
VH: Sometimes. But there will be no attention to detail when we face Carl Froch. It is not what he will present. It will be about what we bring to the table. This is Andre’s fight. This is for him. I am staying out of it as much as possible. We are not saying much. We have been here before.
RM: So, it doesn’t matter how you win?
VH: We are going to stop Carl Froch. This fight will not go the distance.