It's Wednesday afternoon any date and you walk into a boxing gym and see 25 year old Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali shadow box and then work a heavy bag. It wouldn't take long to realize that not many boxers can do it with the speed, power, fluidity and as effortlessly as he does. Without being an astute boxing observer even you would know that you were watching an extremely skilled and gifted fighter. Ditto the same perceptions and thoughts if you were privy to witnessing an in prime Sugar Ray Leonard or Roy Jones do the same things. It wouldn't take long to conclude you were looking at skill and talent that isn't seen throughout many boxing gyms world wide. There are a couple other fighters that the same could be said about, but I figured I'd keep it to fighters that everyone reading this has seen.
Greatly skilled and gifted fighters come along once in a generation and that even might be too liberal of a statement. However, there is another fighter who comes along who is every bit as rare and special as the super-athletically gifted fighter. He's viewed as the cerebral fighter who is above average in the skill and strength department, who thinks and plots in the ring with the same precision as a Navy Seal team. Today there are actually three fighters who can make the cut: Bernard Hopkins, Floyd Mayweather and Andre Ward.
If you don't know, fighters steal things regarding their style and game from each other. Leonard stole from Ali and Jones stole aspects of his game from both of them. The same applies to Mayweather who stole some ring strategies from Hopkins and Ward stole from both of them, and that's a good thing. Ward has added his own ingenuity to what he pilfered from Bernard and Floyd. His offense is more imaginative than Hopkins' and he's more formidable than Mayweather when he chooses to or sees the need to push the fight and initiate the exchanges.
Fighters talk about entering the ring with a plan, but nobody today does it to the -enth degree like Andre Ward. Ward studies his opponents and his first order of business before the bell sounds for round one is to make it a priority that his opponent fights his fight when and where in the ring he's deems it to be in Ward’s best interest. Andre's biggest assets are him being super versatile and deceivingly strong willed and physically strong. Ward uses his feet to pivot and turn fighters who try to pressure and take it to him. He does sort of a T-step to nullify their attack/rush and in the process opens up a path for him to either move out of range or counter attack. Another thing he does great, especially on the inside is, he gets to his opponents blind side. When I say blind side I mean he picks a side to where his opponents head and body are exposed for him to hit - yet for them to hit him they have to punch across their body (making it impossible to hit with power) with their back hand. Nobody perfected this art as terrifically as the late Hector Camacho did. No, Andre doesn't slide and glide around the ring like Ali or Camacho did, but his feet are a very important part of his offense and defense.
Something else Ward does that's never mentioned is how he sees the whole body of his opponent as a target. He doesn't just head hunt or try to kill the core body, he hits the parts of his opponents body that they use to defend with, mainly their arms and shoulders. Ward also jabs to the body as a strategy. Jabbing to the body accomplishes two things, a) it momentarily disrupts and blunts the opponents’ aggression and leaves them with nothing to counter and b) it's a body shot that's almost always there. Mayweather never jabs to the body and Hopkins only does it when he's trying to buy time and looking to figure his opponent out. Ward uses it as a tool to set up his opponent for other counters and feints. He'll use it as a strategy to get their hands down or impede their aggression… and it works.
Andre Ward 26-0 (14) is a rare fighter who uses his entire body as a weapon. He uses his legs and feet to get into position to make his opponent miss so he can counter or to place himself in the ideal position to where he can attack and cannot be successfully countered. When trying to decipher what his better hand is or what his most effective punch is, take your pick. When he needs to jab to set up his offense, he can do it, yet he can also use the jab to disrupt his opponents’ aggression and pressure when the need arises. Inside he manages to keep both hands free so he can hook and uppercut from either side regardless of what's coming back at him. His right hand is very versatile and he's really terrific at blocking and countering with it. He also hooks with it and comes over the top with it when his opponent is cornered or against the ropes.
As of this writing Andre Ward is probably the most difficult fighter to fight and game plan for. He has an abundance of physical skill, no he's not Leonard or Jones, but he's gifted enough that his physical being is something his opponent has to address. If you try to bring the fight to him, and you're not a puncher like Bob Foster or an attacker the likes of Joe Frazier or Roberto Duran, he'll literally pluck your attack weapons away one by one and piece by piece. If you try to circle in an attempt to get him to follow so you can out box him, you better have wheels and speed the likes of Ali and Jones, or else you'll run into a stop sign with fist three or four times a round, which will make you wish you were somewhere else.
If you're Edwin Rodriguez 24-0 (16) this weekend and about to fight Andre Ward, you better have done your homework. You better know every inch of that ring and be prepared to see a fighter come at you that seems like he has four hands and legs, one who will do everything in his power to make you do everything you don't want to at the exact time and place you don't want to do it. If you think you can just take it to him and win, by the end of the third round you'll think you were trying to knock out a bed sheet hanging over a clothes line. And like Hopkins and Mayweather, Ward has no qualms about bending the rules if it'll help him get the job done. He can be very rough on the inside.
Andre Ward has perfected the basics of boxing and sprinkled them with old school deception and trickery. If you want to see a true boxing scholar at work in a boxing ring, check him out Saturday night.
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com