When you are the consensus number two pound-for-pound boxer in the world, dealing with criticism can be increasingly frustrating. All great fighters deal with their fair share of skepticism, whether it be loathing your style or being a box office draw. In the case of unbeaten WBA and The Ring super middleweight champion Andre Ward, the criticism has been piled on. Take Floyd Mayweather’s in-ring ability and intelligence minus the flamboyant personality and you pretty much have Andre Ward nailed down.
With an impressive record of 26-0 (14-KOs) and a resume that includes a 2004 Olympic gold medal and victories over a who’s who of the super middleweight division (Carl Froch, Arthur Abraham, Mikkel Kessler), Ward is easily the best fighter in the world outside of Mayweather. Despite the accolades, criticisms for everything from not knocking opponents out to not possessing the personality to draw a mainstream audience have followed him.
“Ultimately, it’s always going to be something negative,” Ward says over the phone as he prepares to step back into the ring for the first time in over a year against unbeaten Edwin Rodriguez. “It’s something that my critics are always going to find something to take away from me. If I had 100 knockouts, the critics would say that I needed to box more.”
It’s true. Ward’s in-ring success isn’t of the devastating variety. He scientifically undresses his opponent with his extraordinary boxing ability but rarely takes chances or gets into firefights. It is a formula Mayweather has had down to a science but realized that he needed to do something outside of the ring in order to draw fans to his relatively safe boxing style. The bad boy personality known as “Money” was born to help push his art to the masses. Ward doesn’t have it in him to create a public persona that contradicts his “S.O.G.” (Son of God) nickname. Unlike Mayweather, Ward wears his faith on his sleeve and prides himself on being a positive role model, no matter how boring it may be in this era of instant gratification and life as a constant reality TV series.
“I’ve been fortunate to be recognized and appreciated so I know what I’m doing is making its impact on somebody and that blesses me,” Ward says dismissively. “I’m just not willing to compromise who I am.”
Because of his unwillingness to adopt a reckless out-of-ring character personality to counter his safe in-ring style, Ward has yet to become a pay per view draw or sell out arenas like his boxing counterparts that rank lower than him on the fictional pound for pound list yet possess certain intangibles that have helped cultivate a cult base. The worst of his critics have called him boring and even Mayweather himself has suggested that he needs to learn how to sell out arenas. Ward has heard those claims loud and clear but feels that those who critique don’t know the whole story. “I know for a fact that I have a tremendous base,” Ward says while putting extra emphasis on the word fact. Ward cites his recent fight with Chad Dawson last year that drew 7,611 ticket sales for a gate of $706,469 at the Oracle Arena in his backyard of Oakland, CA.
“Some people try to downplay it and make it seem like I don’t. That is factually false. I feel like I can draw in any state in the country and that’s the bottom line. You’ve got to let these things play out. The fans are smart and it takes time for the truth to rise to the top and the fans are starting to see that.”
While true, Ward’s mainstream appeal and drawing ability outside of the Bay Area remains in question and is light years behind what the Mayweather’s, Pacquiao’s and Chavez Jr.’s of the boxing world are bringing to the table. But we have to cut Ward some slack here. He’s about to have his 27th professional fight. It took Floyd Mayweather 38 fights and the perfect foil of megastar Oscar De La Hoya to catapult him into the mainstream. Manny Pacquiao was on nobody’s radar until his 41st fight when he shocked the world against Marco Antonio Barrera. So this is just a curious case of fans of Ward wanting more attention now when it will eventually come if he continues dominating opponents like he has in his previous 26 fights.
Ward doesn’t have a marquee name on his portfolio yet and his November 16 showdown with Rodriguez (24-0, 16 KOs) won’t thrust him into ESPN First Take conversations. The criticism is what keeps Ward driven and never looking past a single opponent. “He’s got two arms, is trying to hurt me and take my title. That’s enough right there to make you take someone seriously,” Ward explains. “He’s an eager challenger but I’m an eager champion.”
And boxing fans need to look no further than what seems to be a slow burn to a stellar showdown between Ward and Gennady Golovkin. Golovkin provides the perfect foil for Ward. While Ward is the All-American 2004 Olympic Gold Medalist with remarkable boxing skills, Golovkin is like Rocky IV’s Ivan Drago, with a smile. Golovkin’s menacing knockout power vs. Ward’s clinical boxing technique would easily be the biggest fight to be made for both.
“It’s a fight where if we both continue to do our thing in the ring, we absolutely have that fight because he has that boogeyman stature and people will pay to see us,” Ward says but knows that both have work to do before that fight happens. “It’s a fight that I’m hoping for now but, realistically, it will happen down the road.”