He’s the last American boxer to win an Olympic Gold Medal back in 2004. He took on the best super middleweights in the world and came out unscathed as the current WBA, WBC and The Ring Super Middleweight champion. At the age of 28, he hasn’t tasted defeat in sixteen years. Yet, Andre Ward still doesn’t believe that he’s at the top of his game. Not yet. That’s because he is aware that in this devastating game of inches, one miscalculation can shatter your entire future. Despite having a highly decorated amateur and professional career, Ward remains a relative unknown to the general public. Perhaps that’s the reason why he scoffs at the idea that he’s conquered all that there is to conquer in such a short amount of time.
“Every fight is a stepping stone at this level,” Ward says in his often tranquil demeanor as he puts the final touches on his training camp before he steps into the ring with Chad Dawson (31-1, 17 KOs) on September 8. “We are the only sport where a loss can seriously set you back. In MMA you can have 4-5 losses and people will still call you great. In the NBA, NFL and MLB you can lose and everything remains intact. In boxing there’s a lot at stake for you to lose.”
Arguably the best pure boxer in the game outside of Floyd Mayweather, Andre Ward is marching towards greatness, one fight at a time. With a glowing record of 25-0 (13 KOs), many believe Ward is destined for excellence. Being named Ring Magazine’s fighter of the year in 2011 put the exclamation point on his swift transition from hot prospect to champion in two short years. However, after surgically dissecting the field in Showtime’s Super Six World Boxing classic, S.O.G. (Son Of God) had little to look forward to in the 168lbs division.
But then light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson called him out after defeating the legendary Bernard Hopkins. No sooner than Dawson’s challenge reverberated through the boxing community did Ward and his trainer Virgil Hunter begin mapping out a game plan of how he would thwart the man who was coming down in weight to challenge him.
“I didn’t accept Chad Dawson because we saw a bunch of weaknesses to expose,” Ward says when discussing how this super fight between champions came together. Rather than take an interim fight against a lesser opponent just to stay busy, Ward always looks for the next biggest challenge. “I felt that coming off of the Super 6 and beating Carl Froch, this was the best fighting the best.”
With Dawson, Ward faces a unique challenge. It’s not just about skills, as Dawson possesses the physical tools that can prove to be challenging come September 8th. “Bad” Chad will stand two inches taller with a five inch reach advantage when the two step into the ring. Not to mention that Dawson’s boxing skills aren’t too shabby. But leave it up to Ward and his trainer to begin spotting numerous holes in his game that could take advantage of. “There wasn’t an obvious weakness like knowing he can’t take a punch,” Ward says. “But right when we looked at him we saw 10 or 15 weaknesses. That’s because we have an eye for the sport.”
He’s as studious as they come when it comes to the sport. And, despite all of his in-ring achievements, he still considers himself a student of the game and Virgil Hunter is his teacher. Since losing his father – who was an amateur fighter that compiled a 15-0 record – in 2002, Ward has looked to his godfather and trainer for his squared circle education. Hunter, who began training Ward at the tender age of eight when the elder Ward brought his son to an Oakland gym, is well aware of the gaping hole that Frank Ward’s death left in his son’s heart. Neither of them go out of their way to mention it, but it’s a loss that has seen their bond grow stronger over the years. Together, the two have worked tirelessly to ensure that they never lose again. Somewhere in the sky, Frank Ward is nodding his approval.
What makes Andre Ward unique is that you won’t find any traces of arrogance or brashness in his public persona. While some in the sport have made a name for themselves by being the perpetual bad guy, Ward opts to be the quiet, actions speak louder than words, God fearing man his father raised him to be. No stories of random baby mommas here; Ward has one wife, two sons and a daughter. One family. Perhaps it’s the reason why it is so easy to root for him. Sometimes, you just want to see the good guy win.
“Once people take the time to see what kind of person you are, I think that comes first,” Ward says when it comes to popularity in the sport of boxing. You won’t catch him popping bottles or embarrassing himself in public. He knows that he’s a reflection of his family, trainer and late father. What he will do, however, is embarrass whoever is in the other corner when the bell rings. Chad Dawson is no different than the previous 25 opponents and Ward will be well prepared for whatever Dawson brings to the table.
“I always prepare for the toughest fight. I expect it to be physical and I go in there to go to war,” Ward says. But if there’s one thing his critics choose to pounce on, it’s Ward’s version of “war” that resembles a chess match rather than a bloody shootout. Ward has heard the criticism but let’s it roll of his back.
“If it isn’t knockouts, it’s something else that they’ll criticize me about,” Ward says about his skeptics that call his style boring. “I challenge anyone who says that to go back, do their homework and tell me how many knockouts happen when the best face the best? Not many.”
But right now, Ward isn’t focus on critics or superstardom. He has one thing on his mind: Chad Dawson.
“All I’m concerned about is winning and whatever comes with that I’m ready to accept but we’re eating sleeping and drinking Chad Dawson.”