Andre Ward isn’t going to get angrier, brasher, stupider and more flamboyant just to drive himself to boxing superstardom, not all at once, anyway.
That’s not who he is, and thank goodness for that.
He showed up on time for his news conference at Oracle Arena this week — beating his trainer and manager, by the way — and used the delay to mingle with media members and assorted attendees.
And Ward has been working as an eager intern at Comcast SportsNet Bay Area the past few months — with a pause now to train for his Sept. 8 bout against Chad Dawson.
These are things I had never seen from a champion headliner in more than a few years of covering this sport. (Intern Oscar De La Hoya? Punctual Roy Jones Jr.? Ha!)
These, however, are also some of the qualities that have helped to keep Ward from turning into a boxing franchise. He isn’t flashy enough, not a big enough hitter, too technical, just too nice and conscientious to stir the pot of outrageous boxing drama.
But now …
Because it needs him. A measure of Ward’s ascending profile: He is now one of the champions that other champions use to measure their own power and worth, including WBC light-heavyweight champion Dawson, who is coming down seven pounds for this bout.
“I have no doubt that the winner of this fight will be a superstar,” said Dawson’s veteran promoter, Gary Shaw. “For a change, these are two American fighters and two steroid-free fighters.”
OK, some of that is boxing blather. But it is also reflective of the realities here.
Boxing has run through several drug-test controversies recently and on the larger scale is bracing for the post-Manny Pacquiao/Floyd Mayweather Jr. era.
There aren’t many potential bell cows among the twentysomethings. Maybe Ward is one of them.
Which leads to a fight such as this, to HBO rushing to televise it, and to the full HBO marketing blitz, including the documentary “24/7” lead-up to this bout.
“Didn’t know I was going to do it until I watched a fight on HBO the other night and found out,” Ward said of the “24/7” treatment. “It’s tremendous.
“But it’s about winning. That’s what makes you a star. The coverage is great. HBO is great. But it’s about winning. Because if I don’t get my hand raised, they’re going to push the next guy, and that’s just the way the business works.”
Ward, 28, is not there yet, despite his talent, track record, undefeated record, super-middleweight titles and impressive run through the rigorous “Super Six” tournament.
And he still probably won’t be all the way there even if he blasts the bigger, rangier Dawson at Oracle — Ward’s fifth fight in his hometown.
But Ward — last year’s consensus fighter of the year — will be closer. And the pugilistic power brokers will be watching and hoping.
Other than the flashy stuff, Ward has done his part; he has won, and he has gotten better and more interesting to watch every fight.
Ward, as trained by Virgil Hunter, always has been incredibly aware and reactive in the ring. But lately, as he has fought top opponents, Ward has looked increasingly aggressive and comfortable. Like Pacquiao, he is one of the rare fighters who could be better in his early 30s than he was in his mid-20s.
Again, Ward hasn’t shown true knockout power (only 13 knockout wins in 25 fights), but he points out that at the championship level, knockouts don’t come easily for anybody.
It’s about winning. And staying patient.
Ward knows that there are precedents for him. His best and most recent comparison is Mayweather, who was not a big-ratings fighter early in his career.
“There are a lot of similarities in the ring,” Ward said of himself and Mayweather. “Where they said, ‘Aw, he’s not a draw; aw, he can’t hit; aw, nobody wants to watch him fight.’ He’s breaking pay-per-view records right now.”
Ward said he regrets the critical comments he made immediately after the disputed decision giving Timothy Bradley the victory over Pacquiao last month.
He said he watched the tape of the fight, decided it was closer than he thought while watching live, and then called his friend Bradley to apologize for saying he should give back the belts.
I totally disagree with Ward’s revised opinion, but it’s so totally who he is. He believes his words and actions mean something. He wants what is best for the sport.
It’s a crazy thought, but in troubled times, maybe a sane and thoughtful man is everything the sport needs.
Source: Tim Kawakami, San Jose Mercury News