Andre Ward: “I want three to five more years in the sport”
By Anson Wainwright, MaxBoxing (Dec 14, 2011) Doghouse Boxing (Photo © Howard Schatz / SHOWTIME)
Andre Ward
When the “Super Six” was first announced by Showtime two years ago, it was hoped that not only would we see several intriguing match-ups between the very best super middleweights in the world but we’d also witness the birth of boxing's newest superstars.

Step forward Andre Ward. The 27-year-old from Oakland, California entered the tournament full of potential, having won a gold medal at the 2004 Olympics during an illustrious amateur career. Up until the start of the tournament, Ward's best win was against big punching but faulty Edison Miranda. He knew all along how good he was. He just had to show everyone else. 

In his first fight of the tournament, Ward was pitted against vastly more experienced Mikkel Kessler for the WBA super middleweight title. A confident Kessler travelled to Ward's hometown and Ward believes that confidence was part of the Dane’s undoing. “Kessler was a proud champion but I think he was overconfident and his overconfidence allowed him and his team to feel like they could come into my back yard and dominate me. That was their mistake.” It certainly looked that way when Ward went on to post the best performance of his career, winning an 11th round technical decision. 

It proved to be just the start for the man dubbed “S.O.G.” (Son of God) as he followed the Kessler win with solid decision wins over Allan Green and Sakio Bika. Ward would add, “I'm the only guy who had to face two replacement guys who were tough, strong guys nobody wanted to fight, top 10 guys but also guys who didn't have a name.” Though he wasn't always as impressive as he'd like, Ward earned praise for being able to win ugly. He's his own harshest critic, holding himself to very high standards and openly stating he's a perfectionist. 

Having come through those fights, Ward would meet Arthur Abraham in the semifinal. It was a top-drawer performance, one that Ward himself was happy with. “The Abraham fight was a good fight for me. I did what I had to do to get the win. Arthur Abraham is a guy who obviously doesn't like to open up. Full credit to Abraham though. He came out of the blocks straight away and looked to bully and muscle his way into the fight early but by the middle rounds, the multi-dimensional champion had seen off the early charge and was able to show his considerable talent whilst winning a wide decision. It was further proof of Ward's boxing ethos, “The key to boxing is you have to identify and be honest about your opponent’s strengths. You have to study and find those weaknesses.” 

That set up Ward for a clash with Carl Froch in the final. Ward was ringside co-commentating on Froch's fight with Glen Johnson in Atlantic City back in early June. It allowed him to get up close and personal with Froch. He enjoyed the fight saying, “It was an entertaining fight. Glen Johnson started out really strong for the first two or three rounds and got Carl Froch bewildered but he was really dictating the pace, took control of the ring early.” Though he was impressed with Froch’s ability to make adjustments, Ward does spot weaknesses in his game. “I think his defence is a definite liability to him. Obviously, he's not the fastest guy in the world.” When asked about Froch’s strengths, he candidly added, “I don't want to get into it too much but I think Carl has an awkward style. He does a lot of things wrong but that works in his favour.” Ward was also impressed with Froch’s win over Johnson but didn't believe it was easy for Froch. “It was a back-and-forth fight. It was a solid fight but Glen Johnson did just enough to lose and Carl Froch did just enough to win.”

The finals which takes place this Saturday night in Atlantic City is something Ward is also looking forward to. “I'm excited about the fight. It's a great climax to the tournament. Me and Carl are the originals in the tournament, not replacements. We're both more recognised, more polished. I think it's a tremendous clash.” He certainly seems to have a point. It's one of the most anticipated fights of the fall. 

Adding an extra dimension to the “Super Six” tournament are the options the winner will have further down the road including the likes of Mikkel Kessler in a rematch or a move to light heavyweight against the likes of Bernard Hopkins, Chad Dawson et al. However, it's a fight with IBF super middleweight champion Lucian Bute that gets most fans’ attention. At the inception of the tournament, Bute was the one obvious guy missing from the lineup. Rumours were abound as to why Bute wasn't amongst the original six. Late last year, he signed a three-fight fight deal with Showtime, with the hope that the third fight would be against the winner of the “Super Six.”

Though he doesn't want to look past Froch, who is obviously very much on his mind, Ward believes from his limited knowledge on the situation that Bute could have been in the tournament if he wanted to be. He muses over why Bute missed out, possibly money, being locked into something for so long or even a strategic move by his team to let everyone beat everyone else, leaving Bute to clean up in the end. It's not something that concerns Ward, however. “I think we've got better fighting top-level competition. He's fought B/C-level guys; you have a comfort zone that you don't have fighting A-level guys.” He hopes he can face Bute next. “I think it's a natural fit that the winner of the ‘Super Six’ should fight Bute.”

Over the next few years, Ward has many goals he wants to accomplish before it comes time to hang up the gloves. Right now, he's solely focused on adding the green and gold WBC belt and the prestigious The Ring magazine belt along with the “Super Six” trophy to his WBA crown. He also wants to climb to the very top of the mythical pound-for-pound list. It's something Ward will use to gauge his progress. A move up to light heavyweight seems to figure somewhere in his future too and he believes there is enough talent at 175 to cement his legacy. One name that pops up is Bernard Hopkins, though Ward isn't chasing that fight because he knows Hopkins’ trainer Naazim Richardson well and sees Hopkins as somewhat of a mentor. Ward adds, “It would have to be something down the road, be in high demand, beneficial to both guys,” before quipping, “I don't have the same mentality as Jean Pascal had where he targeted Bernard and called him out. That's not what I wanted. I respect my elders!” Though he's careful not to rule it out. “I'm a fighter and if we had to do it, we'd do it.” 

While he's not sure of the exact path he will take, Ward does have one definite goal, “I don't have a picture of what or who those fights will be against. If it's up to me, I don't want to lose a fight,” before adding, “We continue to face one giant after another and managed to come out on top. To stay humble, work hard and give everything I've got in the ring and hopefully, put on some memorable performances and be mentioned amongst the great of the sport.”
Of course, Ward couldn't do it all on his own and is aided by Virgil Hunter, who is from a boxing family (both his father and granddad boxed), though most of his own boxing education has come from the amateurs. Hunter's been with his prize pupil since Ward was nine years old when they met in a small gym in Haywood, Ca. “My father took me to the gym and I started training with the house trainer and he had a different style. He had more ‘Take two punches to get one’ type of mentality.” Ward's father, who has since passed, realised this wasn't how he wanted his young son to fight. They returned the next day and Ward continued. “There Virg’ was sitting over to the side and my dad said, ‘Can you teach my son to hit and not get hit?’ It just so happened that was Hunter's specialty so the next day, they had a trial run together. Straight away, they had chemistry and Ward and Hunter have stayed together ever since. Ward speaks glowingly of his trainer, saying Hunter is more like a father figure to him, so much so that in training camp, “Sometimes we're just sitting around. We don't have to say much. He knows what I'm thinking and I know what he's thinks and that takes you a long way.”
It's a two-way street and Hunter, who's also Ward's Godfather (again showing the closeness of their relationship), waxes lyrical about his charge at any chance. “He can go as far as he wants in life. The sky's the limit. I believe he's probably going to be a minister one day. As far as boxing's concerned, I think the sky's the limit. I think we've probably only seen 70% of what he'll end up being. I see nothing but upside.” 

Something that clearly plays a big part in Ward's psyche is his belief in religion. He's a God-fearing Christian who regularly attends church and also plays an active role in promoting his faith. It helps him to see past boxing, something he believes one day will be an even bigger part of his life. His faith is what one day will help him know when it's time to leave the ring for good. Ward’s pastor, Napoleon “Nip” Kaufman, was once a sports star like Ward, playing running back for the Oakland Raiders. After several years, he decided his calling to church surpassed his desire to play American football. While many boxers struggle with life away from the ring, Ward has several aspirations including ministry, broadcasting and TV, all of which will help him make the transition to civilian life. He tries to keep a healthy balance. “I love the media, the fans. I love when it’s my turn under those lights to perform but I think I would be OK if I didn't have it.”

Though he doesn't like to get drawn too much into a time scale, Ward estimates, “I want three to five more years in the sport. I want to be able to walk away with everything intact, finances, my faculties.” He hopes at that time, he can give back to the sport that has helped him for so long. “When all is said and done, for Andre Ward to be able to look back on a sport that has been very good to me and give back to the sport as a whole.”

Ward has dedicated his life to his chosen craft since he was nine years old. Now some 18 years later, he is inching his way to the very top of the sport. One day, he hopes to make the coast-to-coast trip to Canastota, New York to the International Boxing Hall of Fame. “The key to me is to one day walk into the Hall of Fame, not limp into the Hall of Fame.” It is, after all, where all the great ones end up adding, “I want to retire from the sport, not let the sport retire me.” Time will tell just where Ward ends up. So far, he's done all that can be asked of him.

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