Andre Ward: ‘I’m going to be myself’
By John J. Raspanti, Doghouse Boxing (July 19, 2011) Doghouse Boxing (Photo © Malaika Kambon)
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Andre Ward
By John J. Raspanti, Doghouse Boxing: Cynicism and sports go hand to hand these days. With scandal’s ranging from questionable refereeing, silly lockouts, point shaving, and rampant steroid use the word sport has morphed into to shameless.

The most obvious example of a ego-driven, selfish athlete is Barry Bonds. Once revered for his baseball skill, Bonds is now the poster child of the steroid era. Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa, and pitcher Roger Clemens, rank near Bonds in the total disgrace of the heart department.

One would hope that they lose some sleep worrying about how their behavior affects the youth of this nation. Sadly, they probably sleep like babies. McGuire repented a couple of years ago, while Sosa continues to deny any involvement with steroids. The truth appears to be a by-product of desperation (and maybe to get a job in baseball) Do they consider the possibility that some young kids are emulating them?

The league appears to have cleaned up their steroid problem, but won’t address the "records" of the steroid boys. Can anybody say cowardly?

Still, with sport, there is always hope, and with darkness, some light.

Andre Ward's march to the top of the fight game continues. The WBA super middleweight champion and one time Gold Medalist, is on his own path - and, he likes it that way. Ward is undefeated in 24 professional fights. This October he faces tough guy Carl Froch in the finals of the Super Six Boxing Classic.

Ward is married and the father of three children. Unlike some others, he embraces his responsibilities. Ward enjoys working with young people and telling them his story. To some though, he continues to be a question mark. His fights can be dull. He never knocks anybody out. In a sport as brutal as boxing, these kinds of questions require a payback.

“I’m living a dream,” said Ward. “I’ve been able to defend my title and have a great team behind me. You know people are going to say negative things,” he said. “They’re going to write negative articles and raise questions about my toughness. Can I fill up an arena?. With each fight, we are answering those questions. I do appreciate the praises. I read enough of some the negative articles, and different things like that, to let it motivate me and keep me on track and to keep me humble”, he said.

“The message I’m sending is, I’m going to be myself, period. There’s so much bad news in boxing. I want to continue to be a pioneer in this sport”, he said. "The young guys I communicate with, they will one day be in my spot. I want to try to better the sport for those guys,” he replied.

The beacon of light that Ward represents has lessened lately by the deterioration of Roy Jones, and drug problems of Oscar De La Hoya.

“It’s just sad”, said Ward. “To see a guy I grew up idolizing, get knocked out like that is devastating. I wish Oscar De lo Hoya the best in his recovery. I’ll be pulling for him.”

Ward acknowledged that to some his fights are boring.

“People think a boxing match is supposed to be an MMA match”, he said. This is the sweet science. I follow the sport, and I see Floyd Mayweather getting criticized for not having heart and ducking Manny Pacquiao. He’s not afraid of anybody. He’s 41-0."

Ward admitted that he sometimes feels unappreciated. He's the proverbial guy that nobody notices. In 2004, Ward swept his way through the Olympic Finals. His gold winning performance barely caused a ripple.

The sports world seemed to be saying "Andre who?”

"You do feel underappreciated,” he said. “It’s not that I’ve accomplished a great deal in this sport. I’ve done okay.”

When Ward entered the Super Six Classic, almost nobody gave him a chance to remain unbeaten. Most of the boxing experts (90 percent) picked him to lose to Mikkel Kessler in the opening round. Ward sites the Kessler victory as the most significant of his professional career.

So let the mocking begin. It’s sad though that a uniquely gifted fighter like Andre Ward gets criticized as much as when he wins as some do when they lose. Is Ward destined to be a fighter who finally gets appreciated years after he retires?

It might be time for some of us to look in the mirror.

-- Questions/comments johnboxing1@hotmail.com

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