Witnessing Andre Ward’s journey to a championship
By John J. Raspanti, Doghouse Boxing (Dec 21, 2011) Doghouse Boxing (Photo © Mike Greenhill)
Carl Froch (Left) - Andre Ward (Right)
By John J. Raspanti, Doghouse Boxing: A little over two years ago was the first time I watched Andre Ward apply his craft. His opponent was Edison Miranda who, like many of his once and future foes, seemed to lack respect for Ward.
Miranda found out quickly what a mistake that was.
A few months later, I spoke to Ward for the first time. The place was King’s Gym in Oakland as he prepared to meet Super Six favorite Mikeel Kessler. Ward was quiet but confident, his focus on the task at hand like a laser. He knew what he wanted and how to get there. As I watched him spar, I noticed the jazzy rhythm of his style, a sophistication that’s easy to miss. His many years of amateur boxing were evident in his technical brilliance. He moved with the ease of a natural born athlete. When shadowboxing he worked on his craft like a dedicated student, honing it repeatedly. His coach, as he calls him, trainer Virgil Hunter, watched him like a teacher, making whispery comments whenever he deemed it necessary.

The sport of boxing can be as brutal a sport in the ring as out. It can swallow up fighters like a sick garbage disposal and without a blink, slice 'em up and throw them away. 

  Observing Ward and Hunter it’s obvious that it’s not all about brutality. They refer to the boxing idiom of "The Sweet Science". The term fits Ward but there’s also a edge there, a hunger to prove the naysayers wrong.       Andre Ward did what a lot of sons do, he took up a sport that his father loved. Ward’s dad Frank compiled a 15-0 record as an amateur boxer. His stories enthralled his son who decided, at the tender age of eight, that boxing was what he wanted to do. His father supported his desire as long as he fully committed himself. Ward did, and the unlikely climb to the mountaintop had begun. He would go on to amass an amateur record of 110-5. His father never missed his son’s fights, though he worked two jobs to support the family. 

   Winning the Olympic Gold Medal in 2004 should have been the crowning achievement for father and son. But sadly the man who’s stories had stoked his son’s desire was gone, having passed away in 2002.      

For Ward, the devastation of losing his father can’t be measured. I noticed a random sadness almost immediately when I first spoke to him. Later as I drove home, I shook my head at the unfairness of it all. If there was any kind of unseen benefit to the loss of his father, and most of the time there isn’t, it’s the closeness between Ward and Virgil Hunter. Hunter is Ward’s godfather and the only trainer he’s ever had. They met when Ward’s father brought the eight year old to a gym in Hayward, California to learn how to box. The affection between the two is obvious. It’s not big and gregarious. It’s more like the two men, quiet and steady. I like to refer to Hunter as the Yoda of boxing trainers, but that’s only a part of his importance in the world of Andre Ward. Their partnership of boxer and trainer is deep but also uncomplicated.       

Observing them work is like watching two swimmers in perfect synchronization, with nary a missed step.      

It was two weeks after I spoke to Ward that he defeated Mikeel Kessler. He had remarked to me about his dream of becoming a world champion, not more then two miles from the Arena that now serenaded his achievement. As hard as I had tried to stay impartial, I couldn’t help but be moved and wish that his father was in the ring celebrating with him.       

Two years later Ward is celebrating again. His victory over Carl Froch was a culmination of almost twenty years of hard work and dedication. In a way, there’s also a bit of personal satisfaction here. Two years ago, I told everyone willing to listen that Ward was truly unique, and that good of a fighter.      

His story though is much more then just about winning the Super Six Boxing Classic and numerous other championship belts. It’s about a boy with a dream, who grew up keeping his eye on the prize, who became a father and then lost his own, but gained a godfather with the kindness and wisdom to show him the way. 

I like to believe that most dreams begin with hope. Andre Ward had hope that one day that he would be a champion. Maybe his father had shared the same hope.

 As author Stephen King so elegantly wrote, “Remember, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”

More from John:
Andre Ward vs. Carl Froch: “Put your money where your mouth is” John J. Raspanti
Peterson seizes Khan’s titles with controversial win John J. Raspanti
Abner Mares and Joseph Agbeko: “Let’s do it again” John J. Raspanti
Bloodsport 2: Miguel Cotto vs. Antonio Margarito John J. Raspanti
In the Ring with boxing writer Adam Pollack John J. Raspanti
The young gun and the old pro: Saul Alvarez vs. Kermit Cintron John J. Raspanti
-- Questions/comments johnboxing1@hotmail.com

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