In an era where fans criticise many of the ‘elite’ fighters for being over-protected and over-hyped, here is one man whose career sticks out. Andre Ward has a claim for not only being one of the best of his generation, but perhaps the most underrated too.
His career can stand alongside the greats of the game without any mention of his tragic background, but his accomplishments are even more incredible when they are considered. Both Ward’s parents died as a result of addiction, and he was taken in by trainer Virgil Hunter who helped harness Ward’s natural talent and to forge him into a champion. Even more importantly, Hunter became the father figure in Ward’s life, helping to guide him and remaining his trainer throughout his entire boxing career.
Undefeated since the age of 13, Ward’s boxing skills have never been in question, unless that question is how they rank against the best ever fighters at his weight class. His superb defence, snappy jab and judgement of distance and timing meant his opponents found him hard to hit, and hard to avoid getting hit by. After winning a gold medal in the Olympics, Ward managed the transition to professional boxing seamlessly, winning eight world title belts across two different weight classes. His ‘breakout’ moment is difficult to define, but the Super Six tournament was definitely his crowning moment.
While others ducked and dodged big fights, Ward threw himself in the deep end, beating top fighters Mikkel Kessler, Carl Froch and Chad Dawson with ease. Whilst it’s possible to argue that undefeated records such as the 50-0 held by Floyd Mayweather are partially a result of smart-matchmaking, Ward fought everyone relevant at super-middleweight and came away victorious. But conquering the 168lb division wasn’t enough.
Ward decided to climb up a division to light-heavyweight when he made his comeback from a 19-month long contractual dispute, which had disrupted his career whilst he was still in his prime. As if fighting men naturally much bigger than himself wasn’t enough of a challenge, he went and challenged the bully of the division, Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev. The first fight was a tale of two halves, with Kovalev dropping Ward in the 2nd round, putting Ward in a position where he’d never been before in his pro career. He got up and not only fought on but was inarguably the better fighter in the back six rounds. He ended up winning on points 114-113 x3 under plenty of controversies, which overshadowed the resilience Ward had shown to keep going and actually improve as the fight wore on.
The second fight was close as well until Ward cracked Kovalev with a huge right-hand and after a couple questionable low blows on top of that, the “Krusher” quit on his feet. Again, controversy overshadowed one simple fact, the smaller technical fighter just stopped the larger, more feared puncher.
Various factors contributed to Ward not getting the credit his talent so clearly demands. His defensive and awkward style, his classy lack of trash talk and how easy he made it look. Whilst fans do tend to like great fighters, they love those that are vulnerable too, because those are the ones that create the drama we fans crave. Andre Ward had little drama until the end of his career, his greatest crime may have been that he won too easily.
Yet after all the wins, the California-native may have just pulled off his greatest victory last week. Many great fighters have won belts and been glorified, only to fight on too long and see their legacy tarnished and their health irreversibly damaged. Ward may have been able to go on winning a little longer, but at the age of 33 he has chosen to walk off into the sunset, a decision many before him tragically failed to make.
Perhaps the fighter nicknamed the “Son Of God” will be more appreciated now his career is to be written into history.
“As I walk away from the sport of boxing today, I leave at the top of your glorious mountain, which was always my vision and my dream.”
– Andre Ward on his retirement from the sport
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