By Keith Idec
Andre Ward is inarguably one of the best boxers in the world.
The 2004 Olympic gold medalist is 31-0, has won world titles in two weight classes and hasn’t lost a boxing match since he was a 13-year-old amateur in February 1998. The Hayward, California, native cleaned out the super middleweight division before he moved up to light heavyweight and out-pointed previously undefeated knockout artist Sergey Kovalev on November 19 in Las Vegas.
Those accomplishments have led numerous respected outlets to list Ward as the No. 1 fighter, pound-for-pound, in boxing.
The 33-year-old Ward still has been criticized in some circles for being too much of a technician, however masterful he might be, to excite the majority of often-fickle fight fans. It is utterly unfair, according to Ward, to think that there isn’t a significant faction of boxing fans that appreciate his diverse style and the styles of other fighters that aren’t necessarily known for scoring spectacular knockouts or participating in exceptionally entertaining fights.
“I think it depends on who you talk to,” Ward said during a conference call to discuss his June 17 rematch against Kovalev. “And I think everybody has to be careful when they say ‘the fans’ because they don’t speak for all the fans. It amazes me that you’ll have one person speak for all fans, all boxing fans all over the world. I don’t know about them, but I’m in the streets, meeting these people, talking to these people from state to state, and even going to the UK. And I don’t always get the same response that I might read or hear about.
“So I think everybody has to be careful when they speak for the fans. I think that’s been the narrative over the last I don’t know how many years, where that’s like the thing, where if it’s not blood and guts, toe-to-toe, then we don’t wanna see it. That’s kind of the narrative and the story that’s being pushed out there. But I also see when those blood-and-guts fighters finally hit a wall, and they can no longer compete and fight at that same level, I also see them get forgotten about just as quickly as they were talked about.
Ward has been a student of the boxing game since childhood and always appreciated various styles. He implored boxing fans who are dismissive of particular fighters to do the same thing, particularly as it pertains to well-rounded boxers who’ve displayed elements of different styles.
“When I look at my history,” Ward said, “and I look at the sport of boxing, the greats that I saw, the ones that helped mold my style and the ones that helped me get to the place that I am today, the guys that were on top for 10 years, eight years, seven years, they could do it all. They can bang with you when it’s to their advantage. They can out-box you when it was to their advantage. They can do it all.
“So I think it’s a matter of who’s saying what and I think it’s a matter of educating the boxing fans because the true education is very simple. If you love boxing, yes, you may have a certain style that you favor. But A), you respect all fighters because they get in there and they risk their life. And furthermore, if you love boxing, you love it all. I appreciate the boxer. I appreciate the boxer-puncher. I appreciate the brawler, who maybe doesn’t have the skill to box. I appreciate it all. So I think it’s pigeon-holing the sport and I think it’s really selfish to just act as if one style is the only style that all fans across the world wanna see and that everybody else is not worth watching. I think that’s inaccurate and I don’t think that’s the way the sport should be represented.”
Ward will defend his IBF, WBA and WBO 175-pound titles for the first time against Russia’s Kovalev (30-1-1, 26 KOs) a week from Saturday night at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. They’ll headline a four-fight HBO Pay-Per-View event scheduled to start at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT ($64.99 in HD).
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.