By Thomas Gerbasi
Though Andre Ward currently resides with the likes of Floyd Mayweather Jr., Nonito Donaire, Juan Manuel Marquez, Manny Pacquiao, and Sergio Martinez on the pound-for-pound list, it wasn’t that long ago that he was being ridiculed and criticized for the level of competition he was facing in the few years following his appearance in the 2004 Olympics.
At times, you would have thought Ward had committed murder the way he was once discussed in boxing circles. But as 2009 dawned, Ward, now four full years into his pro career, began making his move, with each successive fight pitting him against tougher and tougher opposition. By the time he made it to the Super Six super middleweight tournament in 2009, he was ready for the elite, and his performance in that tourney and beyond established him as one of boxing’s best.
Four years of an apprenticeship, with the fifth year beginning the time when you sink or swim among the sharks.
Demetrius Andrade knows all about that, about Ward, and about dealing with the criticism that often comes with being an ultra-talented former Olympian who many believe should have been fighting killers a lot sooner than now.
“I believe all the great fighters took this path,” said Andrade. “You really can’t name too many great fighters that just went in there and started fighting the best of the best. We’re basically following the footsteps of my development inside the ring and if they felt I needed a few more fights before it was time for me to step up to these guys. And it’s not really the caliber of fighter, it’s having that ring generalship and that experience to get in there and do 10 to 12 rounds with a journeyman or somebody that’s experienced that will help you get over the hump. But you’ve also got to learn and be able to win that fight. You don’t want to just go in there, thinking ‘oh, I’m just gonna knock this guy out.’ It’s not like that.”
Andrade is 24 years old. He turned pro in October of 2008. It’s 2013, and on January 25th, he will begin his fifth year as a professional with a Showtime-televised bout against former world title challenger Freddy Hernandez.
He’s on Andre Ward time now. And if you want even more comparisons between the two, consider that this fight will be Andrade’s first with his new trainer, Virgil Hunter, the longtime trainer of Ward. It’s not a coincidence.
“We went to check him (Hunter) out based on Andre Ward and the clean living that they have going on, and I knew that they have a good stable and go about their business,” said Andrade of the switch from Rob Valle to Hunter. “I wanted to be with someone who has the resources and is on the same page with me. They’ve been where I’m trying to go.”
Andrade isn’t the only one to come to this realization about the Hunter / Ward combination in Oakland. Recent high profile visitors to their gym include Amir Khan, Alfredo Angulo, and Fernando Guerrero, and Providence, Rhode Island native Andrade is happy to be on the team.
“We’re fitting right in,” he said. “I’m dedicated, willing, and able to do whatever it takes to get to the top, and if that means I gotta be uncomfortable to be comfortable later on in life, then that’s the sacrifice I’m gonna make to get to where I need to get to.”
Currently 18-0 with 13 knockouts, Andrade has been impressive whenever he’s stepped between the ropes, with a 2011 that included wins over Alberto Herrera and Grady Brewer followed by a 2012 that saw him go 3-0 with three knockouts, all ending in two rounds or less. But perhaps he’s looked too good, calling into question the level of opposition placed in front of him. No one has been more critical than ESPN’s Teddy Atlas, even though his promoters (Star Boxing and Banner Promotions) have one of the best matchmakers in the business, Ron Katz, making sure Andrade is developed properly. Andrade, for one, isn’t complaining about his progress, but he admits that the negative talk does get back to him.
“Business wise, it messes up my stock when somebody like Teddy Atlas or these other critics are having negative thoughts about me and putting them out to the public,” said Andrade. “It’s not helping my fanbase right now as a growing fighter, and that could be stopping those (bigger) fights. Amir Khan has England behind him, so he can fight anybody because he has a following and a fanbase, and he’s stepped up and fought good guys early in his career. My situation is different. I’m a young, black, Cape Verdian kid coming up. My following is not that big, so I just have to keep beating these guys so then the whole world can understand that this kid’s for real and we need to follow him and back him up. But I’ve just been doing my job and my job is winning.”
And you can’t argue with that logic, especially since the January 25th bout at The Paramount in Huntington, New York will be the biggest test of Andrade’s young career. Sure, Hernandez got blasted out in a round by Andre Berto in his first world title opportunity in 2010, but he holds stoppage wins over DeMarcus Corley and Mike Anchondo, decisioned former world champ Luis Collazo in 2011, and recently went 10 rounds with Erislandy Lara. Andrade doesn’t expect his foe to repeat that last feat two weeks from now.
“He’s definitely a stepping stone in Demetrius Andrade’s career,” said Andrade of Hernandez. “It’s definitely gonna be good to have him under the belt, and I’m probably gonna learn something from him, but I’m coming in the best shape that I can possibly be in because I know this fight can either go three rounds or 10 rounds, and I’m trying to make my fight with him a lot better and easier than Lara did with him. I’m not trying to go 10 rounds with him. He’s a journeyman and I know he has a lot of experience, but I’m young, I’m fast, I’m stronger than him, and I’m gonna use all my tools to get him out of there. If not, the referee’s gonna stop it or his wife might jump into the ring and want to stop it. I don’t plan on going 10.”
What Andrade does plan on is a 2013 that will put all the talk from his naysayers to rest. Just like Andre Ward in 2009, Andrade expects his fifth year as a pro to be the start of something special.
“Greatness and high hopes,” he said when asked his forecast for the year. “I’m looking to live up to my hype, not to what the critics have to say, and hopefully I’ll be getting a title by the end of 2013.”