by David P. Greisman
It could be considered a surprising sentiment, given the source.
“I don’t know how much longer I got in this sport.”
Those words were spoken by Andre Ward, who is not an aging veteran, but rather a 29-year-old champion who is younger than 36 of the 58 other men who hold major world titles.
Nor is he declining or deteriorating. Ward remains undefeated at 27-0 with 14 knockouts, a boxer who has been pro for about nine years now. He showed little if any rust in his return to the ring this past Saturday, a wide unanimous decision win over Edwin Rodriguez, a bout that followed a 14-month layoff that included shoulder surgery and rehabilitation.
More often than not, the need to retire is clear long before a boxer chooses to hang up his gloves. For a profession in which the best fighters can see shots coming, few see the end of their career nearing — and if they do, they often refuse to acknowledge or accept it.
Yet in one breath, Ward insisted that his time in limited. In another breath, he claimed that his best is yet to come.
“I’m approaching my prime,” Ward told reporters following his win over Rodriguez. “I’m not in my prime yet.”
“I’m going to try to go out with a bang,” he said at one point.
If you take Ward’s words at face value, and not as a tired refrain from another boxer predicting that he’ll retire earlier than reality will prove, then you expect that this is the beginning of his final chapter, and you imagine that his could be the kind of conclusion relatively rare for fighters.
It’s not common for a boxer to go out on top. Why should a boxer leave when no one is better, when he can still win, can still perform at a high level in front of adoring crows and earn millions each time out?
Most depart after they’ve become underdogs in crossroad fights, pulling in smaller paychecks than they had previously been accustomed to.
That’s not what Andre Ward’s next few years will be. That’s not what Ward’s next few years should be.
We want to see more. We want to see just how great he could be.
He arrived with fanfare, the sole American to win gold in the 2004 Olympics, and he remains the last male boxer from the United States to stand atop the pedestal and hear “The Star-Spangled Banner” play.
His development was deliberate, too much so to placate the critics. More than four years after his pro debut, Ward was still considered a prospect, not yet a contender.
All of that changed at the end of his fifth year, when he took on the top super middleweight in the world, Mikkel Kessler, in the opening round of Showtime’s “Super Six” tournament. Ward won a decision, vaulted to the top of his division, and won out the rest of the competition, outpointing Allan Green, Sakio Bika and Arthur Abraham before topping Carl Froch in the finale in December 2011.
That win made Ward the true, lineal champion at 168 pounds, and it coincided with the conclusion of the second chapter of Ward’s pro career. About nine months later, Ward made his debut on HBO, defending against 175-pound champion Chad Dawson, who had dropped down in weight to face Ward.
Ward dissected and dominated Dawson, knocking him down three times and scoring the stoppage in the 10th round. It was a big win, even with the caveat that Dawson had disadvantaged himself by draining down to super middleweight. Beyond that, the win represented a departure from the usual Ward performance — it was a rare knockout, and it was also entertaining to watch.
Ward often hadn’t been much fun. He was intent on neutralizing his opponent, and he had been derided by his detractors for infractions such as grabbing and mauling on the inside and using his head.
As with Bernard Hopkins’ recent win over Karo Murat, those tactics weren’t completely absent from Ward’s victory over Rodriguez. In a bout in which Rodriguez wasn’t shy about fighting rough, Ward wasn’t afraid of returning the favor. And just like Hopkins-Murat, this latest win for Ward wasn’t primarily a product of defense and dirtiness; his offense also included plenty of clean, hard punches.
“I still don’t feel like I’ve arrived yet, like just overall,” Ward said afterward. “I’ve put on some good performances. I’ve beat some good guys. But I can look at the Froch fight and say, ‘Man, that wasn’t my best.’ I can look at tonight and say, ‘Man, we won, but that wasn’t my best.’ Dawson was close. That’s the fight in which we pretty much did everything we wanted to do, break him down mentally and physically, and then stop him and get him out of there.”
Ward is safely established as an HBO franchise. Though this was just his second bout with the network, HBO has featured him prominently as a commentator. What’s eluded Ward, though, is the ability to transcend the sport, to become the kind of star commensurate with his perceived talent.
Some of that is his style. Some of that is how he’s been promoted. And some of that is his personality — he’s a laid-back, religious, consummate family man whose confidence doesn’t turn into the cartoonish cockiness that Floyd Mayweather Jr. oozed to enhance his marketability.
Ward wants the biggest fights, and that’s what we want, too.
We might differ somewhat in what those big fights are.
Ward would favor a fight with Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., a bout in which he could receive a large payday against a lesser challenge.
We want to see him cap off his career against the best possible opponents.
The best fighters have two manners of showing their superiority. They can clean out their division over an extended period, as Wladimir Klitschko has done at heavyweight, or they can move from one division to another.
Ward won gold as a light heavyweight, but fought in the early stages of his career as a middleweight. He’s been comfortable at super middleweight for more than six and a half years and isn’t in a rush to move up just yet.
“I’m not a light heavyweight right now,” Ward said at the post-fight press conference. “I’m a 168-pound fighter.”
Ward’s already defeated Froch, though a rematch would be welcome. Froch has shined since, cementing his place as No. 2 in the division, knocking out Lucian Bute and Yusaf Mack and then winning a rematch with Kessler. He’s scheduled to face George Groves on Nov. 23.
Ward isn’t sure if a Chavez fight will come. Chavez is expected to have a rematch with Bryan Vera first, and there’s a question over whether Chavez will be able to make the super middleweight limit.
Ward also doesn’t believe a bout with middleweight titleholder Gennady Golovkin is in the cards just yet.
“I think we’ll probably meet one day and it’ll be a bigger affair,” Ward told reporters this weekend.
Nor does he anticipate a fight with one of his idols, 48-year-old light heavyweight titleholder Bernard Hopkins.
What comes next, then, is unclear. What Ward is certain of, however, is that he won’t be like those still fighting who are too old and too far gone.
“I’m not going to be a 40-year-old boxer, I promise,” he told reporters. “I know you guys have heard it before, but I’ve got 20 years in this sport. I’ve given it max effort. I’ve given it everything that I have. Even though I missed this sport the past 14 months, I enjoyed my time off. I enjoyed being home. I enjoyed broadcasting.”
Later, he added: “I’m not aloof to the punishment that my body takes. I’ve been doing this 20 years, man. I’m telling you, I’m working on an exit strategy right now.”
This is the beginning of Andre Ward’s final chapter. We don’t know how or when his story will end. We don’t know who the other characters will be. We don’t know if Ward will still have nary a loss on his record when he hangs up his gloves.
What we do know is that he says his best is yet to come — and we want to see it come against the best fighters he can face.
The 10 Count
1. There are several reasons why Edwin Rodriguez’s failure to make weight for his fight with Andre Ward, while unprofessional and unfortunate, didn’t evoke anywhere near as much outrage as when Adrien Broner and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. had similar offenses.
Rodriguez’s story does play into it. He’s been marketed in part on his personal struggles, particularly the premature births of his son and daughter and their remarkable survival. He hasn’t become a villain or an antihero in the way that Adrien Broner has strived to be, or in the way that Chavez’s various shenanigans have led to him being perceived.
We also can understand Rodriguez potentially growing out of the super middleweight division. He hasn’t shown the kind of discipline problems in training that Chavez has, nor has he flaunted his junk food diet the way that Broner did.
But more than anything, the difference between Rodriguez and the duo of Broner and Chavez is the position he was in — as well as the position his opponent was in.
When Broner came in overweight against Vicente Escobedo, and when Chavez came in overweight against Bryan Vera, neither Escobedo nor Vera had much choice but to ask for a significant financial settlement and then to go forward and fight despite significant differences in size. Broner and Chavez were the A-sides and knew that they could get back on television no matter what, and they knew that their opponents had no such guarantees. Also, Broner and Chavez were already the favorites, and their coming in overweight only gave them further advantages.
Ward could’ve pulled out of this fight and gotten another date on HBO. Rodriguez was the clear B-side, and he also was the unproven challenger facing a highly skilled champion.
As for Mikey Garcia coming in overweight against Juan Manuel Lopez this past summer, it’s likely that few criticized Garcia because most felt that Lopez was done and had no chance of winning anyway.
I’m not excusing Rodriguez and Garcia coming in overweight, but just theorizing why the public response to them doing so was comparably muted.
With all of that said, I do agree with other writers who argue that there needs to be an increase in the amount that fighters are fined when they come in overweight, so that it will act as a harsh deterrent. Either fighters will make weight or they’ll move to a division where they can make weight.
A fighter who fails to make weight potentially puts his opponent in even greater danger. And he also puts himself at risk, leaving his body dehydrated and malnourished and then slingshotting in the other direction by adding 15 to 20 pounds back on before his bout.
Fighters will drain their bodies no matter what day the weigh-in is. They will find it physically worth it, unless they recognize that it won’t be financially worth it.
2. Michael Walker had once been a prospect who fell short of being a contender. Then he became an opponent.
I never knew why he kept fighting — he hadn’t won a bout in five years — until I saw this line in the Chicago Tribune article after Walker as murdered last week:
“He had just signed on for another fight in January and was looking for more bouts to support his daughter.”
Walker was 35.
I first saw Walker in February 2008, when he was still undefeated at 18-0-1 and appearing on ESPN2’s “Friday Night Fights” against a long-past-his-prime Antwun Echols. Walker and Echols battled to a 10-round draw that evening. Walker lost his next bout, against David Lopez, then closed off his year by topping Echols in their rematch.
He never won again.
Walker lost to familiar names: Danny Jacobs in 2009; Derrick Findley, Fernando Guerrero, Andy Lee and Ricardo Mayorga in 2010; Matt Korobov and Findley again in 2011. He dropped 11 in a row, 5 by knockout, before getting a draw in 2012 against a foe named Orphius Waite whose record was 7-4. Walker lost seven more and had last fought in July, a defeat that brought his record to 19-19-3 with 12 knockouts.
I’m sure all of these losses weren’t earning Walker much money and were taking a toll on him, but I imagine that fighting was also the best way he had. He was sacrificing himself for the sake of his daughter — and he deserved to live to see that these sacrifices had been worth it.
3. Two weeks after heavyweight prospect Magomed Abdusalamov was placed into a coma following his loss to Mike Perez, there are glimmers of hope.
“They did a test by pinching his arm and he was smacking the doctor's hand away, showing his motor skills are coming back. They weren't expecting that,” Nathan Lewkowicz of promoter Sampson Boxing said last week, according to Dan Rafael of ESPN.com.
Doctors will soon attempt to bring Abdusalamov out of his medically induced coma and test his reactions, according to a statement the promotional company put out this past weekend.
Sadly, two more televised bouts this past weekend sent losing fighters to the hospital with traumatic injuries.
In Mexico, featherweight Jose Carmona lost an eighth-round knockout to Jorge Arce, was carried out on a stretcher, hospitalized and underwent brain surgery, according to a report on this site.
And in New Zealand, a light heavyweight named Daniel MacKinnon also needed brain surgery after his 10th-round technical knockout loss to Robert Berridge. Fortunately, he’d been upgraded from critical to serious condition as of Sunday, according to Fairfax NZ News.
4. I always felt like David Haye could have accomplished much more at heavyweight than he’d accomplished. And now we’ll probably never know — the news went out this weekend that Haye underwent hours of surgery on his shoulder last week and was subsequently told that he should consider retiring.
A fight with heavyweight prospect Tyson Fury — postponed from Sept. 28 to Feb. 8 after Haye suffered a cut over his left eye — has now been canceled. And if Haye truly does retire, it’ll end a heavyweight campaign that seemed like it could’ve been much more.
Haye became lineal cruiserweight champion in 2007 when he knocked out Jean-Marc Mormeck. He defended his championship once, demolishing Enzo Maccarinelli, and then moved up to heavyweight.
Haye stopped Monte Barrett in November 2008, then won a heavyweight title in his next fight, which came a full year later against Nicolay Valuev. He defended that title twice, stopping John Ruiz in April 2010 and Audley Harrison in November 2010. Then, after plenty of talk, Haye failed to back up his words against Wladimir Klitschko in July 2011. He retired not too long afterward, then soon came out of retirement and beat up Dereck Chisora in July 2012.
He always seemed to have the speed and power to compete in a division full of large and lumbering opponents. He may well continue to fight; he’s only 33, which leaves plenty of time for him to heal and to consider another comeback.
5. Better to retire early than to retire too late.
We used to consider Evander Holyfield the poster child for staying in the sport too long. But Holyfield, who’s never officially hung up his gloves, at least hasn’t laced them up for a pro fight since May 2011.
Holyfield’s loss to James Toney was 10 years ago. At the time, Holyfield was 41 and Toney was 35. Now Toney is 45 and still fighting. He was among the eight contestants in the latest edition of the United Kingdom’s “Prizefighter” tournaments. Toney was by far the most experienced and most accomplished, and yet he dropped a majority decision to a sparring partner of his, Jason Gavern, in the semifinals of the tournament.
It’s not just about age with Toney. It’s about the obvious signs of a career that has taken its toll; an interview that made the rounds online last week showed Toney’s slurred speech to have deteriorated to the point where he honestly requires subtitles to understand him.
We can’t reverse that damage. Nor can we stop what very well will worsen with time. But we can hope that athletic commissions don’t allow him to take any more punishment — and ask critical questions of those that do.
6. A quick update on Scott Harrison, the troubled former featherweight titleholder who was suspended by the British Boxing Board of Control until he provided documents regarding the open criminal cases against him.
Harrison had a hearing last week in front of the BBBoC’s Scottish Area Council, which lifted his suspension. But then the full BBBoC “voted to continue his suspension pending a full investigation of Harrison at their December 11 meeting,” according to newspaper The Evening Times (of Glasgow, Scotland).
The 36-year-old last fought in April, when he lost a unanimous decision to lightweight prospect Liam Walsh. That defeat dropped his record to 27-3-2 with 15 knockouts. It was his third fight back; he’d been out of the ring between November 2005 and June 2012.
He spent two and a half years in prison for an incident in which he assaulted a police officer and another man, and attempted to steal a car. He was released in September 2011. He’s since had new cases against him, as well as the looming specter of other accusations that preceded his prison term.
7. I very much enjoyed HBO’s broadcast version of “Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth” one-man theater show, which premiered on the network this past weekend.
It’s not that “Undisputed Truth” is exceptional in terms of Tyson’s monologues or exploring previously hidden depths of his psyche. Rather, it was a 90-minute run through tumultuous decades. I imagine there’s far more to his stories in his newly released autobiography, which has the same title.
What I enjoyed, though, was hearing from Tyson now that he seems to have reached as much peace as is possible given the many incidents in his life. We’ve already seen his soul laid bare before us in a documentary and in televised interviews. He remains a novelty in a world fascinated with his bizarre rollercoaster ride, but now he’s in on the act — and in control of it.
Tyson retired more than eight years ago. His cameo appearance in the comedy film “The Hangover” came in 2009. Yet we keep on seeing more and more of Tyson, in various shows and in other forms of entertainment. And I’m fine with that.
I’m fine with that because I recall how broke Tyson is. The squandering of his hundreds of millions of dollars turned Tyson into a cautionary tale, the rises and falls of the former baddest man on the planet. We don’t need to see that tale come to its predictable end. What’s predictable doesn’t necessarily need to be inevitable.
8. Tyson is ubiquitous. Meanwhile, a documentary about a former opponent of Tyson’s is struggling to raise the funding it needs.
“Whatever Happened to Tyrell Biggs” is in the final week of its Kickstarter campaign; as of Sunday evening, just $5,002 had been pledged toward a $35,000 goal that would help go toward more filming and a rough edit.
More info is available at TyrellBiggs.com.
Biggs was one of nine gold medalists at the 1984 Olympics. He’s now 52 years old and training kids in a Philadelphia recreation center.
Tyson knocked Biggs out in the seventh round of their 1987 fight. Biggs continued to fight until 1998, when he retired with a record of 30-10 with 20 knockouts.
9. Boxers Behaving Badly: Former 130-pound titleholder Yuriorkis Gamboa was arrested last week and is facing two counts of domestic violence battery, according to the Miami-Dade County Corrections Inmate Profile System.
Online court records show both charges to be misdemeanors. He was arraigned on Nov. 14 and ordered not to have any contact with two women, one of whom is his ex-wife.
A hearing has been scheduled for Dec. 2.
Gamboa also faced domestic violence allegations in 2011. That case was dropped.
Gamboa, 31, last fought in June, when he outpointed Darleys Perez to move to 23-0 with 16 knockouts.
10. There’ll be no joke to end this week’s column — unless you want to consider what Gamboa has done to his career and reputation over the past couple of years…
“Fighting Words” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. Pick up a copy of David’s new book, “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing,” at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsamazon or on Amazon U.K. at http://amzn.to/11mYGZI . Send questions/comments via email at email@example.com Tags: Andre Ward