by David P. Greisman
One world title had been won at the outset, when the dark horse had taken out the clear favorite. One world title had been won in the finale, when the once-untested prospect once again showed his skills and savvy, a physically and mentally superlative fighter.
A silver cup awarded by Showtime showed him to be the victor at the end of the two-year “Super Six” tournament. A title belt bestowed by “The Ring” magazine indicated that he was the true champion of the super-middleweight division.
This was Andre Ward’s triumph, and these were his trophies.
He had won the World Boxing Association title by defeating Mikkel Kessler in November 2009. He had won the World Boxing Council belt by dominating Carl Froch in December 2011. He had won three fights in-between, defeating Allan Green, Sakio Bika and Arthur Abraham.
He has a 25-0 record, an Olympic gold medal as the best among amateur boxers and numerous prizes proving him the best among professional fighters.
He has questions, already, about what is next.
Ward stood smiling in front of his trophies, celebrating in front of family, friends and fans. He also stood in front of reporters, who knew that one question had lingered over the duration of the competition, a question that Ward would now be the one to answer:
Is the single best fighter in the “Super Six” better than the single best fighter not in the tournament — Lucian Bute?
Ward answered by questioning Bute.
“No disrespect to Bute and his team, but what they’ve done, they’ve sat back and they fought B-level and C-level guys, and he’s done what he’s supposed to do. He stopped them and got them out of there,” Ward said at Saturday’s press conference following his victory over Froch. “But he’s been sitting back, waiting while we’ve been fighting for the past two and a half years against top-level competition.”
Bute is the only other star at super middleweight whose record remains undefeated. But to Ward, that doesn’t mean Bute is the only possible opponent.
“I don’t have to go to Lucian Bute right now,” Ward said. “I’m open for a Kessler clash. I would love to get that rematch and settle that score since he feels like it wasn’t a legitimate victory. He’s an option. Going up to light heavyweight for the right fight — not campaign up there, but for the right fight — is an option. So we just got to sit back and see what makes sense. I think I earned the right to pick the right fight, to be honest with you, for the right price.”
Ward has impressed all throughout the tournament, both with his performances inside the ring and his personality outside of it. He has never seemed the type to shy away from a challenge. He is a consummate competitor and has no need to be intimidated by anything anyone else can do in the ring.
He did little trash talking during the Super Six. Why start after?
Because as Ward has shown in the ring, he’s as good mentally as he is physically.
Because Ward vs. Bute is the logical next fight.
Because Bute has more leverage when it comes to negotiating the next fight.
And because the negotiations for Ward-Bute unofficially began the moment the tournament officially ended.
Ward, masterful with positioning between the ropes, is likely just as aware of its importance at the bargaining table.
He probably knows that Bute can sell out arenas in Quebec no matter the opponent and can bring in more ticket revenue for his fights than Ward can.
He probably knows that someone who admits to wanting something commits himself to a deal, that the best negotiators are those who are willing to say no and walk away.
If Ward admits that Bute must be next, then he locks himself into Bute’s terms, into going to Bute’s home territory, where more money can be made, and locks himself into taking whatever Bute offers — because if Bute must be next, then he must either take it or leave it.
Except that’s not the case. Driving a hard bargain can be a hard decision to make. It can also be the right one.
Ward could fight Kessler in Europe and earn a comparable amount due to Kessler’s popularity there. He could also fight other opponents in the United States, build a fan base in his own region in the Oakland area, earn less money now but invest in the possibility of more in the future.
Ward saying he has other options, saying that Bute does not have to come next, puts an obstacle in Bute’s path. If Bute wants the fight — he has waited more than two years for the tournament to end and a winner to emerge — then he, too, must be willing to give while negotiating.
It is not Bute’s fault that nearly all of the foes he has faced have been of a much lesser quality than the “Super Six” contestants. After all, the tournament took them away as possible opponents.
“To be perfectly honest, I think Bute has to beat somebody,” Ward said. “He has to beat somebody that’s an A-level guy to get a shot. You can’t sit back and just take your time while everybody else is working hard and then get the same pay as everybody else.”
Ward is seeking to set the agenda: Jump through a hoop, give me more money, or wait even longer to prove you’re as good as me.
Bute also has options. He could continue what he has done for the past two years, fighting lesser opponents in front of large crowds and earning lucrative paydays in the process.
He likely wants to earn respect, too.
Lucian Bute has a world title belt he won more than four years ago and has defended nine times since. He has 30 wins and no losses and is now considered to be the second-best super middleweight behind Andre Ward.
As Ward said, this is a sport, but it’s also a business decision.
The decision, then, is what is more important — the pride or the prize. The decision does not have to be between one or the other, but something, and someone, will have to give.
The 10 Count
1. Carl Froch deserves to be rewarded for his run through the “Super Six,” and not just because he was the tournament’s runner-up.
Froch was in two of the tournament’s more thrilling fights in the past two years, losing a very good battle with Mikkel Kessler and, later, defeating Glen Johnson in the semifinal.
Throw in his decision win over Jean Pascal and his come-from-behind technical knockout victory over Jermain Taylor, both of which came before the “Super Six” began, and that’s four enjoyable bouts Froch has been part of at super middleweight.
He should get a payday and a chance for redemption in a fight against Lucian Bute or a rematch with Mikkel Kessler — whichever one isn’t facing Andre Ward next.
2. While Ward is looking for the right fight now that the tournament’s over — he can choose his opponent and seek the best deal rather than be locked into the terms of the Super Six — he will have a mandatory due against Anthony Dirrell.
Dirrell, younger brother to another super middleweight, Andre, won a World Boxing Council elimination bout against Renan St. Juste a couple of weeks ago. Ward won the WBC belt this past Saturday by defeating Froch.
Ward-Dirrell won’t bring anywhere near as much money as Ward-Bute or Ward-Kessler, but it’s still possible. Bute and Kessler will want to be paid well for a Ward fight, and both are major ticket sellers in their home countries. That could lead to some tough negotiations.
3. No offense, New Jersey natives — your state is disparaged enough already — but what is it in your air or water that’s making your judges turn in such bad scorecards?
Earlier this year there were the three judges (Al Bennett, Donald Givens, Hilton Whitaker III) who were suspended after somehow giving Paul Williams a majority decision victory over Erislandy Lara.
And this past Saturday there was John Stewart, the veteran judge who was one of two at ringside who had Andre Ward vs. Carl Froch as a close 115-113 fight despite it actually being a one-sided win for Ward.
The true nature of the action was best reflected, interestingly enough, on the scorecard of the British judge, John Keane, who had it 118-110, or 10 rounds to 2. Craig Metcalfe of Canada, like Stewart, had it 115-113, or seven rounds to five.
But at least Metcalfe never had Ward behind. Stewart, meanwhile, had Froch winning four of the first five rounds. He didn’t have Ward in the lead until after the ninth round.
4. Amir Khan Says the Right Thing:
“I know the little mistakes I have made and I will get rid of them,” Khan was quoted as saying by Kevin Francis of The Daily Star in the days following his split decision to Lamont Peterson. “I learned the hard way against Breidis [Prescott] and changed. That was a good thing that happened to me and was a wake-up call. This is another one. This is only going to make me work harder.”
That goes along with what I said last week, that while his loss to Peterson was controversial because of the referee taking points away from him, the bout was close because of what Peterson did do and what Khan didn’t. This loss should eat away at him and force him to improve so that he doesn’t end up in the same position once more.
If only that were the only thing Khan had said last week.
5. Amir Khan Says a Lot of Wrong Things:
In the hours and days following the loss to Peterson, we heard Khan and his team members complain about the referee (which is, to some, a fair complaint), say in a statement that there were “certain ambiguities with respect to the scores of the fight,” wonder why the scores took a long time to be announced, say that they were told after the final bell that they had won the fight, and announce they had filed an appeal of the result with the International Boxing Federation.
The appeal was denied.
Fighters will be upset following a close loss, and they should be. But it’s becoming increasingly common — and increasingly comical — to hear many of the protests and complaints that come out afterward.
They show such pride in the ring, and they maintain that pride outside of it. But there needs to be a better basis to claims of being screwed, rather than have those claims based on speculation and still-raw emotion.
6. With Khan’s loss to Peterson last week, his name has been dropped off the ballot for the Boxing Writers Association of America’s “Fighter of the Year.”
His nomination had been listed as “Amir Khan, should he defeat Peterson.” He didn’t, though, and that means the ballot will be sent out with these five names:
- Andre Ward
- Manny Pacquiao
- Nonito Donaire
- Wladimir Klitschko
- Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Klitschko and Mayweather had been tied for fifth in number of nominations. Klitschko made it on the ballot by virtue of a tiebreaking vote, but now Mayweather also will be listed.
7. Bernard Hopkins’ October fight with Chad Dawson, originally ruled a second-round technical knockout after Dawson shouldered Hopkins to the canvas and Hopkins suffered an injury, was finally overturned last week and called a “No decision.”
Does that mean we can now pretend the fight never happened?
8. Just how many Don King-donated turkeys were in a truck that was either momentarily hijacked or abandoned last week in Florida?
- The Palm Beach (Fla.) Post: “…some 2,000 Butterballs.”
- South Florida Sun-Sentinel: “…nearly 3,000 turkeys.”
- BoxingScene.com: “…30,000 holiday turkeys.”
- WSVN: “…someone reportedly hijacked the truck and took the 30,000 turkeys with them.”
As Don King would say, only in America… could our math be so bad that we can’t figure out whether it was 2,000 turkeys or 15 times that amount.
9. A Californian fighter who had been accused of punching a 4-year-old in the face — talk about a mismatch — pleaded guilty last week to charges of false imprisonment and child endangerment, according to the Hesperia Star.
Khadaphi Proctor, 27, was sentenced to time served (he’d spent 122 days behind bars) and four years of probation.
The lightweight has a record of 7-6-1, including losses to multiple name prospects. His last appearance was in July, a fourth-round knockout defeat at the hands of Frankie Gomez.
10. Not a good year for guys whose names are some variation of “Khadaphi.”
David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. His weekly column, “Fighting Words,” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com.
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