By Thomas Gerbasi
There were probably a thousand and one things Andre Ward would have rather been doing on the day after an extensive three day media tour that took him to England, New York, and finally back home to Oakland, California. But on Thursday morning, the WBA super middleweight champion was back on the phone, back at work, and back to talking about one of the biggest fights of his career and of 2011 – his October 29th showdown with WBC champ Carl Froch.
“It was pretty exhausting,” Ward told BoxingScene. “I was already in Chicago for the Friday Night Fights telecast I was a part of (in Indiana). I was away from home for three days prior to the trip and it was just unbelievable to be able to go to the UK and turn around in one day. It’s something I’ll probably never do again…in life. (Laughs) That day right there was 14 total hours of flying, and the next day we were in New York, and we finished last night in Oakland. So it was just a whirlwind, but I embrace that it’s part of the game and it’s part of big fights. That’s what you gotta do, so all in all I embraced it and had a good time.”
BB King used to call it “paying the cost to be the boss”. I’d like to think that it’s Ward’s way of not just being a professional, but of paving the way for greatness. Fighting in the ring is one thing; to be great, people have to relate to you, know your struggle and know your story. There has to be an emotional attachment involved, good or bad, just like there was between the fans and Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, and Mike Tyson, among others.
Today, Ward won’t just say it privately, but he’ll put it on the record, like he did during the media tour this week, that the word “great” is not only overused these days, but it’s misused. And though he’s well on his way to that status should he continue to build on and grow from his 24-0 record (which includes a 4-0 slate in title fights), Ward makes it clear that you will never hear him refer to himself in such lofty terms.
“I think greatness is when a fighter is able to dominate over an extended period of time, and who knows how long that time frame is,” he explains. “Even if he takes a loss, he’s able to battle back and avenge a loss or just continue to beat great, quality opposition over an extended period of time. And to me personally, I feel like greatness is something that the fans give you, something that the media gives you collectively, and I just don’t think it’s something that because you’ve had a few good battles that you can say that you’re the greatest. I just don’t think it’s something you can crown yourself with.”
In other words, don’t use that adjective for him or Froch just yet. You don’t get a more refreshing dose of honesty than that.
“There’s only a few fighters in history that I know of that did that (called themselves great) before they were great, and they turned out to be great – Muhammad Ali and Floyd Mayweather. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard Roy (Jones) say he was great before he was great. But those are only two guys that I know of. Froch has had some good fights, but the fights that he’s had, I don’t think we’re gonna be talking about these fights 10-15 years from now. They weren’t those kinds of fights, they weren’t the Leonard-Hearns or Leonard-Duran type fights; they just weren’t. So I just don’t see how greatness can be attached to his name just yet. I’m not saying down the road he may not become great, and I hope I get considered a great, but I just don’t think either one of us are there yet.”
October 29th will do a good job of starting to lay that groundwork though. Both Ward and Froch have battled through the seemingly neverending Super Six tournament to emerge as the last men standing, and though IBF champion Lucian Bute could make an argument that people wouldn’t scoff at, the general consensus is that the winner of the Atlantic City bout is the rightful top super middleweight on the planet.
That means all the work of the last two years of this tournament comes down to one night, making it high stakes no matter how you slice it. So while the gym work and film work is important, the mind games between the two count for something as well, and there was no better time than this past week to get down to business on that front.
“When you’re able to have that many stops, three plus the Showtime face-off, where we were able to literally get face to face and answer questions and pose questions, you just kinda see what the other man was all about,” said Ward of the time spent with Froch. “There were definitely some things you could like about him; he’s a very personable individual, but his pridefulness and his cockiness and some of the things he said overshadows the good that you do see. But all in all, it boils down to two guys trying to get to the same place, and we’re in each other’s way.”
So was there anything that surprised him about the Nottingham, England native, who made his way to the final with a 12 round win over Glen Johnson in June?
“I think he was pretty much within character,” admits Ward. “He was everything I thought he was gonna be and he said pretty much the things I thought he was gonna say. If anything surprised me, it was his level of denial with the truth. That’s probably the main thing that takes you back, like ‘are you serious?’ But other than that, he was in form.”
And so was Ward, which meant that there weren’t any crazy outbursts, wild ramblings, or mean-spirited trash talk. That’s just not his style, and even as the confident Froch politely poked at Ward’s punching power (or lack thereof), his level of competition, and having home state advantage in all four of his previous Super Six bouts, the 2004 United States Olympic Gold medalist wasn’t taking the bait.
There was something that irked him a bit though.
“I don’t do a lot of talking because I feel like sometimes it becomes classless, and I’m always gonna be a classy person in what I do,” he said. “But I do mention the fact that I fought physical fights, I fought tough guys, and during the face-off he brought up the Darnell Boone situation. I said ‘wow, you brought up a situation that happened when I was an up and comer and one that I take full responsibility for.’ I needed that, it helped me learn how to take a shot and get back up, and it’s part of the game. But I fought some of the biggest names and punchers in the division, and I came out on top.”
The Darnell Boone situation occurred in Ward’s seventh pro fight in November of 2005. In that bout, Ward hit the deck in the fourth round but came back to win a six round decision. From there, many questioned his chin, but if anything, no one has come close to touching it again, and that includes hard punchers like Edison Miranda, Allan Green, Sakio Bika, and Arthur Abraham.
But a fighter like Ward – known for his speed, boxing ability, and technique – will never get the praise handed to the brawlers of the fight game. To those fans who love blood and guts wars, a stylist can never be considered tough, even if he’s gotten in the trenches with fighters like Bika and Mikkel Kessler and came out on top. Ward’s not afraid of a dogfight, and he’s proved it. But you won’t hear too much talk about that.
“I try to be a student of the sport and this has kinda been happening for a long time where guys who take more punishment are more touted as the guys who have the chins, and they get credit for being the guys who are “tough,”” said Ward. “But the guys who get it done a different way, they’re not tough and they don’t really get kudos for having a good chin and so forth. I don’t know if I get insulted by it, I just understand it from watching over the years.”
So if Froch thinks he can goad Ward into being Sugar Ray Leonard to his Roberto Duran circa Montreal in 1980, the pride of Oakland isn’t having it. He’s going to do what got him here, and eventually, everyone else will start catching on.
“He (Froch) believes what he believes, and that’s fine, but I’m secure in who I am, I know what I’ve got, and the reality is, I’ve done something right to get to this point, and that’s all I focus on,” said Ward. “I know the truth, so I just have to continue to move forward.”