By Thomas Gerbasi
When talking about the 168-pound Super Six tournament that concludes this Saturday night in Atlantic City, New Jersey, WBA champion Andre Ward likens it to living “in this bubble.” That would probably be the most accurate way to describe things for the fighters who competed in the two year competition, one in which they were not only pushed to their limits physically in facing off against top-level competition night in and not out, but also mentally, as practically every move they made was followed, scrutinized, and filmed.
Just like living in a bubble. So when Ward arrived in New York Tuesday morning for the final press conference of an exhausting trek that has seen him compete in four fights (one outside of the tournament), go through delays and postponements, and do a seemingly endless amount of interviews, he was happy to finally see the finish line, which for him is a bout against his WBC counterpart, Carl Froch.
“It’s here,” Ward smiled. “Obviously we did the press tour and everything, but I felt it more so when I stepped into Atlantic City about five days ago, and even more so when we officially checked into Caesars yesterday, so it’s here, it’s time to go to work.”
When it comes down to it, some guys live to sign autographs and take pictures, and others embrace the work. Ward belongs to the latter group, and as thoughtful and accessible as he is with the media, his ultimate payoff isn’t whipping out a flashy soundbite, but what happens in the ring on fight night after an arduous training camp. Yet with the marketing and promotional muscle put behind the Super Six tourney, he’s been required to keep one foot in each area over the last two years.
“That type of thing is not easy,” said Ward of opening his world to Showtime’s cameras throughout the process. “My nature is not to be seen; it’s not for people to look my way. I’m actually a very low key kind of guy and I love being “that guy” on the night when I need to be and then go back to being just a normal person the rest of the days of the year. That’s just me. But I understand my job and I understand what I have to do, so I think we made the adjustment pretty well. The Fight Camp 360’s been great, the extra attention has been great, and of course that comes with more scrutiny, but again, that’s just part of the game and we made the adjustments the way we’re supposed to.”
The 27-year old Ward is almost a walking contradiction when he says that, because the athletes who like to keep to themselves are usually the least interesting when the microphones are on. That’s the way they like to keep it, in the hopes that everyone will eventually just walk away and leave them alone. Ward, on the other hand, is one of the most interesting fighters in the game today, one who refuses to talk in clichés and who can very well be the standard bearer for the sport in the United States in the coming years. He’s also one of the most mature, something that’s been said of him since he was a fresh-faced kid winning the US boxing team’s lone gold medal in the 2004 Olympics. So it’s really no surprise that he understands that to be a success in this game and to truly be a professional, you’ve got to be seen and heard by the masses.
“I’ve matured in the area of understanding my responsibility to the fans and the media and the certain obligations that I have being a world champion,” said Ward. “This is what I wanted and it’s here now, I got it, and I want to carry myself like a champion, with dignity, and do the things that may not always be fun to do, but do it with a smile on my face and appreciate where I am.”
Where the unbeaten Ward is at is one win away from being stamped as the best 168-pound fighter in the world. Many already consider him the top super middleweight, even placing him on the mythical pound-for-pound list for his dominant Super Six wins over Mikkel Kessler, Allan Green, and Arthur Abraham. But there are those who believe that only a win over England’s Froch would seal the deal for the Oakland native, and still others put IBF champ Lucian Bute in the conversation, even though the Romanian didn’t compete in the tournament. Yet come Sunday morning, Ward will know what the deal is in his own mind should he emerge victorious, and to him, that’s all that matters, even though there will always be questions.
“You know how it is, in the nature of boxing there’s always gonna be somebody,” he said. “If it’s not Froch, it’s gonna be Bute; if not Bute, it’s gonna be a rematch with Kessler, if not Kessler, they’re gonna be talking about a mandatory. That’s just part of the game. But personally, it (winning) will do a lot. This is a fight about respect for me, and I know the respect fully won’t be there again because that’s just the nature of the beast, but it will do a lot for me because I know what I possess and it’s constantly coming in question. ‘Okay, you beat Kessler, but what about this, you fought at home,’ or ‘Okay, you beat this guy but what about this, you didn’t look good.’ It’s always something, so I always have a healthy chip on my shoulder and it makes it a lot easier to get up for a fight like this, number one, with everything that’s on the line, and number two, when you’ve got somebody who talks the way he talks. So it’s gonna be very gratifying.”
Doubted throughout his career, even though he’s beaten everyone placed in his path, from journeymen to veterans and from contenders to world champions. It’s hard to argue with a 24-0 (13 KOs) record, but still, some opponents, including Froch, have found their share of criticisms to throw at Ward. And while he’s kept a cool and calm demeanor in the face of Froch’s various barbs and slights, including showing up late for Tuesday’s presser, Ward’s words display a simmering intensity to make an example out of the Brit.
“He’s a confident fighter, he believes in himself, and obviously you don’t get this far to want to lay down,” said Ward of Froch, who went 3-1 in the tourney, defeating Abraham, Andre Dirrell, and Glen Johnson, with his only loss coming against Kessler. “There’s a tremendous amount on the table in terms of the belts, the cup, everything. So his determination is gonna be something that needs to be dealt with, and my determination isn’t any less than his. It’s gonna be a very physical and very tough fight, but I expect to get my hand raised.”
So what happens after that hand is raised? December 18th will be the first day in the last two years that Andre Ward won’t know who he’s fighting next. It will probably be a strange thing for him to be living outside of that Super Six bubble, but he’s prepared for, and looking forward, to it.
“We’re gonna get back to what is normal and taking it a fight at a time,” said Ward. “I’ve been in this bubble for two years, knowing who I was gonna fight and not trying to look too far ahead, but having literally, on a contract, a name for two, three fights ahead. So it’s gonna be different, but it’s gonna be a good mental break to kinda slow things down and just focus on one guy after having five or six guys on your mind.”
You would think he would want to take a vacation.
“We’re gonna take a vacation, absolutely.”