By Corey Erdman
After Saturday's TKO victory over Sergey Kovalev, it's inarguable that Andre Ward is the best fighter in the sport, pound for pound.
However you interpret the meaning of “pound for pound,” Ward satisfies every requirement. Do you simply base it on achievement? The Oakland native cleared out the 168-pound division in tournament format, before hopping up to 175 to outpoint and then stop the most fearsome man in that division too.
Or, do you simply play the fantasy simulation game when coming up with your P4P list? In that case, if you were to shrink or inflate Andre Ward with his current attributes relative to his opponents into any other weight class, is there really someone you'd pick to beat him?
In some ways, Ward has already taken the “fantasy” element away in the discussion by making the move to 175, a leap many felt wouldn't prove to be successful.
But now he's thinking bigger. Much bigger.
"Maybe cruiserweight, I don't know. Cruiserweight, heavyweight, that's always been a dream of mine It's gotta be the right guy, but I dream big," said Ward on Saturday following the bout. "I know it sounds crazy when you're light-heavyweight and I'm not the biggest light-heavyweight. But look at Roy (Jones)."
Playing the pound for pound game is one thing—simply imagining a fighter, if all things were equal, and matching him up against men in larger weight classes. The real world is different, however. While Ward may be the most intelligent and skilled boxer on the planet, there is a point at which sheer size and physical strength should negate his otherworldly boxing acumen. Spend any time inside a boxing gym sparring even at a novice level, and you'll realize that at a certain point, a clumsy beginner is impossible to beat just because he's too big.
Against Kovalev, Ward was forced to adapt his style from the way he fought at super middleweight. At 168, “Son of God” could maul any opponent he was in the ring with and chop them down on the inside if he chose to. In his last two outings, he moved much more, jabbed more defensively and fought in close quarters less often. He just happened to be so good that he could fight in an entirely different style and not just defeat, but stop the second best fighter in the world--a full-blown, big light heavyweight.
Ward is a generational great, not a novice boxer, so the size differential he can make up for in skill is much greater than perhaps anyone else in the world. The question is, will he finally hit a wall? It could possibly be one division up, at cruiserweight, where he mentioned considering a fight.
Would he be simply overpowered by say, Oleksandr Usyk? It's possible. Is it financially worth the risk to get a win over Usyk? Probably not, and a win over any him or any other cruiserweight (many of whom are tied up in a tournament of their own at the moment) wouldn't garner the kind of public acclaim that would warrant the danger.
The payoff in dollars and praise should be commensurate with the risk, and as Ward's trainer Virgil Hunter clearly realizes, the ratio only makes sense north of cruiserweight.
“There are some things about (Anthony) Joshua that I see. Now he’s a good kid, he’s swell but I’m telling you. I see things with him in particular and he’s the best. But styles make fights. Styles make fights. It would be a waste of time to go to cruiser, just leapfrog," said Hunter. “Fighting a bigger man, it doesn’t have to do with size or anything. It has to do with his attributes and their attributes. If you were to single out one thing to make it a competitive fight for yourself, you take that chance. Because that’s what he’s here for. I’d like to see him fight Anthony Joshua. I’m serious. I’m not playing, I’m serious. I think that would be a very interesting fight. I believe he can outbox Anthony Joshua."
Ward cites the example of Roy Jones, who of course leaped to heavyweight to defeat John Ruiz, as proof that his dream isn't utter insanity. There are plenty of other examples though. Michael Spinks went from all-time great light heavyweight to heavyweight champion. Ezzard Charles was effectively a light heavyweight before winning the vacant heavyweight title in a bout with Jersey Joe Walcott in 1949. Archie Moore made frequent trips to and from heavyweight even while he was light heavyweight champion—sometimes to seek competition, sometimes to seek money, sometimes just to cave to his voracious appetite for decadent meals for a little while.
You don't even have to look at all-time greats for validation. Tony Bellew—a fighter whom Ward is objectively better than in every way, was able to make the leap from failed 175 pounder to victor over top heavyweight David Haye. Sure, Bellew is naturally much bigger than Ward, and that played a role in his successful ascension. But the question remains, how far can Ward's exemplary ability take him?
Maybe Ward has become a skill set divorced from his weight class? In Drew Leder's “The Absent Body,” the author debunks the idea that humans accomplish things independently of our embodied forms. To suggest that we do ignores the idea and the reality that our way of being is essentially tied to our bodies. According to Leder, whoever we are and whatever we are is because of our physicality, not despite it. Ward uses the ring moniker “Son of God” and is a devoutly spiritual man. He believes in the idea of heaven, premised on the idea of paradise existing outside of the physical body, and that the true self is independent of the shackles of the human body.
In boxing, studies would show that is simply not the case. Pugilism is a sport structured with weight classes, under the premise that one's physical structure imposes a limit on what can be achieved and who can be beaten. But in even the most thorough study, there is always an outlier or two. Ward may not literally be the second coming of the creator of the world, but he is most certainly something special. Perhaps his faith is fully justified.
In a boxing world where we're willing to suspend our disbelief and allow for the possibility that an MMA fighter could knock out the best fighter of his generation, can we not consider the idea that the best pound for pound fighter in the world could become heavyweight champion?
Follow Corey Erdman on Twitter @corey_erdman