By Cliff Rold
One could make a case that Saturday’s looming Super Middleweight contest between 2004 U.S. Olympic Gold Medalist Andre Ward (18-0, 12 KO) and Colombian power puncher Edison Miranda (32-3, 28 KO) is intended to be an entirely evenly matched contest.
Only a case though.
Even given the methodical, deliberate build of the 25-year old Ward, Gold Medalists aren’t typically put in over their head. After some early struggles, Ward was pulled somewhat out of the spotlight, building a regional fan base in the northern bay area of California before regularly appearing and competing on the airwaves last year.
He’s still an Olympian and that means Ward is an investment commodity. For all the kvetching about the Olympics not guaranteeing stardom like they once did, they still deliver more of a head start than any other outlet for young pros.
It’s what makes Ward’s faceoff with Miranda as intriguing as it is. In his last bout, he cleared the typical hurdle of tackling and getting past another young prospect (Henry “Sugar Poo” Buchanan) with a nice record but less overall game and experience. Now he makes another logical step, the dangerous guy who has seen some of the best but is past his best.
Back up a step.
Miranda has seen some of the best, winning against contender Allan Green and then-still contender Howard Eastman, losing to future Middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik and IBF Middleweight titlist Arthur Abraham (twice; once decisively), over the last few years.
But past his best?
Follow boxing long enough and the idea of gatekeeper fighters emerges. They are too often the fighters who once scaled even the championship mountains and hang on to make a living long past their peak. They play the part of dangerous but solvable puzzle for the generation already replacing them.
Other times, it is the man who was almost a contender, the one who flirted with the top long enough to build himself a name before being set back to the pack. It is where Miranda would be assumed to be if gatekeeper is what he is meant to play.
If such is the thinking behind this matchmaking, it’s a risky gamble, a potentially tough gate ready to provide every splinter it can get away with. Miranda has certainly shown himself to be vulnerable. He’d been stopped in two of his three losses and buzzed badly at least once in all of his biggest fights win or lose.
The second Abraham fight was particularly brutal. So sudden and then final was the fourth round barrage from the German-based Armenian banger that it could create the impression of a Miranda who wouldn’t be the same again.
Such impressions are often proven nonsense. While fighters knocked once already often prove to be susceptible to more KO losses in the future, Miranda’s history of being hurt prior to the losses made clear he was not invulnerable. It is probably the vulnerability accompanying his power which makes his an attractive but assumed passable test for Ward.
Still, we recall Ward being hurt early in his career by much lesser punchers than Miranda. Anyone whose seen him fight, going back to the Olympics, knows he’s not anywhere near the puncher Pavlik, Abraham or even Green are either. If Miranda is being expected only to play gatekeeper, and turns out to be more, this is a trap fight.
If such is not the thinking, if Ward’s people are testing their man because they really want to see what he’s got as he nears the stage where he will challenge the best in a rugged 168 lb. class, then kudos to them. Prize prospects in the ‘everyone tries to stay undefeated or else’ era are almost always steered away from big punchers, especially if they’ve ever shown any dents in their chin.
Gatekeeper or no, this is the sort of test young guys used to get more often. If Miranda is at all underestimated, Ward will find out why trends have changed over the years.
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]