By Corey Erdman
Andre Ward announced his retirement from the sport of boxing last week, walking away from a profession he was the very best in the world at.
In a sport in which retirements often come too late, and at the expense of the fighters' livelihoods, Ward's decision to walk away on top, with money and his faculties, is both rare and refreshing.
"As I walk away from the sport of boxing today, I leave at the top of your glorious mountain, which was always my vision and my dream. I did it. We did it," said Ward in a statement on his official website. " I want to be clear – I am leaving because my body can no longer put up with the rigors of the sport and therefore my desire to fight is no longer there. If I cannot give my family, my team, and the fans everything that I have, then I should no longer be fighting."
The last time Ward lost a boxing match was as a 12-year old amateur. After that, he went on to win an Olympic gold medal—still the last American male to do so, and then became a generational great as a professional. Ward's resume truly leaves no room for criticism. He willingly entered the Super Six tournament, constructed to force the best super middleweights in the world to face one another, and won it while seldom dropping a round. Then following a layoff due to contractual disputes, he returned as a light heavyweight, where the record will show he beat, and later stopped the consensus best light heavyweight at the time, Sergey Kovalev.
Though he officially conquered two weight classes, Ward will still have one more fight on his hands—the fight to be a first ballot Hall of Famer in 2022.
There's no question that Ward is a Hall of Famer, and a first ballot one at that, at least in the way the term has come to be understood. If there were “tiers” of Hall of Famers, Ward would be in the top one. The problem is that the men joining him on the ballot that year are among the best to ever lace up the gloves in their respective generations and weight classes.
International Boxing Hall of Fame rules dictate that a fighter becomes eligible for induction five years after his final fight. This means that assuming their retirements remain in tact, both Floyd Mayweather and Wladimir Klitschko would be on the ballot in 2022. Mayweather is the greatest fighter of his generation, the richest fighter ever and the face of the sport for the final decade of his career. Klitschko is also one of the richest fighters ever, one of the biggest and most consistent best gate attractions ever, and more importantly, a phenomenally successful and dominant heavyweight champion.
Each year, three fighters in the modern category are inducted, so there would be room for Mayweather, Klitschko and Ward to get in.
But what if we have seen Roy Jones Jr. in the ring for the last time as well?
Jones last fought in February of 2017, stopping journeyman Bobby Gunn. In the past, Jones has always suggested either that he has something left to give, another title to win, or simply that his health and safety should only be of concern to him. Recently however, he has started to sound more serious than ever about the possibility of never fighting again.
Jones' inclusion on the ballot would make for one of the toughest decisions Hall of Fame voters will ever have to make. Which all-time great will get snubbed? Does it put Ward or Klitschko at risk?
“I think this is what the Hall of Fame intended to have happen, because there was criticism that the standards were too loose. They want to make it a very exclusive domain,” said boxing historian Lee Groves. “Now you have to sort of split hairs like you wouldn't believe. If you're forced to pick between five viable all-time great guys, you're then forced as a voter to differentiate. We know they're great, but what were their flaws, and do they have less flaws than the other guys?”
There is no shortage of critics of all four of the fighters. Some still believe that Mayweather, Klitschko and Jones hand-picked opponents and ducked certain fighters in their careers. They will argue that all three were a product of weak eras to varying degrees
“Some younger voters that didn't see Roy in their prime and do not bother to do their research, they might snub Roy, because all they've seen is the past-prime, because that past-prime has been so long,” said Groves.
In Ward's case, a vocal segment of the boxing press and fan base has been unusually critical of him. If you dare wade your way through the truly deep depths of boxing Twitter, you'll find insane accusations that Ward is guilty of everything from destroying the sport to actual culpability in his late promoter Dan Goossen's death.
One would hope that those types of people won't be mailed Hall of Fame ballots in five years, but there will certainly be some who do received them who have not felt like they have had kind dealings with Ward as a media member. To whatever degree that's true, will those people be able to set their feelings aside and vote without bias, in a way they may not have been able to while covering him when he was an active fighter?
Mayweather would seem to be a sure lock, but his own contentious relationship with the press and extremely negative public image could hamper him as well. Most likely though, his accomplishments and stature are too overwhelming for voters to ignore in the name of protest.
Any combination of Ward, Jones or Klitschko is at least defensible to join Mayweather in 2022, but how the voters arrive to that conclusion will be what's fascinating.
Through absolutely no fault of his own, Andre Ward may actually not win at something for once.