For greatness to be achieved in one of the world’s most electrifying yet brutally politically run sports in the world, boxing skills alone are not enough. A fighter can be great, spectacular in the ring even, yet never achieve the dreams of being a boxing superstar that sells out arena’s, racks up Pay-Per-View numbers, and draws enormous crowds every single time he steps out the door.
Perhaps, no fighter in the world knows that better than Andre Ward, who for years has been considered the second best fighter in the world behind Floyd Mayweather. Ward has been sitting on the sideline for the last two years due to political issues with his promoter, and this Saturday night in Oakland he will return to the ring under RocNation, new to the game of promoting but pockets deep enough to perhaps make a splash. For Andre Ward, known as the Floyd Mayweather of the super middleweight division, it’s a chance to make a second career with big fights against big names.
The 2004 Gold medalist came to the pro’s as one of the hottest prospects out there. His most defining win came in 2009 against Mikkel Kessler at the start of the Super Six tournament that would showcase the six best super middleweights in the world in a two year tournament. Ward was a underdog going into the fight. Kessler was considered the best in the word behind Joe Calzaghe. For Ward, it was chance to show that his Olympic Gold Medal was no fluke and that he should be considered one of the best. He was out to prove something, and he did it. Ward dominated Kessler to a ten round decision victory beating him in a way that Kessler had never been beaten before.
It was then that Ward had raised the eyebrows of fans, and critics, around the world. He was immediately vaulted into a tournament favorite having beaten the one guy everyone thought would win. Ward would go on to win the tournament in dominating fashion routing every opponent they put in front of him to near shut-out victories. Even the final fight against Carl Froch, where two judges saw it at 115-113 for Ward, wasn’t as close as those cards read. Ward closed out 2011 as the tournament winner, a fresh face on the scene, and the sky was the limit for the new boxing star.
Despite his dominance, despite his great personality, despite his accomplishments, that tournament would end up being the greatest light of his career. Even during that tournament numbers of viewers weren't high. Boxing in the United States was fading during those years. Ward was peaking at a time boxing was fading.
It’s been four long years since that tournament. Since then Andre Ward has only found himself in the ring two times. He destroyed Chad Dawson in 2012, who at the time was the best light heavyweight in the world. Still though, his marketability was missing something. After that, promotion issues would lead to inactivity. Ward voiced his frustration about not fighting. Fourteen months later things would begin to look up as he returned to the ring against Edwin Rodriguez, and again dominated in star like fashion. But, once again, promoter problems would lead to Ward not fighting at all in 2014. The fighter that had dominated in 2009-2011 has been missing to the public eye.
In boxing, you are only as good as your last fight. Fans are quick to forget accomplishments. Long layoffs lead to depleted fan bases. Ward fought seven times in two and a half years. The little steam that he had gained from the tournament was gone. HBO became invested but never could quite get him going. Ward also may have primed at the wrong time. Boxing slowed down in 2010 and 2011 as a whole with the entire world focused on just two fighters and one fight. Floyd Mayweather vs Manny Pacquiao.
The 31 one year old Ward still has some years left to redeem all of that. Between the super middleweight and light heavyweight division he finds himself in a pool of big names in talent with the likes of Sergey Kovalev, James DeGale, Adonis Stevenson, Jean Pascal, and even middleweight Gennady Golovkin. Ward has a chance to have a second career with a new Promoter. Boxing has been rejuvenated this year. This is the opportunity to go out there and show the world who the best fighter is. He doesn't have to be exciting, he just has to win. Some times, it’s big fights that sell, not big fighters. Even if Ward never makes it to the status of a Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao, or Miguel Cotto, which is very hard to do and it’ s likely he never will, he can still make big fights that the public will watch. That’s all the fans really want. Big fights. Ward is already a well known name, he just needs to stay active. The big fights will come for him, and more importantly, a chance to have a very good finish to his career.