Since its inception, boxing has always been a haven for the downtrodden. Andre Ward is one of the greatest examples of a young man who overcame severe hardship as an adolescent to not only become one of the five greatest fighters of his generation, but also one of the class acts of the sports world in the 21st century. Without a doubt, the adversity in his youth helped to also propel him in becoming the second greatest Super Middleweight of all-time.
Ward’s childhood saw both his parents become addicted to drugs. Ward’s trainer Virgil Hunter became Ward’s guardian, and helped guide Andre to not only becoming an outstanding fighter inside the ring, but an outstanding person outside the ring. With Hunter’s guidance, Ward won the 178-pound Olympic Gold Medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics. He is still the last American male boxer to win an Olympic Gold Medal. In a surprising move, Ward, upon turning pro, began his career as a Middleweight instead of at Light Heavyweight. Eventually, Ward moved up to 168 and after winning his first 20 fights, he entered Showtime Network’s World Boxing Super Series Super Middleweight.
It is amazing that of the six fighters that entered the tournament in 2009, the odds of Ward winning was the sixth worse. At the time I was shocked because in my opinion, Ward was the most skillful of the six. I didn’t see any way that if Ward was on his A game anyone would come close to competing with Ward. Ward’s boxing style wasn’t flashy or sophisticated. He was a tremendous boxer whose boxing IQ was on the level of a prime Muhammad Ali and Floyd Mayweather. Ward, like Floyd, defensively would take away your best weapon and make it obsolete. Combine that with accurate counterpunching and a keen ability to switch from orthodox to southpaw made him an almost impossible puzzle to solve. His first opponent in the tourney, Mikkel Kessler, found this out in spades.
On November 21, 2009, in Ward’s hometown of Oakland, California, Ward made the longtime champion Kessler look like a preliminary fighter. Ward made Kessler miss while controlling the fight with both his jab and blistering combinations. An accidental butt caused the fight to be stopped in the 11th, which resulted in Ward winning a lopsided technical decision and in turn claiming his first world title, the WBA 168-pound version. Ward put on a similar performance seven months later, again in Oakland against Allan Green, winning on a virtual 12 round shutout. Eleven months later, on May 14, 2011, Ward once again put on a virtuoso performance against the Armenian slugger Arthur Abraham. Abraham’s slow, methodical slugging style was completely picked apart by the ring general Ward. Another lopsided unanimous decision victory propelled Ward to the tournament final on December 17, 2011 against Carl Froch.
As I wrote earlier in the article on Froch, Froch was cut off guard by Ward and Hunter’s game plan to fight inside. Ward and Hunter decided on an aggressive infighting style as to nullify Froch’s long arms and counterpunching ability. Froch was unable to adjust as he too was convincingly defeated over 12 rounds. The victory resulted in Ward gaining not only the tournament championship, but the prestigious Ring Magazine 168-pound title and Froch’s WBC title as well. He was also voted the 2011 Ring Fighter of the Year.
Ward’s next fight is, in my opinion, the single, greatest performance of his career. On September 8, 2012, Ward defended his Super Middleweight World Titles against the reigning Ring World Light Heavyweight Title. This was the first time I thought a Ward opponent had a legitimate shot at beating him. After an uneventful first two rounds, Ward dropped Dawson with a beautiful counter left hook in the third round. This was the beginning of a brutal beating that Ward would inflict on Dawson. Dawson missed all night as Ward looked like a prime Sugar Ray Leonard, landing combination after combination. Finally, after another thunderous combination dropped Dawson again in the 10th round, referee Steve Smoger put a halt to the fight. Dawson was never the same after the Ward beating, as he was knocked out in the first round in his next fight while losing his 175-pound title to Adonis Stevenson. At the age of 31, Dawson was washed up.
Ward successfully defended his title one more time against Edwin Rodriguez before engaging in a nasty legal battle in an attempt to get out of his promotional contract with Dan Goosen. It wasn’t until 19 months later that Ward was finally able to fight again as Roc Nation Sports was finally able to get him out his contract after Goosen passed away and signed on as his promoter. It was also the end of his reign at 168, as Ward moved up to 175 pounds.
With the guidance of surrogate father and trainer Virgil Hunter, Andre Ward fought at 168 pounds with the boxing IQ of Ali and Mayweather. Not one time was he ever in a competitive fight, completely dominating the division. His toughest opponent during his reign was his promoter Dan Goosen, who refused to let him out of his promotional contract. It took Goosen’s death in September, 2014 to help expedite his contract release. Even with the inactivity due to his legal promotional battle, Ward did more than enough to become the second greatest Super Middleweight of all time. But there was nothing he could’ve done to usurp the best ever at 168.