After winning multiple world titles down at 168lbs, Oakland raider Andre Ward is seeking to re-establish his credentials as a leading P4P candidate with an assault on the major light-heavyweight titles in 2016.
The USA’s sole Olympic champion of the noughties is widely expected to challenge WBO, WBA Super and IBF czar Sergey Kovalev – who successfully defended his World Titles against Jean Pascal on BoxNation last weekend – before the year is through.
Who next for Andre Ward's next fight?
But with just three largely meaningless fights since scalping Carl Froch in December 2011, the 31 year old self-styled ‘Son of God’ must first shift some rust.
Already a comeback date and venue have been preserved (26th March, Oracle Arena, Oakland). Glynn Evans assesses five fighters in the frame for Andre Ward's next fight at Light-Heavyweight.
1) Sullivan Barrera
Hot favourite to secure the gig is Cuba’s widely avoided Sullivan Barrera. The grapevine is awash with whispers that Bernard Hopkins, Jean Pascal and Artur Beterbiev have all given ‘Sully’ the swerve.
Unbeaten in 17 with 12 stoppages, the former world junior champion known as ‘El Mas Talentoso’ (‘The Most Talented’) generally engages with a bit more devil than your average Cuban.
Signed to Main Events who also handle Kovalev, and schooled by Abel Sanchez who has worked such wonders with Gennady Golovkin, the Guantanamo born box-fighter made his name by stopping Jeff Lacy in four, then crushing regarded German-Armenian Karo Murat in the fifth of an IBF eliminator.
World ranked by all four major sanctioning bodies, the 6ft 2in Barrera would provide Ward with an avenue to all the 175lb belts were the Californian to triumph.
2) Andrejz Fonfara
The division gatekeeper, this Chicago based Pole would provide the perfect litmus test for Ward’s worthiness to compete against the 175lb hierarchy.
Formerly a goalkeeper with Legia Warsaw, the privately educated 28 year old always guarantees excitement and is diamond hard.
His 28-3-1NC CV lists victories over five world champions – most recently a 2500 plus punchfest with Nathan Cleverly – and he gave Adonis Stevenson a very decent run in a May 2014 WBC challenge, flooring the champ heavily in round nine.
Fonfara’s top five ranking with all governing bodies would provide Ward with plenty of incentive but the Pole’s allegiance to Al Haymon could present an insurmountable obstacle. Nevertheless, their contrasting styles should produce a sizzler were the match to be made.
3) Eleider Alvarez
Known as ‘Storm’, this marauding 31 year old Columbian has pedigree; having nailed a Pan American Games gold medal in 2007 prior to being ‘touched off’ on a count back against GB’s Tony Jeffries at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Since vaulting to the pros in Montreal, Canada six and a half years ago, Alvarez has raced to 19-0 with 10 victims capitulating early.
Victories over reasonable competition such as Shawn Hawk, Danny McIntosh, Edison Miranda and Isaac Chilemba have catapulted him to a flattering mandatory slot with the WBC. With an all Quebec showdown against champion Adonis Stevenson pending, he is unlikely to risk his position by obliging Ward unless the offer is exceedingly generous.
4) Yunieski Gonzalez
Another graduate of the incomparable Cuban amateur set-up, 30 year old ‘El Diamante’ lost just 27 of 372 bouts in a singlet.
After defecting to Miami in 2010 and linking with Joe DeGuardia’s Star Boxing professional outfit, the slick 5ft 11in Latino racked up 16 straight victories with only four victims completing the course.
However, Gonzalez really proved his worth in a brace of wafer thin back-to-back losses against Jean Pascal, then Ukraine’s Vyacheslav Shabranskyy in the latter part of last year.
With family to feed back in Cuba, motivation to advance certainly won’t be lacking and he possesses the size, skills and smack to present Ward with a serious work out. However, his current lack of a world ranking places him in the ‘high risk, low reward’ bracket.
5) Sean Monaghan
‘Irish Seanie’, from Long Island, New York by way of parents from County Meath, certainly draws a crowd and features in the top ten list of all sanctioning organisations.
Undefeated in 26, the 34 year old ex bricklayer boasts a rock solid jaw and hefty dig (16 stoppages) but has been matched rather gently due to negligible amateur grooming.
The only recognisable names on his slate (Elvir Muriqi, Fulgencio Zuniga and Donovan George) were long past their primes and, though he has been stepped up gradually, Ward hails from a different stratosphere.
Possibly the perfect foe for the ‘Son of God’ to dazzle against.