On 26 March, BoxNation will televise a 12-round 175-pound fight between Andre Ward and Sullivan Barrera.
Ward was once boxing royalty. He’s the last American man to win an Olympic gold medal in boxing; a feat he accomplished at the 2004 Athens games. Five years later, he began a 25-month stretch of excellence that saw him win unanimous decisions over Mikkel Kessler, Allan Green, Sakio Bika, Arthur Abraham, and Carl Froch in Showtime’s 168-pound tournament and rise to the #2 slot on most pound-for-pound lists.
At that point, Naazim Richardson (who trained Bernard Hopkins) voiced the opinion, “Andre Ward is Bernard Hopkins in a young body.”
Ward’s record as a pro is now 28 victories with 0 losses and 15 knockouts. He hasn’t lost a fight since he was twelve years old.
But as of late, Ward has been missing in action. Promotional disputes, injuries, and a seeming disinclination to fight have kept him out of action in recent years. He fas fought only twice during the past 42 months (versus Edwin Rodriguez and Paul Smith). Neither of those fights was against formidable opposition.
That brings us to Ward vs. Barrera.
Barrera (17-0, 12 KOs) is a Cuban ex-patriate now living in Florida. At age 34, he’s two years older than Ward. His record is thin on quality opponents, so no one knows how good he is. And no one knows how much Ward has left.
Boxing fans would like Ward to fight Sergey Kovalev in a battle to determine ring supremacy at 175 pounds. To date, Andre has seemed reluctant to accept the challenge. When the subject arises, he slips and slides, suggesting “someday but not now.”
All of this leads to the question: “Is Andre Ward still relevant?”
Ward vs. Sullivan on 26 March could render that question moot.
Boxing is a rude sport and business. But the people who oversee world amateur boxing are taking things to a new level.
International Boxing Association president Cing-Kuo Wu recently suggested that professional boxers be allowed to compete in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
The proposal is part of an effort by IBA to expand its power base and regain its following in parts of the world (most notably, the United States) where interest in amateur boxing has waned. It’s absurd.
Lennox Lewis won a gold medal in the super-heavyweight division at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Ever a fount of common sense, Lewis had this to say to the BBC about IBA’s proposal:
[Image credit: Collections Canada]
“It’s preposterous. The amateur system is for amateurs. They have a lack of experience and they are not that primed as a professional. Now, all of a sudden, you get a world champion or somebody in the top ten as a professional going against an amateur, somebody with a lack of experience. I don’t look at that as being fair. It's a different type of boxing all together. So for them to marry the two, I don't think they marry well.”
“Anthony Joshua went to the Olympics,” Lewis continued. “If he had boxed Wladimir Klitschko at the Olympics, it wouldn’t have been fair for him because Wadimir has seventy fights as a professional. I don’t really understand it.”
Patrick English, who has long had an interest in fighter safety and serves and the attorney for Main Events, concurs.
“If anyone thinks an amateur can compete with an elite professional, they are deluded,” English says. “The punching power of an elite professional and the ring generalship learned over many professional bouts is simply too great This is a death or brain trauma waiting to happen.”
Professionals are allowed to compete in most Olympic sports. But this isn’t a question of young competitors being outrun by Usain Bolt or flummoxed by Stephen Curry. Does IBA really want 18-year-old amateurs being hit in the head by the likes of Sergey Kovalev and Gennady Golovkin?
The remedy for what ails amateur boxing is a better scoring system (one that weighs debilitating punches more more heavily than jabs) coupled with judges who are competent and honest.
For fight fans who collect this sort of thing, here are two more quotes from American promoters:
Don Elbaum: “I got a new fighter. He’s a liar, a con man, a thief, and, boy, can he punch. I love him.”
Bob Arum (responding to claims that he was trying to steal a particular fighter from a rival promoter): “If I was going to steal somebody, I'd steal somebody good.”
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His most recent book - A Hurting Sport: An Inside Look at Anothyer Year in Boxing - was published by the University of Arkansas Press.