There is a swell of opinion within the busted beak business that pound-for-pound aspirant Andre Ward might have made a false move by selecting Cuba’s unbeaten Sullivan Barrera for his return to duty this weekend.
The pair clash in a high grade 12 rounder at the Oracle Arena, in Oakland raider Ward’s home city with BoxNation broadcasting live in the UK.
But is the ex world junior champion dubbed ‘El Mas Talentoso’ (The Most Talented!) really a wise choice for Ward’s entry into the light-heavyweight class – which doubles as an audition for a pay-per-view blockbuster with Russia’s ‘Krusher’ Kovalev later this year?
Thirty-four year old ‘Sully’ might be low on profile but he’s definitely high on substance. Coached by Golovkin guru Abel Sanchez, his 17 pro gigs – all wins, 12 quick – have been stretched over a near sever year period for the simple reason that rival contenders are reluctant to touch him. World ranked by all four sanctioning organisations, the 6ft 2in box-fighter will enjoy noticeable advantages over Ward in both height and reach.
Ward could be forgiven for tiptoeing back into action. In the 42 months since exacting a rare demolition over lineal light-heavy king Chad Dawson, the Californian has been confined to just two starts and was last witnessed publically pummelling Liverpool’s Paul Smith over nine months ago.
His gamble here is further magnified by a medical portfolio that lists shoulder surgery, brittle hands and several fight threatening cuts.
The reason the Oakland raider – so risk averse between the ropes – is prepared to take the plunge here is simple: he is the ultimate competitor who has absolute faith in his ability to conquer any other 168-175 prizefighter on this planet.
And a glance at his CV endorses that the confidence is well founded. Others talk it, Andre walks it.
Undefeated since the age of 13, Ward doesn’t just defeat elite competition, he utterly DOMINATES it. He repelled three world amateur champions en route to securing the USA’s only male Olympic gold medal over the last 20 years when he topped the rostrum at the 2004 Athens Games.
In the paid code, he boasts an unblemished 28 fight slate and a scalp list that includes luminaries of the calibre of Kessler, Abraham, Froch and Dawson.
In addition to WBA and WBC belts, he triumphed in Showtime’s Super Six super-middle tourney and concluded 2011 as International Fighter of the Year with every reputable outlet. He has featured prominently in the upper echelons of P4P listings ever since.
Mayweather might’ve been around longer and was certainly noisier but was he better? There’s no Olympic gold glistening on the ‘Money’ man’s card. And just because, like Floyd, the Californian is so adept at avoiding punishment, it doesn’t make him a ‘boring’ fighter.
Aficionados will appreciate the reflexes, co-ordination and balance of a true thoroughbred. He chooses to win easy, coveting consideration as Fighter of the Year rather than involvement in Fights of the Year. Nevertheless, he is a vastly underrated in-fighter and certainly hits hard enough to command respect – just ask Dawson.
While his advance to the 175lb division can be attributed more to a search for fresh challenges than any struggle with the scales, don’t expect the master craftsman to be compromised by size.
His Olympic title was secured at 178lbs – three above the light-heavy ‘cut-off’ – and, for all his guile and style, the chiselled 6ft 1in champ was never caught short when it got rough and ready against uncompromising types (read Miranda, Kessler, Bika, Froch) down at 12 stone. Disturbingly disciplined and dedicated, he’ll positively relish any physical challenges that Barrera brings.
Dismiss Ward’s endearing decency as weakness at your peril. All evidence suggests that the devoutly religious ‘Son of God’ is equally as hard mentally. He may choose to conduct himself as the anti-Broner but he refuses to be intimidated. Even hardcase Froch was forced to concede on the pre-fight psychological battlefield.
He talks of accumulating a Hall of Fame resume and retiring undefeated. However, injury and contractual tangles have combined to effectively rob him of three prime years and it’s now time to make hay if he’s to reap the rewards of the PPV market his rich talent merits.
Ward’s refusal to compromise his values dictates that he earns his props between the ropes by accommodating and dominating the stiffest available competition, starting with Senor Barrera on Saturday. Substance over style. The game would be far richer if there were more like him.