IN a division that has been dominated in the last decade by European fighters, American Andre Ward is proving that he is more than capable of defending his turf.
When Ward defeated Denmark’s Mikkel Kessler in November 2009 for the World Boxing Association (WBA) super middleweight championship, he became only the first American to win a title in the 168-pound weight class since Byron Mitchell in 2001. For the last 10 years, European fighters like Joe Calzaghe (England), Sven Ottke (Germany), Lucian Bute (Romania, although he now fights out of Canada), Markus Beyer (Germany) and Kessler had a stranglehold of the division.
Ward, however, has been on a silent tear in the past three years. After making three successful defenses of the WBA diadem, Ward added the World Boxing Council’s (WBC) version of the crown in December 2011, when he outclassed the previously unbeaten Englishman Carl Froch in 12 rounds. On September 9 (Manila time), Ward chalked up the most impressive victory of his career when he dominated and stopped fellow American Chad Dawson in 10 rounds.
Dawson, the reigning WBC light heavyweight (weight limit: 175 pounds) champion, moved down in weight to challenge Ward in the most publicized all-American fight in recent years. Ward was up to the challenge and did not disappoint, repeatedly mopping the canvas with Dawson’s mug. Ward floored Dawson with vicious left hooks in the third and fourth rounds before finishing him off in the 10th round with an avalanche of punches.
Before a roaring hometown crowd of 8,500 at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, California, Ward savoured his most impressive victory. Then again, as far as the ring experts are concerned, the 28-year-old Ward may just be scratching the tip of the iceberg.
The son of a former boxer, Ward started hitting the sandbag in 1994 and compiled an amateur record of 114 wins against only five losses. In the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Ward defeated Magomed Aripgadiev to win the gold medal in the light heavyweight class. Ward turned pro in December 2004 and was groomed slowly in the punch-for-pay ranks. It took Ward four years before he won his first regional title -- the World Boxing Organization North American Boxing Organization (WBO-NABO) super middleweight title.
By the time he fought for the WBA title, however, Ward was more than ready for the task. He soundly whipped Kessler for the WBA crown in 2009 and has since looked untouchable. Ward was named 2011 Fighter of the Year by ESPN and the Boxing Writers Association of America after he soundly whipped two of the most dominant European super middleweights in recent years – German Arthur Abraham and Froch.
Ward, 26-0 with 14 knockouts, is hardly the most exciting fighter in the business. The knockout win over Dawson was actually his first in three years or since he stopped trial horse Shelby Pudwill in three rounds in a non-title fight. Ward nonetheless never backs from a challenge and always shows up in the ring well-prepared. Ward does his homework well and this shows in the lopsided manner by which he has defeated opponents who were expected to give him a tough time.
In and out of the ring, Ward is also a class act. He is known by the nickname “S.O.G” which means “Son of God.” Ward, a father of four, is a very religious individual and he sees himself being immersed in ministry work after his days in boxing are over. After his father died of cancer in August 2002, Ward has made it a point to dedicate his fights to his old man.
Ward sees himself fighting for two or three more years. With American Floyd Mayweather Jr. nearing the end of his career, Ward is definitely in an ideal position to take over as the premier pro fighter from the US. Of course, to realize such a lofty goal, Ward will have to go through a slew of Euro pugs. Froch is back as the International Boxing Federation (IBF) champ while Abraham holds the WBO version. Ward, who now holds both the WBA and WBC crowns, has beaten the two before and will gladly do it again to emerge as the sole ruler of the 168-pound class.
One thing about Andre, you can’t just ward him off.