When RING super middleweight champion Andre Ward enters the squared circle on Sept. 8 opposite RING light heavyweight champ Chad Dawson at Oracle Arena in Ward’s hometown of Oakland, Calif., Ward will be ending a nine month absence from action — the longest of his career.
Ward, 28, was last in the ring when he became RING champion in December, his unanimous decision over Carl Froch (29-2, 21 knockouts) adding the Englshman’s WBC 168-pound belt to the WBA crown that he already owned in addition to earning him the Showtime Super Six World Boxing Classic Cup.
Ward fought through a broken left hand to defeat Froch, later being named Fighter of The Year for 2011 and the recipient of the Sugar Ray Robinson Trophy from the Boxing Writers’ Association of America. Ward’s corner man, Virgil Hunter, was named to receive the Eddie Futch Award for Trainer of The Year from the BWAA.
But when it came time to return to work and to prepare for Dawson, Ward (25-0, 13 KOs) said that he found that to be all the more difficult considering his recovery from the Froch bout, let alone, his hand injury.
“Things were horrible, man. I was rusty and my sparring partners were working me every day,” said Ward. “I was on the verge of canceling this fight. I can not be off this long, ever again.”
Ward was joking, of course, during the Tuesday interview, which had come toward the end of a lengthy national conference call with media members meant to promote his upcoming, HBO-televised bout with the 6-foot-1 Dawson (31-1, 17 knockouts).
“I felt fine. Everything was good. I just have age on my side, which I think is a big deal. We haven’t noticed any problems, so this layoff, it’s been a non-issue,” said Ward of his preparation for Dawson.
“I train really, really hard. But then you also have the Super Six, and the toll that that took. Coming off of that, I think that the layoff was a good thing that I got that rest mentally and physically.”
Ward has demonstrated durability throughout his career, having had his bout with Froch rescheduled from the original date of Oct. 29 due to a cut suffered by Ward during a mid-September sparring session.
In addition, Ward’s unanimous decision victory over Alan Green in June of 2010 was postponed three times, the last of which was a result of Ward’s having suffered a knee injury.
“I think if you really look at it, with the knee injury, this may have been my longest layoff by a month or something like that. But I’ve had six, seven, eight month layoff. They’re not ideal, but things happen for various reasons. Just like in the ring, you have to get it done. I have a responsibility as a fighter to live the sport, and to live it out every day,” said Ward.
“Just because I’m off doesn’t mean that I have to let my body go, and it doesn’t mean that I abuse my body and I’m not focused on boxing. I think about this sport every day, whether I have a layoff or not. I just think that it’s all of those little things such as always having your mind on the sport. Obviously, I’m not training at camp level. But I’m always sharpening my tools and trying to keep my body at a certain level in terms of fitness.”
Ward more or less brutalized his opposition during the Super Six, out-pointing former four-time beltholder Mikkel Kessler and former middleweight titleholder Arthur Abraham. Prior to facing Abraham, Ward waged war with RING-rated Sakio Bika over 12 rounds in a non-tournament bout.
“To hear the Dawson camp, they have all of the advantages. So I would say that just in that sense itself, we have the advantage in him having all of the advantages. I’ll take that advantage. I’ll take my advantage in you having all of the advantages,” said Hunter, who guided Ward to an Olympic gold medal in 2004 after Ward’s father died in 2002 of a heart ailment.
“Their advantage in height and the reach is a given, although, the height is more in the length in his [Dawson’s] neck and not true height. Reach has never been a significant factor in boxing in my book and in a lot of other books. You know, it’s distance and range, but he can have those. Our advantage is being at a disadvantage in their eyes, and I’ll take that.”
DAWSON FUELD BY UNDERDOG STATUS: ‘I’M A BETTER FIGHTER THAN ANDRE WARD’
Dawson, who turned 30 last month, will be dropping from his usual 175-pounds to the lower division limit of 168 in an attempt to win Ward’s RING, WBA and WBC belts.
In addition, Dawson will be facing Ward before what will undoubtedly be a home town crowd.
How does Dawson feel about being considered the underdog?
“I don’t take offense to that at all. People are entitled to their own opinion. All that I can tell you is that they’re making the wrong bet. My training camp has been great, so I’m not worried about being the underdog,” said Dawson.
“I’ve never been this position before, so maybe it is about time that I’ve been put in this position. It’s going to give me fuel and to make me a better fighter.”
Promoted by Gary Shaw, Dawson called Hopkins his most difficult fight, more so than his two wins over Antonio Tarver and Glen Johnson, one each over Tomasz Adamek and Adrian Diaconu, and the one loss by an 11th-round technical decision against ex-beltholder Jean Pascal in August of 2010.
“I’ve noticed that Andre and Bernard have similar styles, but Andre is just a lot younger and works a little bit more,” Dawson once said of Ward, who considered Hopkins a boxing mentor. “I think that it’s going to be great to have beaten Bernard, and then, to go and defeat somebody who looks up to him.”
Dawson believes his resume has prepared him for Ward.
“When I fought Bernard that second time, he’s so tricky and so crafty in the ring and he’s so smart, I would just do what I had to do to win the fight, but at the end of the fight, I knew that I could have done more. So, the fact that I’ve been in the ring with Bernard for 14 rounds, that says a lot about me and how I can deal with different styles,” said Dawson.
“I’ve fought everybody from Tarver, to Glen Johnson, to Bernard, Tomasz Adamek, and those are all different types of styles. They say that Andre Ward can adapt to any style, well, I’m the same way. I can adapt to any style and figure out how to beat any style. I’m a very intelligent fighter when I’m in the ring. Come Sept. 8, everybody’s going to see tha and they’re going to realize that I’m a better righter than Andre Ward.”
JOSESITO LOPEZ: SAUL ALVAREZ ‘CAN BE BEAT, AND I’M THE ONE THAT CAN BEAT HIM’
Unbeaten junior middleweight Saul “Canelo” Alvarez (40-0-1, 29 KOs) will be an overwhelming favorite to defeat Josesito Lopez (30-4, 18 KOs) when he makes the fifth defense of his WBC belt against Lopez on Sept. 15 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
Lopez is coming off an upset, ninth-round TKO over former welterweight titleholder Victor Ortiz (29-4-2, 22 KOs) in June, while Alvarez was last in the ring for a unanimous decision victory over ex-titleholder Sugar Shane Mosley in May.
Lopez will be making his junior middleweight debut against Alvarez, having fought at a career-high 144 and three-quarters pounds against Ortiz when he entered a clash weighing more than 140 pounds for only the eighth time as a professional.
But in a recently-released Showtime promotional video, Lopez makes his case for being a modern day “Rocky” who is capable of pulling the upset against Alvarez.
“I didn’t really think it could happen. It wasn’t supposed to be a fight for me. Victor Ortiz was just supposed to win and fight Canelo and make it a big, big fight, but I messed up those plans,” said Lopez.
“People are comparing me to Rocky. I have that story. I’ve worked my way up the hard way, All that I need is a handful of people to believe in me. I have plenty of time to get ready, and I feel that this is my moment. Let’s continue, and let lightening strike twice.”
Lopez was chosen over other 154-pound considerations such as IBF beltholder Cornelius Bundrage, WBA “regular” titleholder Austin Trout, hammer-fisted southpaw James Kirkland. and former welterweight beltholder Carlos Quintana.
Lopez will be in his first fight after having signed with adviser Al Haymon to become a part of a stable of fighters that also includes Floyd Mayweather Jr., Paul Williams, Danny Garcia, Austin Trout, Peter Quillin, Andre Berto, Devon Alexander, Chris Arreola, Andre Dirrell, Seth Mitchell, Adrien Broner, Gary Russell Jr., Erislandy Lara and Rico Ramos.
DONOVAN GEORGE-ADONIS STEVENSON FIGHT SLATED FOR OCT. 12
Super middleweight contender Donovan George, of Chicago, will fight an IBF eliminator bout against hard-hitting southpaw Adonis “Superman” Stevenson, of Quebec, Canada, at Bell Centre in Montreal on Oct. 12.
George-Stevenson represents the first matchup in the four-event GYM Boxing Series, “Fast and Furious,” whose promoter, Yvon Michel, also has target dates of Dec. 14, Feb. 8 and May 3.
The winner of George-Stevenson becomes the mandatory challenger to IBF beltholder Froch.
“We are particularly pleased to resume our activities with this improved series of Fast and Furious even more accessible to fans, which will, in a great atmosphere, provide great opportunities to young GYM’s boxers promised to bright futures,” said Michel.
“We are also proud of the importance and challenge of our first final between Adonis ‘Superman’ Stevenson and Don ‘Da Bomb’ George that sets the tone for a year especially crucial for our boxers.”
Stevenson (18-1, 15 knockouts) was supposed to face George (22-2-1, 19 KOs) on Aug. 17 at The Buffalo Run Casino in Miami, Okla., before Stevenson suffered a hand injury while sparring over the previous weekend.
Stevenson is coming off a second-round stoppage of Noe Gonzalez in April on ESPN2, as well as a sure-fire knockout of the year candidate over Jesus Gonzales in February.
CHRIS ARREOLA TARGETS NOVEMBER RETURN
Arreola had been targeted for the Lopez-Ortiz undercard until pulling out of the bout with an injury.
GARY SHAW SIGNS JUNIOR MIDDLEWEIGHT FRANCISCO SANTANA
Shaw has signed junior middleweight Francisco Santana (13-3-1, 6 KOs), of Santa Barbra, Calif., the promoter announced on Tuesday.
“Santana is a very popular fighter in his region and he brings an exciting style to the ring every time he gets in there,” said Shaw, whom Santana calls, “one of the best promoters in boxing.”
“The Chumash Casino is his home and we plan on showcasing him on all of our shows there. I know he has the talent to take his career to the next level and I’m looking forward to his development with Gary Shaw Productions.”
Santana is ready to debut under Shaw.
“I’m very pleased to be moving forward with him and his staff. I feel great fighting at 154,” said Santana. “I’m willing to make the necessary sacrifices it takes to get to the top. Look for me to be back in the ring soon.”
Photos by Naoki Fukuda
Lem Satterfield can be reached at [email protected]