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Ward says he’s ready for what lies ahead

11
Sep

Andre Ward thinks about Mikkel Kessler every day, which is a no-no because he first must face journeyman Shelby Pudwill in a stay-sharp fight Saturday in Temecula, Calif., on Showtime. He can’t help himself, though. Ward fights Kessler on Nov. 21 in Oakland, Calif., to kick off the Super Six super middleweight tournament and he’s excited.

The question is: Is he ready for Kessler and the others he’ll face?

The 2004 Olympic gold medalist has had only 19 fights against some solid, but mostly marginal opponents. He and fellow 2004 Olympian Andre Dirrell are the least-experienced of the six participants, which also includes Arthur Abraham, Carl Froch and Jermain Taylor.

Ward (19-0, 12 knockouts) has no doubt that he belongs in the tournament.



“I’ve been doing this a long time,” he said over the phone last week, “since I was 9 years old. A lot of people don’t count all those years prior to becoming a professional. Obviously, amateurs are different from the pros. You learn to deal with the pressure, though. I was fortunate to be the No. 1 guy in USA Boxing since 2001. I was used to being on top, used to having guys try to knock me off.

“You deal with the same things as a professional. I’ve learned to deal with the pressure.”

Ward felt that way going into his last fight, a 12-rounder against bruising veteran Edison Miranda in May. The Colombian, now working with trainer Joe Goossen, has lost his biggest fights but is a very tough, experienced guy.

And Ward passed the test easily, even if he didn’t knock out Miranda as Kelly Pavlik and Abraham did.

The Oakland, Calif., fighter thoroughly outboxed his overmatched opponent and landed plenty of big, head-jarring shots, which might’ve stopped a lesser opponent. Miranda was befuddled but resilient.

Afterward, Ward was gratified.

“I was very determined that night,” Ward said. “I knew if I lost, I’d be sent to the back of the line. I was very, very determined. I think all the questions the media posed were answered, like what would happen when I faced true adversity. I got cut in the first 30 seconds of the fight by an accidental head butt but was still coming with everything I had. I think I showed a strong will. And can I take a shot? We all know Miranda is a tremendous puncher; he can punch with the best of them. I did well in that category. I also showed I could push him back, show I’m physically strong. And I showed I can go inside when I need to and be skillful when I need to.

“I don’t think that was the best Andre Ward you’re going to see. I do think I answered a lot of questions, though.”

Of course the quiz is just beginning. Super Six, put together by Showtime, will answer all questions about each of the fighters because of the unusual format.

Ward and the rest are guaranteed to fight three elite 168-pounders within 1¾ years and more if they get past the first round of the tournament. Some top fighters go a year or more without fight even one elite opponent.

By early 2011, we should have a pretty good idea how good Ward is.

“At first I thought that no way all these fighters and all these promoters would sign on to this,” Ward said. “I just didn’t believe it was going to happen. Then, when I got to Berlin (for the news conference to formally announce the tournament), I knew it was the real deal. ÔǪ The reasons I decided to take part are obvious: great marketability, great opportunity to fight the best in the world in my division, the opportunity to fight for a world title.

“And if I didn’t enter, Kessler would be tied up for two years, Froch for two years. The only (titleholder) left would’ve been Lucian Bute. Anyone who was anyone was in this tournament.”

So this is it for Ward. Assuming he beats Pudwill, a 34-year-old from North Dakota who built his record (22-3-1, 9 KOs) against fellow journeyman and has fought only once in 3¾ years, he will have the chance to realize his dreams.

The first step is a showdown with Kessler in Oakland.

“I feel like it’s my time,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how many fights you’ve had. It’s about drive and determination to be a champion. And God has blessed me with that, the ability to perform as I need to when the lights go on. I proved that as an amateur; I’ve proved that thus far as a pro.

“Look at what a young, hungry guy like Floyd Mayweather did. He had 17 pro fights when he fought Genaro Hernandez, a decorated champion. Floyd just felt it was his night to become a world champion. He felt, ‘I’m the better man.’ That’s the mentality I bring into a fight. I feel I’m the better man.”

Michael Rosenthal can be reached at [email protected]

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