Ward doesn’t get caught up in any praise
The perception of a boxer can change in one fight. It happened to Andre Ward on Nov. 21, the night he dismantled Mikkel Kessler in Ward’s hometown of Oakland, Calif.
The 2004 Olympic gold medalist entered the ring a young fighter with considerable potential and walked out the favorite to win the Super Six super middleweight tournament if not a bona fide star-in-the-making. He might never again be perceived as the underdog in any fight, the hungry kid who must prove he can live up to the hype.
One person refuses to think that way, though: Ward. He insists he’ll maintain the mindset of the fighter who stepped into the ring, the fighter with something to prove.
“That’s always been the focus of my team,” said Ward, who faces Allan Green on Saturday in Oakland. “I would win big fights or national championships in the amateurs and I would enjoy it but then I was always taught to get right back to work. My gold medal is tucked away somewhere. My (168-pound) belt is in a case in the closet. I don’t even have trophy case yet.
“That’s how I was raised. And that’s how I look at the Kessler fight.”
Another reason Ward (21-0, 13 knockouts) takes winning in stride is that it is all he knows, having not lost a fight since he was 14. He reportedly finished with a ridiculous amateur record of 114-5.
So rest assured that Ward had no doubt whatsoever that he would beat Kessler. Others didn’t feel that way, though. The Dane had lost only once going into the fight, to future Hall of Famer Joe Calzaghe, and had a monumental edge in professional experience.
Thus, many were surprised when Ward controlled the fight from beginning to end. He not only outboxed and outsmarted Kessler, he also out-toughed him. Kessler and his supporters accused Ward of fighting dirty. The rest of us called it an old-fashioned ass whooping.
Ward has long had the reputation of being a good boxer but his grit might be underestimated.
“He was a fighter before he was a boxer,” said Virgil Hunter, Ward’s godfather and trainer. “When he started in the amateurs, he was a fighter for the first 40, 50 fights of his career. As he got experience, he realized you have to bring more to the plate than just the ability to fight. That’s how he evolved into the tactician he is today. Deep down, though, that fighter is still there.
“That’s something his opponents don’t realize until they get in there with him. They discover things they never imagined.”
Ward, 26, is very advanced for a boxer with only 21 fights because of his vast amateur experience. As Hunter pointed out: Ward faced Kessler in his 21st fight. Who did Kessler face in his 21st fight? Who did Arthur Abraham face? Who did the rest Super Six participants face? Certainly no one even near Kessler’s ability.
And Ward’s participation in the Super Six tournament could allow him to further develop faster than a typical young fighter because he’s facing one major test after the other.
If he can win the high-profile tournament — which would require victories over Green, Olympic teammate Andre Dirrell and his semifinal and final opponents — he will have beaten five top-level 168-pounders in succession and established himself as one of the biggest stars in the sport.
Again, though, Ward doesn’t want to get ahead of himself.
Hunter said his prot├®g├® needs many more fights to realize his potential. He expects Ward to be on all the pound-for-pound lists after about 10 more fights. Ward said he is only about 60 percent of what he believes he can be in the future, a scary thought if true.
He acknowledges that the Kessler fight was a boon to his reputation but believes he’s doomed once he starts thinking too much of himself.
“Don’t get me wrong; I appreciate what people are saying,” he said. “I have to focus on staying in the middle, though. John Wooden said something like, ‘If you get caught up in praise or the words of your detractors ÔÇª either one is going to get you in trouble.' I believe I’m only 60 percent of what I can be. I still have a lot of work to do. That’s my mindset — grounded, humble.
“Honestly, I’m still not very impressed with myself.”
Others certainly are.
Michael Rosenthal can be reached at [email protected]