General George S. Patton, the legendary World War II commander who had sort of an Arturo Gatti approach to combat – always, always be on the attack – employed that philosophy to telling effect on North African and European battlefields. But maybe the way that worked so well for “Old Blood and Guts” against the German army wouldn’t have produced such favorable results in courts of law, where more than a few elite boxers have become embroiled in conflicts that seem to drag on forever. Not every such dispute can be quickly or satisfactorily resolved as the result of a full frontal assault.
“A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week,” the four-star general famously proclaimed. But what if a fighter’s violent plan, which always had worked so well in the ring, becomes a seemingly interminable holding action outside of it? What if his plan, which might or might not be perfect in a legal sense, can’t be executed to its denouement as soon as next week? What if matters remain unresolved until, say, next year? Or maybe the year after that? What if that fighter’s all-too-perishable prime slowly erodes while his attorneys trade jabs with the other side before a black-robed judge?
Of several prominent fighters who have elected to put their professional lives in abeyance while their legal teams seek redress over contractual matters – WBO super featherweight champion Mikey Garcia and super middleweight contender Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., each of whom is unhappy with their current arrangements with Top Rank, are in that number – the most accomplished, and apparently the most obstinate, holdout continues to be THE RING/WBA/WBC super middleweight champion Andre Ward. The Oakland, Calif., native says he’s prepared to go the distance in his increasingly polarized war of wills with promoter Dan Goossen, however far into the future that final bell might be.
“I try to be a man of principle and a stand-up individual,” Ward said in an exclusive interview with THE RING. “I was raised in the belief that right is right and wrong is wrong. That said, I’m a very reasonable person. I’ve spoken to the Goossen camp and to Goossen personally before things got really bad. I really tried to get these issues resolved. But things were not done the way (Goossen) said they were going to be done in the private meetings that we had. My back was forced against the wall where I had to do what I did.”
Ward’s take on the situation, is of course, not the only one. Although Goossen declined on legal grounds to comment on the continuing impasse between himself and the lead pony in his promotional stable, his lawyer, Bert Fields, did offer some insights into a bout that already has stretched into its figurative middle rounds. Speaking from France, where he and his family were on vacation, Fields – whose list of celebrity clients includes or has included the Beatles, Michael Jackson, Tom Cruise, Dustin Hoffman, John Travolta and Oscar De La Hoya – said Ward is already trailing on the scorecards and is only hurting himself by prolonging his inevitable defeat.
“Andre Ward has brought two proceedings against Dan Goossen to arbitration,” Fields said. “Actually, one was brought by Dan Goossen and the other was brought by Andre Ward. Ward lost both of them. In each instance the arbitrator held that the contract was valid. Then Ward filed a third action, in Superior Court, and that’s not going to go anywhere, either. I think he realizes that, so now he’s hit on the idea that there was some violation of the Ali Act (the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act became law on May 20, 2000) on Dan’s part.
“I’m a boxing fan. I hate to see a fighter as skilled as Andre Ward on the shelf on a legal matter where he’s already lost twice. He’s looking at three strikes and you’re out, although in his case I think he’s going to continue fighting this in one court after another, forwarding one theory after another. He’s obsessed with the idea he has to beat Goossen. Look, I understand that there are times when you have to go to court and defend your rights. This is not one of those times. The guy should sit down with Dan, make their peace, and get back to doing his fighting in the ring.”
Boxing buffs no doubt realize that the legal process isn’t as streamlined as it might appear to be in old Perry Mason reruns, where the famed defense attorney’s client is arrested for murder, is in court right after the next commercial and is cleared shortly thereafter. Considering that Ward already is regarded by many as missing in action, or more precisely, missing from action – he’s fought just twice in the last 50 months, although part of that long period of inactivity owes to an injured right shoulder that required surgery – John Q. Public probably isn’t all that interested in the whys and wherefores of his latest legal imbroglio. They just want him to see him again demonstrate the pugilistic skills that got everyone excited not so very long ago.
Any pound-for-pound list is subjective, but given the way Ward (27-0, 14 KOs) dominated the Showtime-televised “Super Six World Boxing Classic,” winning all five of his bouts in impressive fashion, he was justifiably hailed as one of the top two or three fighters in the world. After disposing of the last two of his Super Six foes in 2011, Arthur Abraham and then Carl Froch in the final, he was named Fighter of the Year by, among others, THE RING and the Boxing Writers Association of America.
But since his watershed nod over the highly regarded Froch on Dec. 17 of his career year, the greatness of United States’ only boxing gold medalist at the2004 Athens Olympics has had few occasions to be similarly ascertained. Ward, now 30, again looked superb in stopping Chad Dawson in five rounds on Sept. 8, 2012, in Oakland, and he pitched a near-shutout in his title defense against Edwin Rodriguez on Nov. 16, 2013, in Ontario, Calif., winning by 12, 10 and eight points on the three official scorecards. Those bouts whetted the appetite of fight fans for more of the same, a hunger that remains mostly unsatisfied.
So what is the bone of contention between Ward, who is now represented by attorney Josh Dubin, and Goossen?
Fields is correct in that an arbitrator for the California State Athletic Commission twice in a 10-month period upheld Goossen’s promotional contract with Ward, but in early May Dubin filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging violations by Goossen of the Ali Act by not making timely disclosures between 2004 and 2012 of all remunerations the promoter received from or in relation to Ward’s bouts. It is also Ward’s position that Goossen violated CSAC rules by not living up to a verbal agreement to give co-promotional rights to Ward’s friend and longtime associate, Antonio Leonard, whom the fighter wants to continue to be part of his retinue.
Greek philosopher Aristotle observed that, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Given Ward’s lengthy stretches of inactivity, and the likelihood of that continuing due to the slowly turning wheels of American jurisprudence, it would appear that the habit of Ward’s excellence is becoming less habitual.
But lines have been drawn in the sand – or etched in stone, depending on one’s point of view – and neither side seems disposed to yield to effect a settlement or compromise.
“I do not want to be known for fighting in a courtroom,” Ward said. “But at the same time, look at the history of the sport from the perspective of Bernard Hopkins and guys like that. There can be no change unless there’s a stand that’s made. I’m in the process of making a stand on some specific and very important issues. These are not just technicalities I’m trying to work around.”
Like Hopkins – who also was involved in a bitter legal action against Goossen (as well as several other of B-Hop’s promoters du jour), and in turn was counter-sued – it is Ward’s belief that fighters should demand a greater say in how their professional lives are conducted.
“This isn’t an arrogant comment, but the fighter is the business,” he continued. “Yes, we need a team. We need a promoter, we need a manager (Ward’s is James Prince). This isn’t a one-man show. Fighters need people to help us. But nothing moves unless we get in the ring and fight. A lot of times, fighters are at the bottom of a totem pole that they’re largely responsible for building. Whenever a fighter stands up and says, `Hey, I want things done differently,’ he’s frowned upon and told to just be quiet and fight. But when I walk away from my career, whether it’s now or later, I want to be able to live with myself.”
And the tab for Ward living with himself, whether his legal wrangling with Goossen owes more to a principled stand or the belief that there is more money to be had by going in a different direction, already is high and mounting with each passing day.
“I’ve definitely counted the cost both personally and professionally in terms of how long this may take, and nobody knows how long that could be,” Ward said. “This situation has been going on about a year and a half. Since the Rodriguez fight about eight months ago, I’ve been physically ready, willing and able to fight. But Dan Goossen has not made me a bona fide offer that’s consistent with my contract. That’s very important for me to make known to the fans. People are insinuating that I’m being difficult, that I need to move off of my position and just fight. I’ve been available to do that. When the lawsuit was filed, my manager told Goossen that even though we had a dispute I would continue to fight. But Dan hasn’t lived up to the contract.
“The relationship doesn’t seem to be repairable. Dan’s career as a promoter isn’t moving forward, mine as a fighter isn’t moving forward. Let’s come to the table and work out something as businessmen. Let’s put the personal stuff aside. But Dan has refused to come to the table or to even talk about a buyout or reaching some arrangement where we can go our separate ways. It’s really troubling. Is his side trying to teach me a lesson? Are they trying to hold me out intentionally? I don’t know.”
Fields insisted that Ward’s intransigence is not only futile, but wrong-headed. What was it that Albert Einstein said? Oh, yeah. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
“I’m a boxing fan and like everyone else I hate to see a great fighter like Andre Ward on the shelf like this,” he said. “No one can take his status as a great fighter away from him. I got nothing but compliments as to his abilities in the ring. As to his abilities in court, I feel quite the opposite.
“I really don’t know where Andre Ward can go from here because he’s just about run out of courts and arbitrators, and he loses every time. “
Does it matter that Ward’s latest legal maneuver was filed in federal court in Oakland, where his popularity as a native son is at its zenith? Will it at least mean an expedited hearing?
“I’m not up to speed on the court calendar in Oakland,” Fields said. “He’s filed this latest action in his hometown. I assume he’s looking for a hometown decision, but it isn’t going to happen. Federal court is federal court and they’re going to handle this, whenever they get around to it, in a straightforward way. I will say that most federal courts have huge workloads and the process is very slow. The same is true in state court, where Andre Ward also has an action pending. That one could take a long time, too.”
So we wait … and wait … and wait for maybe the best fighter on the planet to take on an adversary who isn’t wearing a tailored business suit and a neatly knotted silk tie. And again we are reminded that the business of boxing sometimes takes precedence to the sport of boxing, which, whether it’s true or not, always has seemed more pure and less complicated.