Thursday, June 08, 2023  |



Andre Ward is back, but it will take Kovalev to prove he’s the best

Fighters Network

OAKLAND, Calif. – The next chapter in the career of Andre Ward has begun in earnest.

Ward wasn’t as slick against Sullivan Barrera here on Saturday as his friend Stephen Curry is almost every time he steps onto the court but he was good enough, which was a step in the right direction for a fighter who has been too inactive for his own good.

Ward’s performance was more solid than spectacular but he certainly earned his unanimous-decision victory in a taxing fight. The former super middleweight champ didn’t land a lot of shots but he generally beat Barrera to the punch, got the better of sporadic exchanges and was very difficult to hit cleanly himself.

And Ward landed the biggest punch of the fight, a left hook that put Barrera down in third round, a shot that seemed to catch the Cuban off balance more than hurt him.

The judges saw more than enough from Ward, who won by lopsided scores of 117-109, 119-109 and 117-108. Not bad for his first fight since June of last year and only his second at light heavyweight.

Afterward, Ward served up no bluster. The former Olympic champion was pleased that he came out on top – particularly in front of 8,532 rabid hometown fans at Oracle Arena – but he acknowledged that he could’ve been better. He gave himself a B-.

“I got it done,” Ward said. “My experience as a veteran of 20 years was why I won. I still have to evolve in the light heavyweight division, though.”

The biggest cheers of the night were for Curry, who received an ovation when he was shown at ringside on the big screen before the main event. There wasn’t much to cheer for in the fight, aside from the knockdown.

It was more a matter of Ward grinding out a victory with his indisputable ring intelligence and grit against a big, strong fighter with a vast amateur background but relatively few pro fights.

Ward was clearly the better fighter – and the quicker one – but he wasn’t the dominating fighter he was when he shot to the top of the sport by winning the Super Six World Boxing Classic in 2009 to 2011. We have yet to see that fighter since he began to fight infrequently.

And that could be a big problem if he fights the top light heavyweight in the world – Sergey Kovalev – any time soon.

Ward was asked immediately after the fight whether he might face Kovalev next. He made it clear that he expects to fight the Russian, saying “it’s not a matter of if, but when.” The key question: Is he anywhere near ready?

Abel Sanchez, the trainer of Barrera, was asked at the post-fight press conference whether he believes the Ward who beat his fighter on Saturday could beat the current version of Kovalev. Sanchez was brutally honest.

“Absolutely not,” the trainer said. “If Kovalev lands the shots that Sullivan landed, (Ward) would be destroyed. The guy who fought in the Super Six five, six years ago was a different guy. Kovalev is at the top of his game.

“I don’t think (Ward) has a slight chance at this point.”

Ward wasn’t pleased with Sanchez’s comments.

“Who made Abel the voice of boxing?” he asked. “That’s what I’ve been trying to figure out the past couple of years. No disrespect to the man; he does a good job with his fighters. But who gave him absolute authority?”

He was then asked how HE thinks he’d fare against Kovalev.

“How do I feel I would fare against Kovalev?” he said, repeating the question. “I feel like I’m going to win. It’s not going to be an easy fight. He’s the champion. He’s deserves credit for what he’s done. Not only does he fight everyone in the division; he’s gone to their hometowns to do it.

“You have to understand, though. As a fighter, I don’t get caught up in all this ÔǪ he hits hard and all that. I’ve been doing this my whole life. I would face the challenge the same way I always have. I don’t fear anybody.”

That doesn’t mean he’ll fight Kovalev next. The fighter who beat Barrera was pretty good but probably not sharp enough for a monster like “The Krusher,” who has been active and has destroyed everything put in front of him.

Ward seems to believe he’ll get to the point where he could give Kovalev trouble, whenever they might actually share a ring. And he’s thinking a lot bigger than that; he still thinks he can be the best fighter in the world.

“I think they moved me down to No. 4 (pound for pound),” Ward said. “ÔǪ I’m motivated to leave it to where there’s no doubt, to where they can’t take away the No. 1 spot. That’s my goal.”

It might take a victory over Kovalev to get there.



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