Sunday, June 23, 2024  |



Commentary: The underappreciated legacy of Andre Ward

Photo / @HBOboxing
Fighters Network

Sometimes, you don’t appreciate someone until they are gone. And in the case of Andre Ward, perhaps we will never truly appreciate his greatness in the sport of boxing.

On Thursday, Ward announced that he was “leaving” boxing after years of putting his body through the ringer and admitted that his desire to fight is no longer a part of him. At 33 with a record of 32-0 (16 knockouts), Ward was at the top of his game and scored a pair of victories over fellow pound-for-pound-rated fighter Sergey Kovalev that established him as the undeniable No. 1 pound-for-pound boxer in the sport. With nothing left to prove, Ward decided that retiring from the game before the game retired him was the right thing to do.

But will he be remembered as one of the greatest to ever lace up the gloves or as someone who never quite reached his peak? The latter would shortchange Ward for all that he has accomplished but, somehow, is part of his narrative.

In a society that values the drama of reality TV, the number of Twitter followers one has and the art of self promotion, that comes with the territory. Especially when you do your job without trying to drum up interest with anything but your skills.

Ward is one of those fascinating cases where how he will be remembered will shift depending on who you ask. His popularity never stretched outside of the boxing ring despite being a top notch talent. But if it didn’t involve boxing, it wasn’t important to Andre Ward. And he was perfectly fine with that.

For some reason, everyone else wasn’t fine with it. What we saw was a special talent who should have become boxing’s next big superstar. A 2004 Olympic gold medalist who dominated the sport once he turned pro and never embarrassed himself in public, Ward was the epitome of a world-class competitor who didn’t take his success for granted. He trained hard, fought harder and wouldn’t compromise for anybody.

Ward’s torrid run through the Super Six World Boxing Classic was a breakout moment for the boxer from Oakland, California. He faced a murderers row of super middleweights and cut them all down with little to no resistance: Mikkel Kessler, Allan Green, Sakio Bika, Arthur Abraham and Carl Froch were all recognized as exceptional talents but Ward took them all on in succession and came out unscathed. Few fighters would face that level of competition in 25 months, but Ward did.

But after unifying the WBA and WBC super middleweight titles and earning recognition as THE RING magazine champion, Ward refused to take a softball fight and accepted the challenge of RING light heavyweight champ Chad Dawson nine months after winning the Super Six tournament.

What was supposed to be a 50-50 fight was one way traffic as Ward dissected Dawson and beat him into submission by the 10th round.

The next few years were a fog of injuries and legal battles with his promoter Dan Goossen that kept Ward out of the spotlight and subsequently faded into the background. These were the years where Ward was expected to takeover as boxing’s next big star. However, his legal war with Goossen became an ugly public battle that didn’t end until Goossen’s untimely passing in 2014. It was a war of attrition where Ward could have competed but decided to stand up for his beliefs and ride it out.

As Ward eased himself back into the sport, his star had dimmed in the public eye as his fights with Paul Smith, Sullivan Barrera and Alexander Brand weren’t aesthetically appealing for fight fans. But they were all a tuneup for a showdown with Kovalev that would establish Ward as boxing’s best.

Although both fights with Kovalev were entertaining, fan interest was minimal as both PPVs did under 200,000 buys and the gate left much to be desired. There was enough blame to go around, from the promoters to the timing of the fight itself, but many pointed the finger at Ward.

But what more could you ask of Ward aside from being an exceptional talent inside of the squared circle? He wasn’t blessed with otherworldly knockout power, refused to compromise his integrity to develop a villainous persona and didn’t extend himself outside of boxing to gain a fan base. That sounds more like a problem we had than he had. He was paid handsomely by Roc Nation after separating from Goossen Promotions and was able to call it quits before the sport forced him out.

Photo by German Villasenor

Ward did what we wish some of the greatest athletes of all-time would have done. He accomplished everything he needed to accomplish and realized there were few (if any) goals that needed to be reached. There was nothing left and Ward left boxing as he came in, on his own terms. When he was in a big fight, Ward turned in a bigger performance. Chad Dawson, Carl Froch and Sergey Kovalev were the three biggest challenges to Ward’s perfect record. He answered the challenge for each one.

This, among other reasons, are why Ward will always be unappreciated. Unfortunately, without the star power, Ward will rarely be mentioned in the same breath as a Floyd Mayweather. But if you strip away what went on outside of the ring with both fighters, what do you have? When you put their records side by side and analyze who they fought and when, can you really say that Ward is not on par with Mayweather? Of course, Mayweather’s best work was during his rise while the second half of his career was more about the money than the quality of opposition. Ward accomplished a great deal but didn’t have as long of a run as Mayweather. The biggest difference is that one of them made it a take-no-prisoners business while the other treated it like his business but had morals and values that kept him on the straight and narrow path.

Boxing is strange like that. Mike Tyson is remembered by most fans as a megastar while the likes of Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis are often footnotes in the Tyson story, unable to forge their own legacies in the public’s mind.

Ward’s greatness should not be denied. And, hopefully, one day we’ll all appreciate the fact that he did it his way and met every challenge head on.