Ever since he stepped in the ring, Andre Ward has been on the fast track to greatness.
From his days dominating the amateur circuit to winning a gold medal at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, and all the way through today as he holds the number two pound-for-pound ranking in the world after compiling a 26-0 record with 14 knockouts as a professional, the Bay Area native has conquered every obstacle placed in front of him in his ascension to the top of the boxing world.
Known as one of the more disciplined and well-rounded fighters in the business, Ward’s recent run of success is looking like the tip of the iceberg when it comes to his reign at the top of the super middleweight division.
Wins over top competition like Mikkel Kessler and Carl Froch in the Super Six World Boxing Classic to secure the WBC and WBA super middleweight titles in 2011 brought Ward to the forefront of the boxing universe.
When he followed it up with a victory over Chad Dawson, who at the time was the WBC light heavyweight champion, having come down in weight to take on Ward at 168 lbs, there was little doubt that Ward was going to be a force to be reckoned with for the foreseeable future for anyone who wanted to challenge for the super middleweight title.
Now, after a 14-month absence from competition brought about by a tear in his right shoulder and a notable slight by the WBC as they stripped him of his belt for inactivity (much to the dismay of reasonable observers), Ward is gearing up for his next challenge — a November 16th bout with undefeated contender Edwin Rodriguez on HBO.
After a lengthy search for the right opponent and a lot of work to iron out the terms of the fight, Ward’s camp has set up a prime time match up with a talented challenger for his defense of the WBA and The Ring magazine super middleweight titles. Rodriguez is coming off wins in the Monaco Million Dollar Super Four Tournament, where he defeated Ezequiel Maderna by unanimous decision and TKO’d Denis Grachev in the first round of the final.
Ward was gracious enough to take a few minutes and speak with GoldenGateSports.com before a recent autograph signing on September 27 for a packed house at Sport Chalet in Pleasanton.
I asked him about the upcoming fight with Rodriguez, his thoughts on moving up to the light heavyweight division, a possible match up in the future with Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr., and what he thinks of the Bay Area sports scene right now. Here’s what he had to say.
First off, how’s the shoulder feeling, how’s your health?
Physically I feel good. I’ve been physically fine for probably the past three or four months. It’s just been the business side of things that have been holding me up. It’s kind of been one thing or another – issues about the promoter, it went from that to finding the right opponent, somebody that was suitable for HBO, somebody that we agreed to, then the money aspect of things.
So just the business side of it has taken more time than I would’ve liked, but we obviously turned a corner, we kept pushing Edwin, pushing Edwin, pushing Edwin, and we agreed. And here we are.
On that note, since it did take a little bit of effort to work out that whole process and get everything settled with the fight, now that that’s out of the way, do you have a focused goal going in? Victory is obviously always the goal, but the fight is billed as “The Return”, do you kind of feel like that’s a big focus coming out here? Do you need to prove anything to anybody or show people you’re shaking off the rust or whatever any doubters might be saying?
Yes and no. I don’t go in the ring and say, “I gotta prove it to this guy.” There’s always gonna be naysayers, there’s always going to be somebody that says, “He did good, BUT…”.
As a whole, you have to prove yourself — and your worth, and your status — every time you step in the ring, and the sport of boxing is not like any other sport, we can’t afford to have many bad nights. So, you know, ring rust — whether I feel it or not — won’t be something that comes out of my mouth as an excuse.
I’m just gonna push past it, these are the cards that I’ve been dealt. It’s been a year layoff, but I don’t abuse my body. I don’t party, I don’t smoke, I don’t drink.
I’ve been in the gym, and my mind has been on the sport, so now that the fight is official, I’ve got a good foundation. I’ve had a good foundation over the last six, seven months, and now we just gotta build off that, it’s not like I’m starting from scratch.
In regards to that, you guys doing anything specific in training? Anything specific you’re focused on in the gym?
It’s not really one thing, we haven’t really had a chance to break down a lot of film on Edwin and get a game plan or all that kinda stuff. But I’ve been following the kid. I know about sparring sessions that he’s had, and his previous fights he trained down there in Houston.
Anybody that’s somebody that I could potentially fight, I watch ‘em, and I study ‘em. And I don’t have to be loud about it in the press, but I know he was in his last camp…good days that he had in the gym, and bad days that he had in the gym.
So I’ve watched him, I’ve seen him develop. I know he just won the, I think it was the Super Four tournament or something like that. So he’s got some momentum, and he’s undefeated.
There’s nothing that he’s experienced in a boxing ring that makes him think that I’m gonna beat him. He’s undefeated, he’s had his way. So he thinks he’s gonna have his way again November 16th, and my job is to show him that his time isn’t now. It’s still my time.
Back to the Super Four, Rodriguez knocked out Denis Grachev in the first round. He likes to come out swinging, he’s a little bit aggressive. You’re pretty precise, methodical — patient in the ring. How do you feel stylistically you guys are gonna match up?
I think it’ s going to be a great fight. I think it’s going to be a great fight for a lot of reasons. But stylistically, I think that wild stuff that he does will get him in trouble. I’m not the guy that he just fought. I’m not gonna stand there and just receive 20 unanswered blows and not hit him back. All that wide stuff — opening up and exposing himself — he’s gonna potentially leave himself open to get knocked out.
You talking about the big rights he throws specifically?
Yeah, the big rights and he loops with the left. I mean, I’m sure he’s a good puncher but there’s nothing that he’s done — I mean, the guy that he stopped in the first round, he hit the guy 25 times and I don’t even think he left his feet.
As a fan you look at and you say, “Man, he got that guy outta there in the first round.” But as a fighter and as a competitor, I say, “Man, he never left his feet.” And he hit that guy clean 20-some odd times.
So I don’t think he’s a major puncher, but we’re gonna take him serious, and I think we’re just gonna slowly break him down. I know Edwin has weight problems. I just saw him in Vegas, stood right next to him on stage, and he looks like he’s been enjoying his vacation since his last fight. He’s got a lot of weight, looked to be at least 190, and I know he has weight issues. I know he wears plastic in training. I know that for a fact.
So we’re gonna wear him down in that fight. We’re gonna start a fast pace, and he’s never been in a grueling 12-round fight, and this is gonna be the first time he’s had to experience that, and he’s gonna have to answer those questions. If he does, more power to him. And if not, then you know, then I plan on getting my hand wrecked. But he’s somebody that we respect and he’s somebody that we’re taking serious.
You’re always known for your conditioning, and you get stronger and stay consistent throughout the fight. Regardless of your opponent, you’re always focused on your conditioning, correct?
For me, my endurance is my strength. You can be the strongest guy in the division but if you get tired, that strength is gonna turn to weakness. My endurance is my major assett, to go and to keep going, and to keep going and just keep grinding, and as the fight wears on, like you just said, get stronger instead of getting weaker. I mean, that just wears on opponent, mentally and physically. So my endurance is my foundation.
In the long-term, you’ve talked about moving up to 175 at some point. How much work do you feel like there’s left to be done at 168?
I’m just trying to be responsible and listen to my body. I could probably build up to light heavyweight right now. But I’m not a full-fledged light heavyweight. I’m walking around 10 pounds above my fight weight, and those guys are walking around at 200. I think we could do it because a lot of it has to do with skill and just understanding how to offset a big man, but it’s just not time right now, and I’m taking Virgil [Hunter]‘s lead on this. A couple times I wanted to jump, I was like, “Man, let’s do it,” and he’s like, “Not now.” And this was last year sometime. So I’m gonna respect what he says, and when the time is right I think we’ll do it.
But I think there’s always opponents. I don’t believe what people say when they say, “You cleaned out a division, there’s nobody to fight.” There’s always somebody to fight. There’s always movement above me at 75, at 60. And here you have basically a number one contender in Edwin Rodriguez. So things are always moving, there’s always somebody to fight. And my team’s job is to go find that person.
I know you’re not trying to look past this fight, but on the note that you just touched on, Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr., you’ve kind of floated his name out there a lot. How do you feel about a potential match up with him?
Obviously I have to take care of business in November, he has to take care of business Saturday night against [Brian] Vera, and that’s not gonna be an easy fight for him.
And you’ll be there broadcasting.
I’ll be there broadcasting, yes. So I’ll have the best seat in the house, get to see what I need to see. But I think that’s the fight. Because HBO, I’m sure they like putting on premium network fights, just regular fights, but they’re in the pay-per-view business. And there’s nobody that I can point to and say, “That’s another pay-per-view fight for Chavez.” And right now I don’t have another pay-per-view fight, and he can’t make 160 anymore.
So that’s a pay-per-view fight. I think Bob [Arum] is on board, I think my team is on board, but we have to take care of business in our next fights, and I think that’s something that we should look at. I think that would be a tremendous fight. He’s got Mexico, I got America…I think that would be a good, good fight. A real good fight.
You’ve gained a lot of notoriety over the last couple of years and have been mentioned as being one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world. What can you say about the difference between gunning for the top spot, and being on top and competing against yourself?
I just kind of let it happen. I think guys sometimes that try to make it happen, a lot of times they crash and burn, because you try to make it happen. I’ve always wanted to be number one, but I understood the process that it took to get there, and we just committed to that process over the last 20 years total but the last 10 or 11 years as a professional. And here I am number two. I totally feel like Mayweather deserves that spot, he’s done this a lot longer, and he deserves that spot.
But I feel like I’m next in line. But I gotta keep competing, I gotta keep winning, and I gotta keep doing my thing if I want that top spot one day.
Lastly, how you feeling about the Bay Area sports scene? A lot of success going around…
You kind of contribute towards that…
You’re at the top of your game, you got the Niners playing in St. Louis right now, you got the A’s going to the playoffs. Do you take pride in being a contributor to that tradition?
I do man, I do. Being a fan in the Bay Area for me is a little difficult, because I grew up on the 49ers and the Giants, then moved to the east bay and started supporting the A’s and the Raiders, so I’m not die-hard either one.
I support the Bay, and anything that’s coming out of the Bay. I mean, the A’s are ballin’ right now, the Giants, they had a tough year. The 49ers, I think they’re gonna get through what they’re gettin’ through, hopefully they win tonight. And then the Raiders, they’re building, they got a young quarterback in Terrell Pryor, so things are looking up.
There’s always going to be good things happening in terms of the sports scene when it comes to the Bay Area, and I hope to also be a part of that.
Many thanks again to Andre Ward for spending a few minutes to reflect on the current state of his career. He’ll certainly cement his status as a legend in the pantheon of Bay Area sportsmen if he keeps the wins coming, but regardless of what happens in the ring, he’s already earned the respect of pundits and the public alike with his professionalism and his upstanding reputation as a person.
Tune in to see his fight with Edwin Rodriguez on November 16 on HBO Boxing.