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Andre Ward: Path of a Champion

Posted on 09/24/2017

By: Kirk Jackson

Indeed he did it, shocking the world once more, Andre “Son of God” Ward 32-0 (16 KO’s) retired from the sport of boxing Sept 21. 2017.

On the phone with ESPN’s “First Take” last Thursday, Ward cited the physical toll the sport has taken on him as the primary reason he’s stepping away from boxing.

“Just the accumulative effect of all the training and all the fights, it starts to wear on you and … starts to take your desire,” Ward said. “And when you don’t have the desire and you don’t have the ability physically to go out there and prepare the way you need to, you shouldn’t be in a boxing ring. My goal has always been to walk away from this sport and retire from this sport and not have the sport retire me, and I have that opportunity today.”

“People see what I do fight night, they see under the lights, but they don’t see the toil, they don’t see the grind, they don’t see the physical pain that you go through, again, not just in the fights, but to prepare and get ready for those battles,” Ward said.

Ward departs the professional ranks as a five-time world champion, winner of the Super Six World Boxing Classic, unified champion at super middleweight and light heavyweight. He is also the ESPN, Ring Magazine, Sports Illustrated and Boxing Writers Association of America, 2011 fighter of the year.

Ward also accomplished amazing feats as an amateur. Maintaining an amateur record of 115-5, Ward hasn’t suffered defeat amateur or pro since the age of twelve and is the last American male to win Olympic gold in boxing (2004 Athens).

Amid his remarkable accomplishments, not everyone was a fan of Andre Ward.

Some thought of him as “Boring” and a “Hugger,” among other disparaging comments regarding his fighting style.

Certain people may not like him as a person and feel he is disingenuous.
Some fighters do not want to see him leave because they want another shot at him. Most notably, Russian rival, Sergey Kovalev, wanting the opportunity to settle unfinished business in his mind.

Although Kovalev offered a different perspective while discussing Ward’s retirement according to ESPN.

“I don’t care,” Kovalev told ESPN when asked about Ward’s announcement. “If he’s gonna retire, he has a right. He’s undefeated, with the help of judges — OK, no problem. It’s sport, and sometimes sport can be dirty.”

Some people may not want to see Ward retire because they feel he has more to offer to the sport and will miss what he represents. Especially the contingent of supporters from the San Francisco – Bay Area.

“It’s a blessing, what the Bay Area fans have always done for me and for what they do for their athletes, whether they’re homegrown or transplants from other cities,” Ward said in reference to Bay Area supporters.

“They just appreciate the people that go out there and represent them well. And they always return the favor.”

It’s fair to suggest Ward is a great representation of what an athlete should be. In an era featuring polarizing personalities such as Floyd Mayweather, Adrien Broner, Tyson Fury and others, Ward exemplifies the opposite.
Not to suggest one side or the other is right or wrong, not bestowing judgment, because all ends of the spectrum is necessary for the wheel to work.

Ward epitomizes the hard-working, grinding, hard-nosed, low-key mentality. Efficient and straight to the point.
His personality is comparable to his fighting style inside the ring. Not necessarily flashy, but extremely effective. Not ostentatious, but full of substance.

Boxing News writer Caryn A. Tate summarized Ward’s style in brilliant article, stating his style is “Formless.”
To expand, essentially Ward adapted to his opponents. Ward does not have a set-style; he can’t be conformed into a box due to his resourcefulness and adaptability.

Whether it’s in-fighting inside the trenches, inside the pocket, mid-range fighting, fighting from a distance, distance manipulation, immaculate footwork, utilizing various jabs, switching stances from orthodox to southpaw, unleashing lead right hands, slipping punches, overall defensive mastery, devastating body work, he could do it all.

Possessing the versatility to implement all of the aforementioned skills and tactics requires not only the athletic ability, but intelligence to adjust and make the necessary moves to succeed and overcome whichever weapon his opponent is armed with.

We could spend countless time analyzing the nuances of the scientific sophistication of the pugilistic arts utilized by Ward.

Watching him fight, you can visualize the influences of other great fighters who came before him. It’s a testament to how studious he is as someone attempting to learn and perfect their craft.

He has the ability to adapt and I believe his greatest strength as a fighter was his mental fortitude and intelligence.

Ward mentioned in his retirement statement, the rigors of training. The punishment the body and mind endures. It takes a special individual to overcome the physical and mental hurdles of fighting and life in general.

“I’ve faced a lot of adversity inside the ring. You know, some of it the public has seen. A lot of it, maybe, the public hasn’t seen in the many gyms or the many sparring sessions and everything you’ve got to do to get to a certain level in the sport.” – Andre Ward

It’s the same mental fortitude that pushed him to rise from the canvas when he met Kovalev in their first encounter. Not only did he get up, but he raised his level and overcame the bully in what was a Rocky-esque performance.

Ward knocked out Kovalev in the follow-up rematch earlier this year.

For those reasons and understanding the high-level of opponent Kovalev is, stand out as Ward’s greatest performances as a professional.

Although one can easily point to winning the Super Six World Boxing Classic tournament, running through the high quality opposition encountered during the tournament (Carl Froch, Arthur Abraham Mikkel Kessler), or defeating Chad Dawson right after winning the tournament, as his greatest or signature accomplishments.

I reflect back to Kovalev because again, mental toughness should never be underestimated or underappreciated.

“I knew what I had in me. I’ve been on the canvas before. I’ve been hurt in fights. I’ve been cut. Things have happened and, you know, my response has always been the same where if I’m physically able, I want to come get that back,” said Ward in reference to his battles against Kovalev.

From a personal end, I can’t say I know Ward in depth personally, but from what I’ve witnessed and experienced, I understand why he is admired by those sharing personal relationships.

He is appreciative, endearing to fans and supporters and we gathered a glimpse of that with his retirement message.
Ward has the respect and admiration amongst his peers:

The very first boxing event I covered was an affair featuring Andre Ward vs. Chad Dawson as the main event for the card at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, Ca.

Experiencing the overall event, networking with other journalists, interacting with fans, spectators, fighters and trainers ranging from Adrien Broner, Larry Merchant, Shane Mosley, Jeff Mayweather, Ward and his family, was a great experience.

Andre Ward

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It was the validation I sought for what I was pursuing.

Few years later, I attended the 2016 USA Olympic Trials held in Reno, NV. It was a great experience, again interacting with spectators, trainers, fighters, some of the fighters obviously ended up representing the USA in the Olympic Games held in Brazil and other fighters who eventually turned pro and will represent the new infusion of boxing talent.

Other great fighters were in attendance, Shawn Porter, Terrance Crawford and Ward ultimately assisted with commentary during the Olympic Trial Finals.

At the time, I was competing as an amateur fighter and I had the chance to speak with Ward on multiple occasions throughout the weekend; one-on-one discussing boxing and a few other things.

He didn’t have to take the time to speak with me in depth, but he displayed genuine humbleness despite his acclaim and exhibited why he is a champion in and out of the ring.

I think this quote from an interview leading up to his second fight against Kovalev summarizes his mindset regarding giving back.

“So outside of my family, I didn’t really have a lot of ex-fighters that I could pick up the phone and call,” said Ward. “So I just try to be available, have my phone available, and make the time where I need to make the time (for some of the younger fighters). They’ll let you know what they need to talk about and what they want to talk about. If I have the answer, I’m going to definitely give them everything that I can give them.”

“If I don’t, I’ll try to help them find it because at the end of the day, whether it’s Claressa [Shields] or Shakur [Stevenson], I’m for the fighter. I’m pro fighter. We talk about [training] stuff but it’s also more about life—being stable and making the right decisions now so that down the road, you’re happy that you did what you had to do. It’s an honor and a privilege to be someone that any of those fighters would want to pick up the phone and call. I don’t look at it like a burden. It’s an honor and a privilege.”

It was an honor and privilege watching your career and I want to extend thanks to Andre Ward for his contributions to the sport of boxing. Mission accomplished.

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