You would probably have to go all the way back to Sugar Ray Seales to find an Olympic gold medalist as anonymous as Andre Ward is after five years as a professional. Ward, who won the gold at the 2004 Games, attempts to jumpstart his career tonight against Edison ‘Pantera’ Miranda at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, California.
Miranda, with his wrecking ball right, his bag of dirty tricks, and his mastery of gobbledygook, is, not surprisingly, confident that his experience and power punching will be too much for Ward, 18-0 (12).
Despite being annihilated by both Kelly Pavlik and Arthur Abraham over the last two years, Miranda, 32-3 (28), continues to threaten, berate, and hector opponents without pause or cause. His “woofing” is in poor taste and his inability to back up his taunts marks him as a leading light of the Ricardo Mayorga School. Unlike Mayorga, however, Miranda has never shined in the ring against a quality opponent. Before being exposed as a limited bruiser with a taste for Marlboros, Mayorga crushed Andrew Lewis and Vernon Forrest. Besides Allan Green there is only one distinguished name in the “W” column for Miranda: former middleweight title challenger Howard Eastman, whom the Colombian knocked out in 2006. By that time Eastman was already well past his sell-by date. A year and a half after being stopped by Miranda, Eastman lost a decision to glorified clubfighter John Duddy in Ireland.
Miranda has consistently been unimpressive at the top level, struggling with a depleted Green, dropping a decision to Abraham despite the fact that Abraham fought with a shattered jaw for eight rounds, losing emphatically to Kelly Pavlik, and being humiliated by Abraham in a rematch. Nor did Miranda resemble anything more than rough trade in his last fight against unaccomplished Joey Vegas in London. Vegas ran off some impressive combinations against Miranda before being stopped in the fifth round. The damage Miranda, 28, sustained against Abraham might be irreversible: he appears to be slightly past his peak.
For his part, Ward has faced opposition far beneath his Olympic gold medal status. His promoter, Dan Goosen, is a mastermind at supplying warm bodies from the ‘Outer Limits’ circuit: pasty Minnesotans and Washingtonians with fugazi records built by flogging Bigfoot impersonators in bingo halls and high school gymnasiums from the Badlands to the Puget Sound. Goosen dug deep into his magic hat for the likes of Andy Kolle, Kenny Kost, and Roger Cantrell, and Ward obliged his promoter by taking each of them behind the wood shed. Only Kenny Kost, who shook Ward to his toes with a left hook, offered resistance. That punch, as well as a knockdown suffered against obscure Darnell Boone five fights later, has brought forth the obligatory ‘Glass Jaw’ rubber stamps for future reference. Since then, Ward scored a useful but sloppy victory over damaged prospect Jerson Ravelo, but has otherwise faced competition so marginal he might have been better off working on his needlepoint skills.
It is difficult to gauge exactly where Ward, 25, stands at this point. Poised, versatile, and accurate, Ward also has an extensive amateur background to draw on as well as fast hands and natural athleticism. Ward has a tendency to rush in square with some of his combinations and his chin is often in the air when he does so. Against Miranda, that can be disaster. In order to win this fight Ward must avoid the heavy rights Miranda wings practically helter skelter by jabbing and using angles to open sharpshooting opportunities. Miranda will come forward and do his best to rattle his younger opponent with some haymakers and roughhousing, but he faces significant disadvantages in speed and mobility.
If Ward, who occasionally switch hits, sticks to the orthodox stance, moves exclusively to the right, and pops his snappy jab, he should be able to outbox Miranda from long range without difficulty and drop right hands over the top. Although Miranda has improved his jab since his disastrous showing against Abraham, he still brings it back slowly, enabling opponents to counter over it. During exchanges, ‘Pantera’ is also fairly easy to hit, and, it seems, also fairly easy to hurt. Ward will need to use his superior footwork and ring generalship to maneuver the slower Miranda into position for rapid salvos.
In the end, this fight may come down to a single intangible: Will Ward be able to withstand a right hand bomb or two from Miranda? If so, or if he avoids heavy leather altogether, Ward should win via late stoppage or by unanimous decision. Despite questions concerning his chin and lack of experience against quality fighters, Ward is the superior boxer, and the case can be made that Miranda, although dangerous, falls well short of the label quality.
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