By: Hans Themistode
Things ended perfectly. Maybe even too perfectly for Andre Ward.
The two-division world champion’s career played out like an on-screen blockbuster movie. It was your typical storyline, one which entailed the main character fighting through adversity early on, only to ride off into the sunset as the winner in the end. Those stories, more times than not, never actually happen. But in the case of Ward, that is exactly what took place.
The California native was talented as they come. Coming up through the amateur scene, everything that could be won, was won by Ward. United States Amateur middleweight champion in 2001, under 19 national champion in 2002, 2003 United States Amateur light heavyweight champion and a record of 115-5 which subsequently led to gold in the 2004 Olympics.
In short, Ward was not the face anyone wanted to see in the unpaid ranks. He may have been nearly unbeatable in the amateurs, but in the pros, he decided to remove the nearly precursor.
After winning the Super Six Series in 2011, there wasn’t a soul alive that didn’t believe Ward wasn’t on his way to all-time status. He was ranked the number one fighter in the super middleweight division and held a permanent spot on virtually everyone’s pound for pound list. He would go on to further cement his placement on said list with a one-sided beating over Chad Dawson in late 2012.
Ward quickly followed up that win with another one-sided showing. This time at the expense of Edwin Rodriguez. But while many of his fans couldn’t stop singing his praises and began playing fantasy matchmaker, Ward was having managerial issues behind the scenes.
Things were too easy for Ward in the ring, but outside of it, the future hall of famer was fighting a losing fight with promoter Dan Gossen. For years their relationship grew more and more contentious. Ward believed that Gossen was acting in bad faith. According to the California native, Gossen was never his sole promoter, yet he acted as if he was. Ward believed their partnership was split between Gossen and Co-Promoter Antonio Leonard. When Ward’s original contract expired, both parties put up the money, $275,000 apiece, in order to re-sign him.
The issues came along when Leonard was no longer in the loop in terms of payment. For Ward’s last contest in 2013 against Rodriguez, Leonard was never given a dime. Something that Ward grew acrimonious over.
For the better part of two years, Ward (32-0, 16 KOs) experienced something he never did in the ring. A loss. And several of them at that. From there, Ward’s career stalled out as he remained inactive.
With so much time on the sidelines, Ward would eventually resurface in 2015. And to the surprise of no one, he looked like his old dominant self. After wins over Paul Smith, Sullivan Barrera and Alexander Brand, Ward moved on to face Sergey Kovalev in 2016, winning an ambiguous decision before closing the chapter on their rivalry with an eighth-round stoppage in their immediate rematch.
Everything was seemingly falling into place for Ward. He was earning career-high paydays with each ring appearance and more importantly, he finally achieved number one pound for pound status on every credible list. An accomplishment he always hoped to have under his belt.
From there, everything was wide open for Ward. A matchup with newly-crowned undisputed Cruiserweight champion Oleksandr Usyk was seemingly on the table. So was a brazen contest with heavyweight unified champion Anthony Joshua.
But before fans could predict which path Ward would go down, poof, he disappeared into a cloud of retirement dust in 2017.
“To the sport of boxing—I love you,” said Ward in a released statement. “You’ve been by my side since I was 10-years-old. You’ve taught me so much. You’ve humbled me. You’ve promoted me. I’ve sacrificed a lot for you, but you’ve given me more than I ever thought possible. You gave me a platform, made me a champion and helped me provide for my family. I am forever grateful to you. You and I will always be synonymous, connected at the hip. Thank you for all the wonderful people I’ve come in contact with because of you. I’ve made friends for life. As I walk away from the sport of boxing today, I leave at the top of your glorious mountain, which was always my vision and my dream. I did it. We did it.”
“From the bottom of my heart, thank you to everyone who has played a part in my journey. You know who you are. I could not have done this without you. I want to be clear—I am leaving because my body can no longer put up with the rigors of the sport and therefore my desire to fight is no longer there. If I cannot give my family, my team, and the fans everything that I have, then I should no longer be fighting. Above all, I give God the Glory, for allowing me to do what I’ve done, for as long as I have.”
Fans were left both shell shocked and apoplectic. But while his biggest supporters were confused as to why he would pack his bags and go in the prime of his career, Ward was leaving a trail of breadcrumbs as to why he abruptly left.
For starters, in Ward’s retirement statement, the two-division titlist claimed that he could “ no longer put up with the rigors of the sport.” From a fighter who was never a brawler and never got himself engulfed in wars, the term “rigors,” was perplexing. With that being said, Ward always claimed that fight night was easy, but the grueling training camps were difficult.
Still, at the age of 33 Ward was relatively young and appeared to have plenty of fights left under his belt. In his last two performances against Kovalev, Ward managed to pull in both victories, albeit he didn’t exactly look like his dominant self. After looking closely, there’s a good reason for that.
In 2016, Ward sought disability insurance, a common practice for most athletes to protect themselves should something go wrong. The insurer for Ward’s policy was Lloyd of London for a total amount of $6.3 million. The terms of their agreement ran from December 23rd of 2015 until December 23rd, 2016. In October of 2017, Ward filled out his disability insurance claim form stating he suffered a significant injury in October of 2016.
Over the course of several months, Ward provided documentation that he was in fact severely injured during the lead-up of his bout against Kovalev the first time around. His claim though, was denied as it was believed that he suffered from degenerative conditions and not one singular event which closed the door on his career.
Ward’s legal battle is still an ongoing one, but the once murky picture in which he retired is becoming more and more clear.
Like most retired fighters, Ward found himself in constant rumors regarding many of today’s great fighters. Most notably, Canelo Alvarez.
A bout with the aforementioned Alvarez would in all likelihood bring Ward a career-high payday. But despite the constant money bags thrown in his face, the California native revealed that his bank account was quite comfortable despite missing out on a cash deposit from Alvarez.
“I’m not coming out of retirement to fight Canelo Alvarez,” said Ward to Fight Hub TV several months ago. “There’s been a lot of talk — when that fight was signed and, obviously, since Canelo got the victory over Sergey Kovalev. My phone’s been blowing up nonstop. There’s been a lot of pressure from individuals in the business, entertainers, you name it, trying to pull me out and it’s just not something that I’m interested in doing.”
Admirable and true to his convictions, but also misleading. At no point did Ward claim that he couldn’t fight Alvarez or anyone else. He simply expounded that he wouldn’t.
Further complicating matters, was the man who stood in Ward’s corner for the entirety of his career in trainer Virgil Hunter. On several occasions, he was grilled about his man making a return to the ring to compete in what would be considered by most as the biggest fight in the sport. Not only did Hunter not shy away from the questions, but he also provided a scenario which would possibly allow that showdown to take place.
“I think he would consider it,” said Hunter during an interview with Boxing News several months ago. “It would have to get up to maybe $30-$40 million for me to even suggest to him that, ‘Look, you should take this fight. If they’ll give you a fight in between to prepare for this fight, you should take this fight. It’s money that not only sets you up for your immediate family, but you’re grandchildren and your great-grandchildren. So you should consider it.’ And I’d leave it at that.”
Again, no mention of Ward being physically unable to compete at the highest level.
In the end, Ward, unlike most fighters, seems content with his decision. He’s become one of the best boxing commentators in the sport over at ESPN. His bank account is overflowing and his place as one of the best to ever step foot inside of the ring was validated as he has appeared on the hall of fame ballot earlier this year.
He’s also just the 15th fighter to ever retire with a world title around his waist and no blemishes in the loss column.
With his recent election into the hall of fame, a smiling Ward will soon step up to the podium to receive his plaque with no limp in his step and no stutter in his speech. Thoughts of what would have happened had he faced off against the likes of Canelo Alvarez or Anthony Joshua will certainly engulf many conversations. And although he has always enjoyed proving that he will forever be the baddest man in the room, as his lawsuit would entail, maybe the desire to fight is still there, but he simply can’t anymore.