Steve Bunce on Boxing: Andre Ward admits he is 'an acquired taste' but victory for the 'Son of God' on Saturday against Edwin Rodriguez will finally make him a box-office hit
On Saturday night in California he returns after a 14-month exile to defend his WBA super-middleweight title against the unbeaten Edwin 'La Bomba' Rodriguez
Thursday 14 November 2013
When Andre Ward needed a nickname to compliment his boxing career he rejected "Terminator", "Destroyer", "Bomber" and other typical ring sobriquets to settle on a line from Galatians iii, 26; Ward is known as the "Son of God".
The Californian boxer is unbeaten in 26 fights as a professional, he won a gold medal at the Athens Olympics in 2004, he holds a world title and enjoyed a convincing win over Britain's Carl Froch in 2011. Ward is a born-again Christian and the ring name is about his faith and not, as many believe, his arrogance.
"The other names would not have fit me," said Ward, who is also accused by his critics of being unpopular, not having a sense of humour and not being able to take a punch or deliver a concussive one. "It might sound like an oxymoron, but I don't have a heart to hurt anyone in the ring. I know that God certainly wouldn't bless me if I had that attitude." Ward is also smart.
On Saturday night in California he returns after a 14-month exile to defend his WBA super-middleweight title against the unbeaten Edwin "La Bomba" Rodriguez in a fight that will, hopefully, be the end of Ward's relative obscurity, and the start of a short journey that will end in lucrative super-fights. He has never fought in Las Vegas, the most Christian of American cities and one where Evander Holyfield often packs churches when he takes to the pulpit.
Ward, who is 29, has somehow failed to become a mainstream attraction in the American boxing business, which has been desperately searching for stars during the 10-year absence of credible heavyweights. Ward keeps winning, keeps getting better and is now finally getting the attention that had so far eluded him.
"I have been told that I'm an acquired taste, that I don't sell tickets and that I'm smug," he added. "I have watched other fighters get their chances, get their pay-per-view dates and I have had to be quiet. I'm ready now, ready to get pay-per-view fights of my own."
There is no shortage of potential opponents in the divisions above and below Ward's personal domain: the world champions Gennady Golovkin, at middle, and Sergei Kovalev, at light-heavyweight, are both edging closer to becoming big attractions because of their savage knockouts. Froch, meanwhile, has spoken boldly of a rematch but still seems confused about just how easily he was beaten, and there is always Bernard Hopkins, the IBF light-heavyweight champion. Hopkins is surely too cute to try at 48 to beat a fighter like Ward. "He is one of the best that I have seen," said Hopkins in September 2012 after watching Ward stop Chad Dawson in 10 rounds, dropping him in rounds three, four and 10; five months earlier Dawson had given Hopkins a boxing lesson.
Ward has not fought since beating Dawson because earlier this year he had surgery on a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder and then he had prolonged and damaging aggravation with his promoter and managers. "The business of boxing is stopping me from boxing," Ward said before a three-hour sit-down with the men he was in disagreement with. The meeting in Ward's hometown of Oakland, which is across the bay from San Francisco, went well, they are all still working together and, according to the fighter, moving now in the right direction: "I respect everybody on my team, but I'm the boss."
Rodriguez has been hand-picked to test Ward after his forced sabbatical by HBO, the satellite TV company that has been boxing's biggest backer for decades. Ward's promotional group wanted an easier touch but readily accepted Rodriguez, who is fresh from a one-round knockout win in a tournament held in Monte Carlo where the main prize was $1m. "God has a plan for me and I have a plan for Rodriguez," said Ward. Amen to that.
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