2004 Olympic gold medalist Andre Ward put together a terrific performance in a dominant decision win over fellow super middleweight Edison Miranda on Showtime Saturday. For a long time, we’ve been wondering whether Ward is legitimate, considering how slowly his career has proceeded. Now we know he is.
Ward answered one of the biggest questions about him — can he take a punch from a top-level fighter? — with a resounding “yes,” handling the monumental power of Miranda without even a blink. And he demonstrated really wonderful versatility, taking Miranda inside to out, left to right, up to down and moved across dimensions in so doing that Miranda, who has a grand total of one dimension, simply couldn’t dream of. The only gripe I have is that Ward clearly isn’t a big puncher, as I suspected but now know, because he caught Miranda, who has been down on the ground seven times in his career, with so many flush punches that if he had even above average power, he would have gotten a knockout win instead of a decision. Still, it was exciting work, because Ward as promised did engage, and he has skills that I and his hometown Oakland fans really admired and enjoyed watching on display.
I’m not willing to go as far as Showtime’s team in describing Ward as a potential great, because as much as I viewed Miranda as a truly dangerous and telling test, we have to acknowledge that Miranda is a big puncher and not much else. Could Ward be special? Absolutely. But I’d need to see him against someone with both power and skill before I draw that conclusion. Miranda’s skill level, never high, appears to have degenerated some, because he really only showed one punch to Ward, the big right hand to the head, whereas in the past he’s worked the body, employed an effective jab and done a little more boxing to go along with his power.
The key to the fight, I thought, was Ward’s masterful control of range. Ward stayed in his punching range, and when Miranda launched a right, Ward usually blunted it by stepping forward and letting Miranda’s arm drape around his head, but Ward also would get off his combinations then tie up Miranda when he behaved in a threatening manner. (I thought he should have been warned for excessive holding, in fact, but it was an effective tactic.) From start to finish, Ward moved laterally in ways Miranda could never predict, all the while making sure to focus on his own offense. Almost every round he’d show Miranda something new. It had to catch Miranda by surprise when, in the 5th round, Ward tagged him with a flush left uppercut. I’m guessing Miranda wasn’t expecting Ward to bully him around in clinches and control him so well on the inside, even rough-housing Miranda the way Miranda usually rough-houses his opponents. In the 9th, a combination finally appeared to wobble Miranda, but the moment passed quickly.
Miranda had the occasional positive moment. He did get some rough-housing done in the 1st round, head-butting Ward and opening a cut that dripped right in Ward’s left eye. In the 2nd, the cut was already under control, but Miranda found opportunities to land a series of big right hands that, if Ward couldn’t take a shot, would have ended the fight. In the 6th, Miranda landed another couple rights, and Ward’s left eye began to swell. But at no point would Ward allow Miranda to take control. When Miranda landed something, Ward made sure to land two or three somethings. Whatever moments Miranda had beyond the 6th, they were ineffective moments the steam was out of him, and Ward would frustrate Miranda’s most passionate charges with his sharp defense, returning him to hopelessness. (Miranda’s loss of steam maybe also can be attributed to his tendency to blow up in weight between fights, to levels I hadn’t previously been aware of until the Showtime broadcast team mentioned his has been known to swell all the way to 224 pounds.) I thought Ward won every round, with only the 2nd and 6th very debatable, although one judge had it 116-112; the other two had it a more reasonable 119-109. With this loss, Miranda is, if he wasn’t before, now officially only a gatekeeper. It’s a steep fall from the time before his Kelly Pavlik fight a couple years ago, when HBO was trying to annoint Miranda a future star and television staple.
We knew Ward had poise and focus, but with a little adversity early courtesy the Miranda head butt and big right hands, he showed layers of poise and focus he’d never previously had the opportunity to show. He said at the end of the fight he wishes he could have stopped Ward, and was disappointed with his performance because “I put my body in an awkward position” at times, but he should be very pleased; in fact, his ability to deal with Miranda’s awkward bullrushes demonstrated yet more versatility. Ward also said he’ll be Carl Froch’s mandatory title challenger. I think that’s an interesting fight. I’ll be curious to see how many tickets Ward sold Saturday, because that fight is makeable if A. Froch can’t get one of the bigger names he’s been chasing in the ring and B. fighting Ward offers the potential for big money for Froch because Ward is an attraction in at least one town. (C. is if Froch retains his belt for a while and the sanctioning organization in question orders it to happen.) Again, I wouldn’t want to get carried away about Ward based on this performance, but I was already a believer, and I’m more of one now. Given his skill level and big boxing brain, and given that we now know he can take a shot, is it far-fetched to imagine him beating anyone in the loaded super middleweight division? I think not.
[In other Saturday action, lightweight prospect John Molina forced his opponent to quit in the 2nd round of the Showtime televised undercard bout. I like Molina as an offensive machine, but at some point he’s going to have to learn even the tiniest amount of defense. He just walks straight forward and gets hit way too easily. Showtime broadcasted highlights of super middleweight Shawn Estrada’s 1st round knockout of Cory Jones, which is only noteworthy in that another well-regarded 2008 Olympian, middleweight Matt Korobov, took four rounds to do so. On Azteca America, three prospects scored knockout wins: junior middleweight Vanes Martirosyan in the 1st, junior lightweight Miguel Garcia in the 3rd and lightweight Brandon Rios in the 5th after what was reportedly a “life and death battle.” Over in Rome, cruiserweight Giacobbi Fragomeni drew with Krzysztof Wlodarczyk.]