(Andre Ward; photo credit Jan Sanders, Goossen Tutor Promotions)
Do you remember 2004? Usher, assisted by Ludacris and Lil Jon, was tearing up the charts with his single “Yeah!” (Usher: “She’s ready to blow.” Lil Jon: “WATCH OUT!”). Ronald Reagan and Ol’ Dirty Bastard died. Two teams ago, Ron Artest stormed into the stands at the Palace and ruined the chances that my home state Indiana Pacers would win an NBA championship any time soon. And in the 2004 Olympics, Andre Ward became the last American boxer to win gold, traditionally an omen of celebrity and fortune to come.
Since then, some of Ward’s 2004 Olympic peers have gone on to big things. Andre Berto, Yuriorkis Gamboa and Amir Khan have established themselves as potential stars, and Alexander Povetkin, Andre Dirrell and Odlanier Solis have shown flashes as well. Meanwhile, Ward has arguably squandered the shine of gold on his face, having fought hardly anyone of note, and he’s taken a pounding for it. I’ve not been as impatient with him as some — after one or two performances that prompted question marks, the wise thing to do was to slow down his pace, and he’s had some injury woes — but after his last couple fights, it was becoming clear that a step up in competition for the talented super middleweight was long overdue.
That step up will arrive Saturday night on Showtime in the form of 2008 Knockout of the Year maestro Edison Miranda, one of the most crushing power punchers in the sport. The Colombian’s stock has taken a hit of late after a few losses, but the trio of defeats only came to the two best middleweights in the world, two pound-for-pound elite boxers, 160-pound champion Kelly Pavlik and Arthur Abraham. Miranda proved too crude against Pavlik and Abraham, but he’s a trial by fire in the sense that he WILL lay hands on you, and if you don’t have a good chin, you’re gone. Even if you do have a good chin, Miranda might break it. Literally. In two different places, the way Miranda fractured Abraham’s jaw in their first fight. This is a dangerous fight for Ward. And it’s a good one. One that’s five years in the making.
When last we saw Ward, he was also on Showtime, handling Henry “Sugar Poo” Buchanan without much effort whatsoever. I liked what Ward did that night. He has a complete arsenal of punches, presents great angles and lateral movement and shows uncommon poise and concentration in the ring. Ward’s counterpunching made Buchanan tentative, so Buchanan’s performance looked underwhelming for that reason if not others. Ward’s chin was never tested, and still hasn’t been, so we really don’t know how well he takes a punch against a top-level fighter. The Olympian took some lumps from the broadcasting team for not finishing Buchanan, but nobody has knocked him out before, so a wide decision win is about as good as it gets unless you have monstrous power, and Ward really only has decent pop in his fists. There was one thing I didn’t like from Ward, and it was his dangling left hand. I still see very little value in that defensive posture, and when your glove isn’t up at your face or guarding at least some part of your body, it just invites disaster.
Inviting disaster from Miranda is like inviting double-disaster. If there’s someone you don’t want taking a free shot at ya in boxing, Miranda would be near the top of the list. Power is his main attribute, especially in his overhand right, which he used to score last year’s massive KO of David Banks. Miranda may not be as technical as a lot of guys, but he can box a little — he’s got a nice jab to set up his power. And the way he did in Banks, specifically, was that Banks was dangling his left hand low and got caught. So, we’re talking very specific and numerous levels of disaster awaiting Ward if he dangles his left hand low again. To Ward’s benefit, Miranda’s defense is on the shoddy side, and Abraham, in their rematch, countered him with great success. With Miranda now having been knocked out twice quite savagely, there’s also an open question about whether he’ll be susceptible to that again. So, Ward offers Miranda some disaster options, too.
Ward is promising he’ll be right in the pocket against Miranda and doesn’t intend to do a lot of dancing. He wants to bring the fight to the Colombian, and while it sounds slightly crazy at first, don’t forget that Pavlik did the same thing against Miranda and it completely nullified his power by forcing him to fight backing up, and Abraham stood right in front of Miranda too with his high guard and waited for countering opportunities. Miranda hasn’t talked much about his game plan, but one assumes it involves knocking Ward out. If this were the Olympics, I’d pick Ward every time. He’s a significantly better boxer than Miranda, and I’m sure he’ll be able to use that skill to win a game of hit-and-not-get-hit. Miranda’s power, though, is the great equalizer. The central questions in this fight is not whether Ward can box and Miranda can punch — it’s whether Ward can keep his defense tight, then take the punches Miranda does land, because Miranda’s a good enough boxer to hit even a good defensive fighter like Abraham.
It’s enough to make me wonder whether Miranda can pull off the upset, but my default position in situations like this is to favor the more skilled boxer. I don’t know if Ward has the power to knock out Miranda at this stage in Miranda’s career, so I see him pulling off a wide decision win, possibly after taking a big Miranda shot earlier and being forced to readjusted to a box-and-move strategy. In the event that it’s close, perhaps from a Miranda knockdown or two, Ward is fighting in his hometown of Oakland, which won’t hurt. And if he gets the win, it’ll be time to view him as a real player in the very deep super middleweight division, with tremendous opportunities to claim the other kind of gold.