(The fight in microcosm: Allan Green at left, Andre Ward at right. Credit: Tom Casino, Showtime)
Is there a more complete boxer right now than Andre Ward? In dominating another top-10 fighter in arguably the best division in boxing, super middleweight, Ward showed me with an intoxicating display of skills Saturday that he’s the young boxer most likely to take over as the pound-for-pound king of the sport. It’s too soon to compare him to Sugar Ray Leonard or Roy Jones, Jr., as Showtime’s broadcast team did, but it’s not hyperbole to say he could end up the #1 man in the sport before long. If you like the sweet science, Ward is so pure a practitioner he’ll almost give you cavities.
Despite its bold comparisons for Ward, Showtime’s broadcast team spent far too much time for my tastes blaming Allan Green for what happened in the ring Saturday. It’s almost as if they’d never seen either man fight. There’s no reason to be surprised by Ward fighting on the inside — he has spent a lot of time between the ropes in his man’s chest, and against the longer Green, it was the right place for him to be. There’s no point in arguing Green should have been let his hands go more — Green never has let his hands go much. One can argue that Green should have jabbed more — but when you only land one quarter of your jabs, and the other guy makes you pay for your misses, you’re very likely going to stop throwing the jab as much. Most everything that Green did poorly had a direct causation in Ward, or Green’s his fundamental flaws as a fighter. There’s a reason or two Ward was the -600 betting favorite.
The verdict — 120-108 across the board, a total shutout on the judges’ scorecards — matched the action in the ring. The only moment where I thought Green connected on anything of note was in the 4th, when he landed his money punch, a left hook. Ward stood up to it well. It’s bad enough that Ward can barely be hit. But it’s past time to have any questions about his chin, because he’s faced three big punchers in three consecutive fights, against Green, Mikkel Kessler and Edison Miranda, and hasn’t buckled on the rare occasions where they’ve landed their best punches.
That’s not the only bad news for the rest of the boxing world. Ward is getting better. A tendency toward haphazard swings and misses never surfaced against Green. That further limits the opportunities to land a big shot. Ward is almost certainly going to outbox you. Ward is almost certainly going to outwork you. And the odds of landing a knockout punch to avoid losing a one-sided decision have thinned to a sliver. Throw in his mental toughness — Showtime’s team was surprised that Ward played the bully, again ignoring that he did the same thing in his two most recent fights — and beating him becomes nearly unthinkable.
It’s not, by the way, that Green couldn’t have done more even by his standard. There were moments, such as a spot in the 7th when Ward fell off balance and was vulnerable to a rush, where Green could have pressed. But Green didn’t rush him. By that time, of course, Ward had trained Green into thinking he had no chance. And even if Green had done more, it was training that would have set in anyway. The only real edges Green had were natural punching power and slightly greater length, and Ward neutralized those things and would have neutralized those things against the best version of Green. I’m not sure what to make of Green’s excuse that he overtrained. Before the fight, all they said was that Green finally had a full training camp and that would eliminate some of his inconsistency. It’s one or the other. As bad as Green looked (and as bad as Ward made him look), I like his chances in his next fight against Kessler far better.
One of the two people I can see beating Ward in this Super Six tournament, Andre Dirrell (the other being Arthur Abraham) is who Ward gets next. Ward’s spot in the tournament semifinals is assured, with his second win this weekend. Dirrell’s is not. Dirrell said he’d have to “be first” against Ward, and that’s a good start. Dirrell also is probably faster than Ward, and has proven he can get in and out and make himself a hard target much like Ward, albeit to a lesser degree. It’s an interesting fight, all the more because Ward and Dirrell are close friends. But Ward will continue to be the favorite in the tournament, deservedly so.
Right now, there are five young black American fighters who project as potential pound-for-pound kings: Ward, Paul Williams, Chad Dawson, Timothy Bradley and Devon Alexander. All of them have the talent and prospective competition to make it happen. All of them buck the Floyd Mayweather, Jr. marketing model, where controversy and faux gangsta posturing are integral. None of them have sold many tickets save Ward (I believe the show drew about 9,000 fans, in the ballpark of his recent fights in Oakland) although Alexander’s St. Louis home has shown the capacity for embracing its local fighters. Williams, Dawson and Bradley rank higher on most pound-for-pound lists, but I like Ward’s talent and skills over all of theirs. And I like his potential as the face of American boxing better.
Ward has a long way to go to live up to his potential. But it’s hard not to be seduced by it, as his body of work begins to justify the high regard.