Breakfast With Andre (Ward)

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — If Andre Ward can’t be sold by his fighting style, or if he can’t win over more fans by altering it, there’s one thing about him that could sell like hotcakes: his personality.

It’s not the cool, cynical, or even skeptical thing for a journalist to allow to happen, but after a Showtime-hosted roundtable with reporters Saturday morning, it was clear that the world’s best super middleweight and arguably the best active American boxer had charmed the collected grizzled scribes. He did it with colorful quotes, intelligence, poise and even wit.

Like when he was asked about the last time he lost, 12 years ago, against Jesus Gonzalez in the amateurs, and whether he agreed with the decision: “Honestly, no. His mother was one of the judges. And they took two points away from me.”

Or like when he was asked about whether he’d like to fight Brit Carl Froch in Las Vegas, if Froch beats Glen Johnson tonight to advance to the Super Six tournament finale: “It could be like Floyd Mayweather-Ricky Hatton all over again.” Pause. “Hopefully, with the same result.”

Granted, this particular scribe is not of the mind that Ward needs to alter his fighting style much if at all, but some don’t find Ward’s style as entertaining as this one does. But Ward can even use his personality to sell you on his fighting style. “Carl Froch stepped away from Arthur Abraham. We went to Abraham,” Ward said. “They say he put on the fight of his life and my fight is boring. It just depends on how you look at it.”

Showtime subscribers will get a chance to listen to Ward tonight, when he will be behind the microphone for Froch-Johnson.

(Andre Ward, with the Super Six trophy, photographed by Tom Casino of Showtime. Ward said he hasn’t picked out a spot for it at home, but that he did consider running off with it. “I don’t want to put the cart before the horse… I wanted to kiss it. It’s a beautiful piece.”)

Let’s be as skeptical as we can, though. To some, the nickname “S.O.G.” or “Son of God” comes off as overly pious. But to Ward, “if you have faith, you are a son of God.” And besides, he said, “‘Terminator’ or ‘Destroyer’ isn’t a good nickname for me,” he quipped, alluding to his reputation as a cerebral fighter.

And he knows, from the standpoint of his fighting style, that he’s no Tommy Hearns. “Tommy Hearns could go in there and comatose you with one shot. Everybody’s different,” he said. Ward’s idea is to be like Sugar Ray Leonard, who had some power but who, more importantly, was a great finisher when he “smelled blood.” When told by a reporter that Abraham told Froch that Ward “couldn’t punch the skin off a pudding,” Ward wondered in return why Abraham never opened up. “I’m a very physical guy in there,” he said.

With those things addressed, maybe from here it’s best just to go a la carte.

Early Career

Ward had his first fight at age 10. He sparred with Glenn Donaire, brother of Nonito. A coach at the time, Ward recalled, remarked that he was “a good kid, but he doesn’t have it.” But he felt compelled to continue. While his first love was baseball, his father was a heavyweight boxer. “Like most kids, I wanted to be like my dad,” he said. And that included pursuing a coach with whom his dad could be comfortable. One early trainer, Ward said, tried to make him use the style of “take two to give one. My dad wasn’t about that. He said, ‘I want someone to teach my son to hit and not be hit.'” That’s when they discovered current trainer Virgil Hunter.

Incidentally, Ward had Gonzalez’ name at the ready immediately when asked about his last loss. One theme to the conversation with Ward was that he is fiercely motivated by slights, real and perceived, and it was clear that even now the Gonzalez loss bothered him. It did help with his memory that Gonzalez had recently surfaced on Twitter to call him out. Ward said he replied that Gonzalez needed to get in line, but when Gonzalez kept after him, Ward blocked his old foe.

An Olympic gold medalist, Ward was puzzled about why Olympic boxing down in the United States. “That’s the million dollar question,” he said. “I don’t think it can be answered right now.” But he did have some thoughts. One would be to do what Eastern Bloc countries do, which is to financially reward boxers who are successful in the Olympics. “They get taken care of real well,” he said. Another idea would be to make sure boxers have consistent coaches; too often, they’re thrown in there with coaches they don’t know when it comes Olympics time. Ward said others tried to teach him to fight in a different style for the Olympics, but his trainer insisted, “‘You’re going to be you.’ He let me be myself.” And Ward himself plans to get more involved, even if that only means showing up and supporting amateur boxing. He remembers guys like Roy Jones, Jr. and Mayweather doing the same when he was an amateur. “When you see those guys, you get inspired,” he said. “They’ve been to a place you haven’t been before.” Furthermore, decades ago, when Leonard was on his Olympic quest, it was broadcast on ABC, not on various channels at strange hours like it is now. “Howard Cosell sold him to the public,” he said.

To this day, his favorite career achievement is winning gold in 2004. “I’m a patriotic guy,” he said. It meant a lot to him to be standing on the pedestal, “with what our country was going through at the time.”

Past Opponents

Ward clearly was irritated by Abraham’s remarks about his punching power, but he said he understood. “He doesn’t particularly like me,” Ward said, noting that it’s hard to give credit to someone who beat you. But then, Ward admitted he doesn’t want to give credit to Jesus Gonzalez, either. Mikkel Kessler had a similar attitude, Ward said. “That’s sour grapes,” he said. All the complaining about head butts ignored the fact that for nine rounds, the two never clashed heads (ed. note: I don’t recall if they did, personally). “I don’t know how to intentionally head butt without getting cut,” Ward said, flummoxed by one of the other common criticisms he encountered. Allan Green was supposed to be a stiff challenge according to experts, Ward said, but after Ward beat him, observers dismissed Green as “nothing.” Sakio Bika — “We don’t have to talk about that one. That was a whole different thing.” Ward said Friday that he thought he performed very poorly against Bika, so it’s obvious that is something that’s been sticking in his craw.

As much as the gathered press wanted to ask Ward about Carl Froch and whether he’s underrated — the reporters in attendance were largely British — Ward took care to point out that he himself is underrated. “I don’t think all the respect and just due is there,” he said. “I’ve had a pretty good run in the last year and a half,” including the win over Edison Miranda. Which, again, he said he understood. After all, Mayweather still doesn’t get the respect Ward thinks Mayweather has earned, and Mayweather has done more in his career than Ward has at this point. And Ward was careful to say that he doesn’t think of himself as a finished product. He said that when he and his team review footage of his fights, the breakdowns are brutal.

He also doesn’t think he’s gotten respect from past opponents. “Guys underestimate me,” he said. “They see one thing on the outside, then it’s another thing on the inside fo the ring. By the time they figure it out, the fight’s over.”

The Super Six

When Ward was negotiating about entering the Super Six, he didn’t originally understand that it would be a tournament. He thought it was just aimed at a three-fight deal for his fights. Then, the names began to surface, some of them well-known men in the division. And he began to notice a pattern. The tournament, he thought, looked as though Showtime was trying to set up a U.S. vs. Europe clash. But that’s not how Ward was going to view it. “I looked at it as, every man for himself,” he said.

He didn’t believe it was real until the news conference in Berlin. He was a bit under the weather, so he was in a bad mood. He noticed that Abraham came off as cocky; Kessler carried himself like the betting favorite he was; Jermain Taylor was there, he thought, as a “sacrificial lamb;” and among the well-known fighters, only Froch was acting like he wanted to “show I belong.” Ward looked at himself and Andre Dirrell and thought that the tournament’s design for them was as “two young guys with the potential to spice things up but not make much noise.” When he left the news conference, Ward said, “I felt slighted.” And that gave him all the motive he needed.

Ward sized up the evening’s competitors and what advantages they bring to the ring. On Johnson, his determination stands out: “He’s all business. There’s no play in Glen Johnson.” On Froch, his fewer miles and confidence are assets; Froch believes he can’t lose: “You have to change his mind.”

Ward had a lot to say about Froch, in part because he believes that Froch has had a lot to say about him and in part because the British press asked a lot about Froch. He thinks the fans want to see him face Froch for the tournament trophy, since both are original Super Six participants and it would be a U.S.-U.K. clash. And if Froch wins, Ward expects to hear a lot from fans on the street: “Please, shut Carl Froch up.” Froch, Ward said, talks a lot, not that he minds it much — Froch has been respectful to him when they’ve met, it’s just that when it comes to Froch’s lip, “Some people like it. Some people don’t.” And he also thinks it’s interesting that Froch has made so many remarks about how he expects Ward to lose this fight or that, that he’s scared of this opponent or the other. “Why do you constantly have my name in your mouth?” Ward asked.

And he does believe he’ll win it all, even it means going through Froch. “It would be a tough fight. But I think if you put Carl’s best up against my best, I win,” Ward said. “If you don’t feel like that, you shouldn’t be in this sport. I should just give the trophy to the winner tonight.”

After the Super Six, Ward hopes to face Lucian Bute, but doesn’t plan to stay around super middleweight beyond that. He wants to move up to light heavyweight, where he expects to get fresh competition, unless Sergi Martinez wants a fight at 168. But he’s not interested in facing Bernard Hopkins, whom he considers a friend. Of course, every fight has its price. “If you all want to pay $50 million apiece…” he said. “There are no losers in that fight.”

Boxing Commentators

Ward had some pretty thoughtful remarks on the state of boxing commentary, however brief. He was watching some mixed martial arts on television recently and noticed how enthused the commentators were, how they appreciated the art of what the combatants were doing.

He also noticed that most of his fan mail comes from the U.K. Over there, be it Joe Calzaghe or Froch or the recent George Groves-James DeGale fight, “You get behind your guys. I appreciate that.” Compared to the lack of respect Ward sees for Mayweather or Bernard Hopkins, it’s a strange contrast. I asked Ward about the tendency of those big-name African-American fighters to play the villain, but he didn’t want to get into a race discussion. That, he said, is something he would leave to us.

So many U.S. boxing commentators, Ward said, are often negative. Showtime’s Chris DeBlasio chimed in, noting that someone had said he hoped Johnson would win, so a replacement would stick it to Showtime. And why? Because the network tried to do something innovative for the fans?

(I completely agree with this sentiment, by the way. I totally back the idea of boxing commentators being skeptical of boxers and boxing authorities, and it’s pretty transparent that I feel weird writing a profile of Ward where I describe him as likable. I’d feel worse about it if I hadn’t asked him yesterday about his association with Victor Conte. But there’s a big swath of boxing commentary that is so unrelentingly nasty that you wonder why they even bother writing or talking about the sport. There needs to be some kind of love here, or else it just sounds like a bunch of people heckling a show when it would be better for everyone else if they just walked out.)

It can’t be ignored that Ward hears the criticism about his style and has carefully considered it. But at the end of the day, he shrugs it off. “I love you all, but you don’t come home with me.”

Personal Life

Ward is almost glad he didn’t get the same attention coming out of the Olympics that previous generations of boxers did. In the U.K., Amir Khan did just fine with the immediate stardom. But not everyone handles it the same way. “Give another guy a million dollars, and it practically ruins his life,” Ward said. He thinks he has matured since then. “I don’t know if I would have been ready for that back in 2004.”

“There’s always temptation out there,” he said, with his wife — his high school sweetheart, Tiffiney — sitting next to him. “Were things always perfect in our lives? No. But we have a strong bond.” It was literally “love at first sight,” Ward said; they were married eight years ago, and Ward is just 27. He thinks of himself as a one-woman man. “I tried to be a player as a young man,” he said. “I wasn’t very good at it.” Tiffiney shook her head “no” in agreement.

Tiffiney, by the way, considers herself a fight fan. “I love boxing,” she said. When she’s there for Ward fights, she behaves differently than she does for other fights. She said she planned to be at tonight’s fight as a fan, which means she will be yelling and screaming, prompting Ward to cut her off: “You can’t yell for any of these guys!” It was one of the last lines of the interview, and the one that got the biggest laughs from a charmed room.

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board ( He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.