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Sanchez: Sullivan Barrera will be too good for Andre Ward

Andre WardBy Dan Ambrose: This Saturday night on March 26, the ring rusty former WBA super middleweight champion Andre Ward (28-0, 15 KOs) will be facing unbeaten light heavyweight contender Sullivan Barrera (17-0, 12 KOs) on HBO Boxing from the Oracle Arena in Oakland, California.

At one time, Ward was considered the best fighter in the 168lb division, but sadly, he has only fought two times since 2012. On Saturday night, the 31-year-old Ward will be moving up to light heavyweight to take on one of the best fighters in the division in unbeaten Barrera.

Abel Sanchez, the trainer for the 34-year-old Barrera, thinks they’ll be too good for Ward in this fight. Sanchez notes that Ward didn’t show that he’s the same fighter he was in the past in his recent fight against Paul Smith last year in June.

While Ward did win the fight by a 9th round knockout, he didn’t shine the way he used to five years ago when he was an active and highly ambitious fighter. It’s doubtful that Ward ever lost his ambition, but for one or another, he’s not been able to find his way to the boxing ring on a regular basis since 2012.

In a sport like boxing, you have to stay active otherwise you lose a percentage off your game. It’s same in any sport, but especially in the pugilistic sport. If you stay at home and sit on the couch, then your game is going to suffer. Unfortunately for Ward, he’s had a lot of couch time since 2012, and now he’s trying to get back in the sport by reinventing himself in the 175lb division.

“The Andre Ward that we’ve watched in the past we haven’t seen lately,” said Sanchez to “The attacking style that he [Barrera] has now and the knockouts that he has now are some of the stuff that we practice in the gym. It’s just a matter of going at Andre and taking what he gives us but not to let Andre breathe.”

Sanchez feels that they can beat the 31-year-old Ward with pressure. That’s really the only thing they can try, and the only thing that’s given Ward problems during his pro career. Sakio Bika, Carl Froch and Darnell Boone both had some success against Ward when pressuring him.

Ward still beat them, but he definitely had more problems against these fighters than the other guys he faces. Ward did a lot of holding and wrestling to get the better of these fighters, but it was easier for Ward because he was at his natural weight back then. If Ward tries to wrestle Barrera on the inside on Saturday, it might not be as easy because Barrera is bigger and stronger than the guys that Ward has fought in the past.

Ward does really well against fighters that stand on the outside and try to fight. Ward has a great jab and good hand speed. In Ward’s last fight against Paul Smith, you could see that Ward has lost some hand speed from inactivity and aging. He’s not as quick or as explosive as he was five years ago in 2011.

Ward is still fast, but he’s lost a healthy percentage from his game that he likely will never be able to regain. If Ward was a big punching heavyweight, it wouldn’t matter that he lost some hand speed. But he’s a light heavyweight now, and he’s not one of the harder punchers in the division.

Ward doesn’t possess the same kind of power as other guys in the light heavyweight division like Artur Beterbiev, Andrzej Fonfara, Eleider Alvarez, Sullian Barrera and Sergey Kovalev. Without the huge punching power that other fighters in the 175 pound division have going for them, Ward is needs as much hand speed as possible for him to have a chance to beat the harder hitting fighters.

“It’ll make for a great fight because Andre I think has to prove – in my opinion anyway has to prove that he belongs at 175,” said Sanchez.” He’s staring at a full-fledged 175-pounder that’s very athletic, that has a long history of a Cuban background and has had a great history with me. So if Andre can handle that, more power to him if he’ll come out. We don’t think he can. We think that we’ll be too good for him at this moment in Andre’s career.”

Sanchez could be right. Barrera might be catching Ward at the right part of his career to hand him his first loss. It’s difficult to lose four years of your prime and come back to be the fighters that you once were. Former heavyweight world champion Muhammad Ali lost four years of his career in the 1960s.

When he finally did come back in 1971, he was beaten by Joe Frazier by a 15 round decision. However. Ali was able to avenge that loss and go on to defeat some of the biggest names in the division like George Foreman, Ken Norton and Earnie Shavers. Never the less, Ali wasn’t the same fighter that he’d been before his four-year layoff. If you compare the Ali that beat Cleveland Williams in 1966 to the one that fought Frazier in 1971, there’s no comparison. Ali was faster in the Cleveland Williams fight, and much sharper.

Whether Ward can beat a solid fighter like Barrera without the hand speed that he once had is the big question. Ward might find out quickly that he doesn’t match-up with Barrera, and he could end up having to do a lot of holding and wrestling like we saw from him in the Super Six tournament that he took part in.

It could be an ugly fight if Ward chooses to try and wrestle on the inside for 12 rounds. We’re going to find out early though how is going to try and deal with the pressure that Barrera puts on him. If he feels he can’t keep Barrera off of him, then you can expect Ward to resort to wrestling on the inside to smother Barrera.

A defeat for Ward in this fight would be a huge blow to his career because he hopes to fight Sergey Kovalev later on this year in a pay-per-view fight fight on HBO. That won’t happen if Ward loses to Barrera.

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