What next for Andre Ward?
By Brendan Earley: Andre Ward’s career has been constructed on taking on and fighting the best. One glance at his resume will support this statement, as over the years he has claimed victories against top competitors such as Carl Froch, Mikkel Kessler, Arthur Abraham and Chad Dawson. Such victories resulted in him being crowned the top fighter at 168 pounds, and helped him forge a reputation as one of the best fighters in the world.
After conquering the Super Middleweight division Ward set his sights on replicating the dominance he enjoyed at 168 in the Light Heavyweight Division of 175 pounds. After a period of inactivity caused by injuries and legal issues, Andre took the plunge to Light Heavyweight in 2015, defeating Paul Smith via TKO. After this Ward continued his conquest on the 175 pound weight class, stringing together wins over Sullivan Barrera and Alexander Brand, and in late last year S.O.G took on the biggest challenge of his career so far; A fight with Sergey Kovalev.
Kovalev had developed a reputation in the sport after disposing of the likes of Pascal and Hopkins with ease. Both fights saw him put on display his devastating punching power, and this combination of the pure boxer and the puncher looked excellent on paper, hence the built up excitement before the fight. The matchup lived up to its hype, and Ward took home a controversial and close Unanimous decision victory after being dropped by the Russian in the second round. Andre had won the most significant fight of his life, and in the process cemented his legacy. So, after dominating one weight class and beating the number one fighter in the next division up, the question must be asked. What next for Andre Ward?
Well, the path of retirement is one that has been discussed frequently in the recent news, as Ward himself has come out and stated that retirement is a possibility. His words were that he has always been someone who could walk away from the sport with his mind and body intact, and his desire to leave the sport in good shape could overpower his strive to fight for much longer. Of course, these talks of retirement may just be a tactic to force Team Kovalev into rematch negotiations that contain terms that suit Ward better. Even so, if Ward did retire he would have no shortage of accolades he has acquired during his time competing. From the Olympic gold medal that was placed around his neck in the 90’s, to the Super Six cup that was handed to him, and the Unanimous decision victory of Sergey Kovalev that goes down in history, Ward has had plenty of success in his career. Both through his amateur and professional years.
If Andre opts to not yet hang up the gloves and looks for other fights to perhaps erase doubt over wins he has claimed or assert more dominance on the 175 pound division, then there are plenty of options.. As he is the man at the top of the metaphorical mountain at 175, there are going to be plenty of people wanting to steal his belts from him. Ward is fighting in a division that has plenty of good solid competitors, which in turn creates lots of potential matchups for Ward to make. One of these match ups is of course a rematch with Sergey Kovalev. Although Ward won via Unanimous decision there were plenty of people who disagreed with the decision, and this doubt in the result of the fight will lead to plenty of excitement and attention for the second fight. It is likely that this will take place, as it there is allegedly a rematch clause in the contract. Financially the fight would benefit them both, especially Ward as he would be the A side after winning the first match. If S.O.G was looking for a big payday before the end of his career, then this is certainly it.
Sergey Kovalev isn’t the only avenue that Ward can explore, as one other fight he can make follows a similar blueprint to Ward v Kovalev. Artur Beterbiev is a hard hitting Eastern European who uses his astounding power to full effect. Recently the Russian disposed of an experienced Isidro Prieto with ease in the first round, taking his record to 11-0 with an impressive 11 KO’s. Although he has only fought in 11 pro fights, his thick amateur background that consists of a Gold medal in the World Championships, equips him with sufficient experience to take on the best at 175 pounds. Beterbiev is likely to become a mandatory to Ward’s title, so there is a good chance this bout will get made.
As well as the two mentioned fighters there is another who has had an unforeseen emergence onto the scene. The name of this unexpected challenger is Joe Smith JR, and although he doesn’t hold the most glamorous name or reputation he has a credible name or two on his resume. After knocking out a top competitor in Andrzej Fonfara, and then spoiling Bernard Hopkins’ retirement party by putting him out the ring, Smith JR has some momentum going his way. The working class hero is a good fight for Ward to make, as there is lower risk involved than there would be fighting a power puncher like Beterbiev, but enough quality on Smith JR’s behalf to add to Ward’s resume.
With all these remaining opportunities in the mix for Andre Ward, in my opinion it would be silly for him to retire now. There are still plenty of good competition for him to take on, and if he was able to dominate the Light Heavyweight division like he did at Super Middleweight, his bid for the Pound for pound number one spot will be iron clad. With the duopoly of Mayweather and Pacquiao in the pound for pound rankings broken by Pacquiao’s decline and Mayweather’s retirement, Ward can seize an opportunity and become the undisputed P4P best. A title that only the rare elite can enjoy the privilege of carrying, and a title that would cement his place in Boxing history as one of the best.
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