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Andre Ward’s options for next fight

By Jeff Aranow: Andre Ward (32-0, 16 KOs) successfully defended his IBF, WBA and WBO light heavyweight titles last Saturday night in stopping Sergey Kovalev (30-2-1, 26 KOs) with a perfectly placed low blow in the 8th round at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. Ward is now kicking around the idea of fighting at cruiserweight or heavyweight for his next fight.

Ward’s trainer Virgil Hunter thinks it’s a dandy idea for him to challenge heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua, and he believes there are vulnerabilities in the British fighter that Ward can take advantage of.

“A lot of people would say that’s suicide,” Hunter said to Yahoo Sports News about Ward facing unbeaten Joshua (19-0, 19 KOs) for his IBF/WBA titles.

It wouldn’t be suicide for Ward to challenge Joshua, but it would be ugly to watch. I can see only two outcomes in a fight of this nature and both of them are BAD. Ward either gets smashed to pieces by Joshua in the first 4 rounds or he gets disqualified for fouling. With Ward likely needing to fight Joshua in the UK for a match between them to become a reality, it would mean almost certainly that a British referee would be working the fight. The chances of Ward getting away with low blows against Joshua are slim and none, especially after the outcome of the Ward-Kovalev 2 fight.

The referee that works a Joshua-Ward fight isn’t going to put up with low blows from Ward, because he will have had plenty of warning by Joshua’s camp ahead of time. It’s going to be a bad outcome for Wardy any way you want to look at it. He either gets knocked out or disqualified. That’s how I see that fight ending. It would make Ward a lot of money through the pay-per-view. Joshua vs. Ward would be PPV in the UK and the U.S. It’s one of Ward’s few options for PPV in Stateside right now. The other options for Ward is if he faces WBC light heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson or WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder.

The outcome of the Ward-Kovalev 2 fight made it clear that there would be no third fight. It’s not that Ward clearly showed he was the better fighter of the two. It’s more of the case that the fight was so tainted by the low blow from Ward and the hurried stoppage by referee Tony Weeks that it’s highly unlikely that the boxing fans would buy another fight between the two light heavyweights.

Ward does not appear to be motivated to stay at light heavyweight now that he’s beaten Kovalev for the second time. Ward says he wants to fight at cruiserweight or heavyweight. If Ward does make that move, then it’s safe to assume that he’s on his way out of the sport and just looking for 1 big fight. If Ward fights at cruiserweight, he could look for a winnable match against Tony Bellew or likely unwinnable fight against champions Mairis Briedis, Oleksandr Usyk, Murat Gassiev or Denis Lebedev. Ward arguably has better boxing skills than those 4 cruiserweights, but he doesn’t have their punching power or frame. Gassiev is like a small heavyweight. Every punch Gassiev were to land on Ward would b be hurtful. Ward wouldn’t last long with Gassiev from my perspective.

At one time, Ward wanted to prove that he was the best fighter at 175. It doesn’t look like that’s a goal for him now, as he’s now showing a lot of motivation to move beyond the Kovalev fight to face WBC light heavyweight champion Adonis “Superman” Stevenson in a unification match. That would be the final piece of the puzzle for Ward if he were to show some initiative in trying to make the match. I don’t think Ward is going to do that through. If Ward wanted to prove that he’s the best at light heavyweight, he would need to beat Stevenson, and then defeat the following contenders in the division:

– Artur Beterbiev

– Joe Smith Jr.

– Oleksandr Gvozdyk

– Dmitry Bivol

– Badou Jack

– Adonis Stevenson

That’s only 6 fights that Ward would need to win for him to show to the boxing world that he’s conclusively the best fighter at 175. At best, it would only take Ward another 3 years to show the fans that he’s the best fighter in the light heavyweight division. That’s if Ward didn’t get beaten along the way or if he didn’t get tied into rematches like we just saw due to his controversial victory over Kovalev in their first fight last November.

“Maybe cruiserweight,” Ward said at the post-fight news conference last Saturday night. “I don’t know. I always wanted to fight heavyweight, but it has to be the right guy.”

That would have to be an ego trip for Ward to move up to cruiserweight, as the division’s top fighters are not major fixtures in the minds of the U.S boxing public. The money wouldn’t be there for Ward to fight a cruiserweight on PPV unless he selected Tony Bellew. In that case, the money would be only coming from the UK PPV market. Ward vs. Bellew would not sell in the U.S on HBO PPV.

Ward’s promoters at Roc Nation Sports could televise a Ward-Bellew fight on PPV in the U.S, but the numbers would be very, very low. Ward’s fight with Kovalev brought in decent numbers due to Kovalev being a popular champion before Ward fought him. Bellew would be an unknown to the casual boxing fans. in the U.S. Ward would need to hitch a ride in getting a portion of the British PPV money.

I don’t think that Bellew is going to want to fight Ward though, because he can make a lot more money fighting a rematch against David Haye or challenging one of the heavyweight world champions.

Ward did his job in beating Kovalev twice. Before Ward fought Kovalev, he was expected to lose to him by a knockout. You can argue that Ward should have lost the first fight with Kovalev last November if the U.S judges had given Kovalev some of the rounds that he appeared to win in the second half of the fight. They didn’t, so Ward got the controversial win. Ward’s low blows and the lightning quick stoppage by referee Tony Weeks arguably won him the second fight with Kovalev.

None the less, Ward was given the win. In boxing, it doesn’t matter how you win. The only important thing is whether you win. The fans quickly forget the facts of the fights, and they instead focus on who won. The loser sees his career hurt, while the winner moves ahead. That’s why it’s important that you get good judges and referees that work the fights, because they’re in the position to make or break a fighter’s boxing career.

The magic question now is whether Ward will revert to form by going into a long spell of inactivity like we saw in the past from him after he won the Super Six tournament in 2011. Ward seemed to rest on his laurels after beating Carl Froch in the Super Six tournament.

Ward could sabotage his own career if he chooses to sit out of the ring for the remainder of 2017. Indeed, I’m predicting that Ward does stay out of the ring for at the remainder of this year while he sits back and enjoys his win over Kovalev. The real question is does Ward fight in 2018. I think it’s a given that he won’t fight again in 2017, but we don’t know if he’ll sit back and rest for 2018 as well.

If Ward truly wants no one but Joshua for his next fight, then he’ll be sitting and waiting for him to get freed up to fight him until 2018. Joshua appears to be booked with 2 important fights against Wladimir Klitschko in December and Kubrat Pulev in the first quarter of 2018. If a fight against Deontay Wilder is possible for 2018, then you would have to assume that fight takes priority over Ward.

The British boxing public is familiar with the popular Deontay Wilder. Joshua vs. Wilder would be seen as a real heavyweight fight. Joshua vs. Ward would be more like Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Conor McGregor in terms of it being a circus/business fight rather than a serious fight. A serious fight is when you’ve got two fighters that are fighting around the same weight class, and have roughly the same size, power and overall talent. Ward, 33, is an aging fighter that is small even for the light heavyweight division.

Ward vs. Adonis Stevenson is the only fight the boxing public wants to see at light heavyweight. If Ward stays at 175, that’s the fight he needs to try and make. If Ward chooses not to make it, then he’s got few options for paydays in the division.

“I don’t know if he’s serious [about fighting me] or not,” Ward said about a fight against Adonis Stevenson. “I don’t know. I think, honestly, he’s got a lot of pressure on him to make some moves. I think you guys have, rightfully so, put pressure on him. So I think now he’s kind of feeling like, ‘Alright, I’ve gotta make a move.’ He’s not a spring chicken, either. He’s kind of up there in age, so he’s got to make some moves.”

Stevenson is 39, and he obviously isn’t young. However, Stevenson has better hand speed and punching power than Ward. Stevenson appears to have aged better than the 33-year-old Ward. Stevenson would be going into a fight with Ward as arguably the younger fighter of the two in my opinion.

Stevenson was one of those Bernard Hopkins type of fighters who doesn’t age. It’s uncanny who youthful Stevenson is for someone nearing 40. Ward would have his hands full against Stevenson. I don’t know that Ward wants that type of work.

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