You could be excused for giving Sakio Bika very little chance of upsetting Andre Ward when they meet Saturday in Oakland, Calif., on Showtime. Ward, after all, has put together impressive back-to-back wins over Mikkel Kessler and Allan Green in Showtime‘s Super Six tournament. And even if the former counts infinitely more than the latter, the point is made: This is not the Andre Ward we expected.
This Andre Ward is confident without being arrogant; elusive without being skittish; and strong without being bull-headed about it. He evinces a singular composure and calm that only those of a deep and unbending conviction are likely to possess. And that takes you farther in a prize ring than any mountain runs or vitamins or push-ups. Indeed, Ward’s most formidable weapon is not his hand speed or his reflexes or his legs. It is his indefatigable self-belief. And clearly it is not an act.
“I’m focused and locked in on retaining my title,” Ward said recently. “Sakio Bika is a very tough challenge but I’ve prepared myself for years, before this training camp. You prepare for a fight like this years in advance. I’ve prepared for him and I know he’s prepared for me.”
Ward looks, sounds, and fights like a champion, or at least like one who knows he will be standing in the winner’s circle at the end of the Super Six tournament and, with any luck, will soon after be seen across the ring from Lucian Bute, the other top dog at 168 pounds.
But he would do well not to look past Bika, who it says here will give him a much harder time than did either Kessler or Green, even if that’s not saying much. Ward dismissed the suggestion that he’s not taking the fight as seriously as he would if it were taking place within the tournament.
“There’s really no problem with this not being in the tournament. In terms of my team, it’s business as usual,” he said.
Still, Bika is easy to underestimate; he went life and death with Jaidon Codrington — on The Contender, no less. He has lost to Joe Calzaghe and Bute and even, if you’ll pardon the expression, Sam Soliman (a loss later avenged). He is crude and awkward, and when he opens up, which is often, he resembles a man with a machete hacking his way through a forest of limbs and flesh and bone. And having a hell of a good time doing it. Talking to him, you would never guess him such a brute.
“I’m very happy to fight Andrew Ward, and I’m very happy he gave me this opportunity,” Bika said in a tone lilting and a little comical and not at all intimidating. “Since 2006, no one wanted to fight me. I challenged everyone. At this moment I’m just happy to fight Andre Ward.”
If Ward’s allies are his intelligence and composure, Bika’s are his resistance to pain and a seeming top-heaviness that causes him to involuntarily push forward, always grinding away the distance that separates him from his opponent. He is an easy night for no one.
“Ward should be smart and not stay in front of him because Bika is very strong,” Peter Manfredo Sr. told me when I asked him about the Ward-Bika fight. Bika stopped Peter Manfredo Jr. in three rounds in November 2008.
“He’s well conditioned and extremely strong, and he’s got a lot of confidence built up because he won that Contender (title). And he went into that the underdog and he beat up Codrington. He crushed him and that kid ain’t been right since. He stayed with Calzaghe and went toe-to-toe with Bute until he got tired,” Manfredo said.
Manfredo said his son did exactly what Ward shouldn’t do against Bika. He punched with him.
“He didn’t want to listen,” Manfredo said. “He was told not to pull back and not to stay in front of this guy. He wanted to stay there and punch with him. He was told every day in camp in sparring that he could not stand in front of Bika. Then he went and stood in front of Bika. Later he told me he’s never been hit so hard in his life.”
In his last fight Bika leveled poor Jean Paul Mendy in the first round and then, when Mendy clearly was down, strode up to him and teed off like he was at the driving range. It went into the books as a disqualification loss, as it well should have, but anyone who saw it knows this is a hard man and not one to be trifled with.
“Everyone saw the fight and knows what happened,” Bika said. “The referee Joe Cortez wasn’t close enough to the action to stop the fight. I was very, very disappointed for that fight. I just want to show the world I am the best fighter against Andre Ward. I didn’t mean to do that.”
He doesn’t mean to smash his forehead against his opponents’ either, or to follow through with an elbow or shoulder while falling in. He may never get close enough to Ward to do any of those things, and if Ward is smart, he will keep it that way. The smart money says he will. But Bika has shown a knack for making smart guys fight dumb. If he can do that to Ward, it will be a fun night indeed.
Some random observations from last week:
Kudos to Sergio Martinez. I don’t personally know anyone who was picking him to beat Paul Williams Saturday night, but he closed his eyes, took his shot, and when he opened them again, he was on the top of the world. Good for him. …
Note to Williams: this is what can happen when you run in with your hands down. It was bound to happen sooner or later. Aspiring pugilists take note. …
Good for referee Earl Morton for counting all the way to 10 while Williams snored deep into the Atlantic City night. Williams wouldn’t have beaten a 200-count, but that’s beside the point. …
In case you missed it, former middleweight and light heavyweight champ Iran Barkley is Bill can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org