Michael Rosenthal

RING PASS: Ward vs. Abraham

MEET THE FIGHTERS

ANDRE WARD

THE ESSENTIALS

Age: 27

Height / reach: 6-1 (185cm) / 73 (185cm)

Hometown: Oakland, Calif.

Nickname: S.O.G.

Turned pro: 2004

Record: 23-0 (13 knockouts)

Trainer: Virgil Hunter

Fight-by-fight: Click here

The Ring rating: No. 1 super middleweight; No. 9 pound for pound

Titles: WBA super middleweight (2009-present)

Biggest victories: Edison Miranda, May 16, 2009, UD 12; Mikkel Kessler, Nov. 21, 2009, TD 11 (won title; Super Six tournament); Allen Green, June 19, 2010, UD 12; Sakio Bika, Nov. 27, 2010, UD 12.

Losses: None

Biography: Andre Ward has been a student of boxing from the first time he laced on a pair of gloves at age eight.

Inspired by his father Frank Ward, a former heavyweight boxer, Ward laced on his first pair of gloves at age eight and sought to learn every aspect of his craft.

Lessons came from his trainer, god father Virgil Hunter, and from the experiences of his first amateur bouts. The native of California’s Bay Area proved to be a quick learner as well as an exceptional athlete and fierce competitor.

Under Hunter’s guidance, Ward compiled a 115-5 amateur record, winning numerous national titles en route to a gold medal in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece. Ward, who competed in the 178-pound division, became the first American Olympic champ since David Reid won gold in the 1996 Games.

Despite obvious skill and considerable talent, Ward began his pro career under a cloud of skepticism. Many observers wondered if the ultra-fast sharp shooter was tough enough to make it to the elite level of the sport.

The doubts were caused by two fights that occurred during the first 12 months of Ward’s pro tenure: his second bout against Kenny Kost and his seventh bout against Darnell Boone.

Against Kost, in February of 2005, Ward was wobbled by a left hook in the second round of the nationally televised fight. It was the only moment the undefeated (8-0) Minnesotan had during the six-round bout but it raised questions about Ward’s chin.

Against Boone, in November of 2005, Ward was dropped by a right uppercut in the final minute of the fourth round. Ward was visibly stunned by the punch but he got up and survived to the bell. Ward held off the rugged and awkward journeyman’s rushes over the next two rounds to secure a close unanimous decision but instead of noting the composure and character he showed in the face of adversity many boxing writers predicted that it was only a matter of time until the Oakland resident’s chin failed him during a fight.

The critics could not have been more wrong.

Ward continued to learn from his mistakes and improve his technique and style over the next three years, but despite running his record to 17-0 by the end of 2008, new criticism arose.

Boxing writers asked why Ward, the last American to win an Olympic gold medal, was still fighting in developmental bouts at a point in his career when previous U.S. Olympic champs, such as Reid and Oscar De La Hoya, had already won world titles.

Hunter told the media that the “fast track” sometimes works out for talented fighters, as it did with De La Hoya, and sometimes it ruins them, as it did Reid, who was considered a shot fighter before his 20th pro bout. He promised to step up Ward’s competition when it was time.

That time came in May of 2009 when Ward faced former title challenger Edison Miranda, a hard punching Colombian veteran whose only losses at the time were to Arthur Abraham and Kelly Pavlik. Ward sustained a bad cut over his left eye in the first round but still controlled his powerful opponent throughout the first 12-round bout of his career.

Ward was beginning to win over some his doubters but he still entered Showtime’s Super Six World Boxing Classic as a dark horse in late 2009. He was viewed as a talented prospect but woefully inexperienced in comparison to the tournament favorites, Mikkel Kessler, who would be his opening round opponent, and Abraham.

Ward obliterated all doubts about his potential and his chances in the tournament by dominating Kessler to an 11-round technical decision in front of a hometown audience in November of 2009. Kessler, a talented Danish titleholder who had lost only once in 43 pro bouts — a competitive decision to Joe Calzaghe — was outclassed from the opening bell.

With one fight Ward won a world title, vaulted to the top of the media’s super middleweight rankings, and became the instant favorite to win the Super Six. His dominating second round victory over Allan Green and non-tournament decision over Sakio Bika has enhanced his reputation as the man to beat in the Super Six and enabled him to crack THE RING’s pound-for-pound rankings.

Ward is the overwhelming favorite to beat Abraham in their semifinal bout on May 14 in Carson, Calif., but don’t expect the 27-year-old titleholder to underestimate the dangerous veteran.

Ward knows what it’s like to be doubted and he expects an inspired former middleweight beltholder to bring his best to the ring on Saturday. That’s OK with the consummate student of the game, who even now, strives to improve with every outing.

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