It can be argued that no active fighter has advanced as much as Andre Ward has in the past two years.
Thanks to his involvement in Showtime’s Super Six World Boxing Classic, the boxing world has watched the 27-year-old super middleweight advance from talented-but-untested prospect to top contender, and with his victory over Carl Froch in the 168-pound tournament final on Dec. 17, fans witnessed his evolution from titleholder to bona-fide champion.
Ward’s unanimous decision over Froch unified the WBA and WBC belts and earned him THE RING’s vacant super middleweight title, accomplishemnts that did not go unnoticed by fight fans, who voted the Northern Californian the “Fighter of the Year” for 2011.
Ward (25-0, 13 knockouts), who received 45.3 percent of the vote, took the fighter-of-the-year honor in clear and convincing fashion, distancing himself from the other candidates – which included Nonito Donaire (24.6), Sergio Martinez (12.2), Brandon Rios (8.2), Jorge Arce (5.1) and Brian Viloria (4.5) – as he did with his fellow Super Six particpants.
Ward only fought twice in 2011 but he dominated experienced, world-class opposition. The cool technician outclassed a desperate and still dangerous Arthur Abraham (32-2, 26 KOs) on May 14 and decisiviely outpointed Froch (28-2, 20 KOs), THE RING’s No. 2-rated super middleweight and the WBC beltholder, to claim the Super Six Cup and advance to No. 5 in both THE RING and Yahoo! Sports pound-for-pound rankings.
In his Super Six semifinal against Abraham, whose only losses were tournament bouts against Andre Dirrell and Froch, Ward shutout the former middleweight beltholder on one of the judge’s scorecards and won by scores of 118-110 and 118-111 on the other two.
Two judges somehow scored the tournament final against Froch a way-too-close 115-113, but most observers agreed with the 118-110 tally submitted by British judge John Keane.
Despite injuring his left hand days before the fight, which took place in Atlantic City, Ward landed the cleaner, harder punches – mainly his jab and hook – throughout the bout. The 2004 Olympic gold medalist continually beat Froch to the punch with his superior speed and timing, avoided most of the durable and defiant Brit’s retaliatory volleys with effective head- and upper-body movement, and proved to be the stronger fighter on the inside.
In other words, he shut Froch down in the same manner that he imposed his style on Mikkel Kessler, Allan Green, Sakio Bika and Abraham.
The scary thing for the few world-class super middleweights that Ward hasn’t already embarrassed – such as undefeated IBF beltholder Lucian Bute – and even the top light heavyweights, is that the astute student of boxing is just hitting his stride.
Ward entered his prime this year and has all but vowed to continue to improve his already near-impenetrable game.
“This is not the end. It’s really the beginning for us,” Ward said after the Froch fight. “We’re going to get better. Believe it or not, you guys (media) haven’t seen the best Andre Ward. I’m still growing. I’m still a young fighter. I’ve still got a long way to go.
“I’m looking forward to the next chapter in my life, the next chapter in my journey.”
It’s a journey that will likely include more Fighter of the Year awards.
Photo / Ed Mulholland and Craig Bennett-Fightwireimages.com