THE RING and WBA super middleweight champion Andre Ward still has not reached his full potential according to trainer Virgil Hunter, who said that the unbeaten 29-year-old "is working at about 80 percent of his ability right now."
The 2004 Olympic gold medalist is coming off November's unanimous decision over previously unbeaten Edwin Rodriguez that followed a 10th-round knockout of then-RING and WBC light heavyweight champ Chad Dawson in September of 2012.
Ward (26-0, 14 knockouts) endured successful surgery in early January of 2013 to repair his injured right shoulder, an injury that forced the cancelation of a scheduled March defense against former middleweight champ Kelly Pavlik.
Prior to the facing Dawson, Ward earned a unanimous decision over current IBF belholder Carl "The Cobra" Froch in December of 2011 in their bout for THE RING, WBA and WBC belts.
"I would say that 'Dre' is working at 80 percent of his ability right now, and the reason that I say that is that he hasn't even had 30 fights," Hunter said of Ward, who turns 30 in February. "Dre's had, the last couple of years, a gap in between fights where he hasn't really gotten into that fight groove where he's fighting three fights a year and things like that."
Ward said that he would consider making his next fight against previously unbeaten 168-pounder George "Saint" Groves (19-1, 15 KOs) who scored a first-round knockdown during November's disputed ninth-round stoppage loss to Froch (32-2, 23 KOs) in an all-British brawl.
Froch earned his fourth straight win and his third knockout during that run against Groves since falling to Ward.
Although Ward is involved in a his a lawsuit seeking separation from career-long promoter Dan Goossen, with whom he has had an ongoing contractual rift, the RING super middleweight champion still expects to return to the ring in "March or April," Ward informed RingTV.com earlier this month.
Ward has been spent his entire professional career with Goossen, whose contract that ties him to Goossen until September of 2015.
"Dre is not even 30 years old yet," said Hunter. "When he gets into that fighting groove, then he'll go to another level."
OSSIE DURAN LOOKS TO BRING DOWN CALEB TRUAX
Middleweight Caleb Truax (23-1, 4 KOs), of Osseo, Minn., has won five straight fights, four of them by knockout, and has stoppage wins in his past two fights heading into Friday's matchup with Ossie Duran (28-11-2, 11 KOs), a loser of three of his past four bouts.
The lone setback for Truax, 30, has come by 10-round unanimous decision in April of 2012 to former 160-pound champion Jermain Taylor, whom he dropped in the ninth round.
Despite being 36 and suffering a third-round knockout loss to Matt Korobov last June, Duran believes he can triumph over Truax, who will compete before his partisan fans at The Target Center in Minneappolis, Minn.
"He's beaten a couple of good guys. I watched him fight on tape and he's a good fighter, but I've been around so long, I'm ready for anyone," said Duran. "I'm always in the gym training and working. I train some guys too, so I'm always ready to go. I can't wait for Friday, you know? I can't wait to jump in the ring and do what I got to do."
Former undisputed heavyweight champion Mike Tyson, whose company Iron Mike Productions is co-promoting the event, will also make a public appearance during the card, which will be televised on ESPN2's Friday Night Fights.
Mendez, a Domincan Republic native who resides in Brookyln, battled to a majority draw in August with Arash Usmanee (20-1-1, 10 KOs), whom Barthelemy defeated by controversial unanimous decision in January of 2013.
Mendez is 3-0-1, with two knockouts since falling by unanimous decision to Juan Carlos Salgado in September of 2011. Two fights later, however, Mendez won his current belt from Salgado by fourth-round stoppage.
A Cuban-born Miami resident, Barthelemy is coming off of a second-round knockout of Fahsai Sakkreerin in June.
DERECK CHISORA TO FACE UNBEATEN ANDRIY RUDENKO ON FEB. 15
Chisora, 30, is coming off November's third-round knockout of Ondrej Pala, representing his fourth consecutive stoppage win, since, himself, being knocked out by ex-beltholder David Haye in fifth round in July of 2012.
Chisora's loss to Haye was his third straight, following those by split-decision and unanimous decision to Robert Helenius and Vitali Klitschko in December of 2011 and February of 2012, respectively. Chisora's other loss was by unanimous decison to Tyson Fury in July of 2011.
Rudenko, 30, is in pursuit of his fifth straight knockout victory having last been in the ring for a first-round stoppage in March over Adnan Buharalija.
Photo by Naoki Fukuda
Lem Satterfield can be reached at email@example.com.