Andre Ward Fights For Unreachable Admiration

By Babajide Sotande-Peters

Ed Mulholland/HBO

Despite a period of uncertainty, taunts, and fan frustration, Andre Ward steps up once again in a rematch versus Sergey Kovalev in another attempt to affirm himself as the best fighter in the world

When Andre Ward tasted canvas in the 2nd round of his first encounter with unified light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev last November, the preconceived story he wanted to write for himself came crashing down and another one began to take form.

Ward wanted to emulate the greats of the past as he rose from the deck and clawed his way to victory when everything seemed against him. And when he rallied valiantly to see the final bell and have his hand raised in victory, you would have assumed that Ward’s vision had been revealed out in the open for everyone to admire. On paper it was a brilliant display deserving of admiration and respect that might have been plucked from some Hollywood film.

But it is seldom that simple when it comes to Andre Ward.

The unanimous verdict in his favor was met with a mixture of disagreement, derision, and resentment from a vocal conglomerate of fighters, experts, and fans alike. The general consensus was that despite an admirable comeback where Ward showed visible adjustments to frustrate and nullify the offensive arsenal of his formidable adversary, he still fell short of being dominant enough to erase the early lead that Kovalev built up. All meaning that he should consider himself fortunate to escape Las Vegas with the light heavyweight belts.

Now, to both his closest supporters (and especially himself), the instant reaction to Ward’s latest triumph seems to be nothing out of the ordinary. The 33-year-old has been more than vocal about a constant lack of credit for all that he has achieved in the sport. He feels submerged in a pre-existing climate of “having to do more” to receive his due owing to an effective but aesthetically unpleasant fighting style, coupled with who he is and where he is from. And if you consider his point-of-view, then one may be able to acknowledge and appreciate his grievances.

After all, to add to his dominance of the super-middleweight division, he has moved up to a new weight class, sought out the biggest available challenge in that category by taking on Kovalev (a man considered by many to be the baddest man in the sport) and withstood adversity to best him — albeit in highly controversial fashion. This all being in a climate where Ward (and Kovalev) seemingly stood out as a repudiation of the modern day prizefighter – someone willing to take risks in order to affirm their greatness. So what is the issue here?

Again, with Andre Ward it is seldom that simple.

The appreciation that should have greeted the initial fight was shrouded with a satirical sense of “relief” in general boxing circles that Ward was finally taking on his first legitimate challenge in years. He had already been recognized as a top tier technician, a dying breed of sorts, with his dominance matched by very few. And conventional wisdom dictated that this fresh test would be yet another definitive stamp on his greatness (at least that is what the betting odds suggested) But even in victory, Ward didn’t live up to that dominant standard, which goes a small way to explaining the reservations pound for pound fanatics have in placing him on the top of their list.

However above all it is the man in the mirror who serves as Ward’s biggest obstacle toward validation.

This sentiment is typified by the immediate aftermath of last November’s contest. Kovalev had an immediate rematch clause, but Ward bode his time on the negotiating table, flirting with retirement and stirring mind games with a frustrated and angry Kovalev. In Andre Ward’s world, Kovalev was built to be an unstoppable monster who ultimately wasn’t as formidable or strong a puncher as marketed. Again, not like Ward was the favorite or anything…

So by the time the new champion pressed play on the inevitable rematch, instead of praising both for delving straight back into the firing line, fans and media members alike were too busy compressing their contempt for “S.O.G.” And during the interim, the significance that a return should carry in the minds of fight fans has been lost amidst the shuffle of a non existent pre-fight promotion and a positive resurgence of elite level fights in 2017 as a whole.

This rematch is a rare case of a clash carrying more intrigue and question marks than its preceding episode did. Controversy and apathy can now well and truly subside for anticipation. Kovalev showed he could operate at the highest possible level of the sport with the success he did show vs Ward, but will he be able to replicate the success he showed early in the first fight for 12 full rounds on this outing? How much credence does his claims that he over trained for the first fight really hold?

And as it relates to Andre Ward, are the in fight adjustments he made in the first fight reflective of a man who has simply figured out his opponent? Or will he be pushed both physically and mentally to a next level in this return?

But most importantly, should he overcome Kovalev for a second time, what will we be talking about instead of praising a champion who has affirmed himself as the sport’s best?

Andre Ward Fights For Unreachable Admiration was originally published in sundaypuncher on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.