The six fights that have defined Andre Ward
Luke G. Williams
As his rematch with Sergey Kovalev approaches, Boxing Monthly brings you our selection of the six most significant fights so far in the career of Andre Ward ...
1. Olympic Games light heavyweight final vs Magomed Aripgadjiev, 29 August 2004 – won on points 20-13
By becoming the first American male boxer to win an Olympic gold medal since 1996, Ward laid down a marker for the rest of his career in terms of high expectations. Two years before the Athens Olympics, Ward's father had passed away and the then 20-year-old boxer insisted that during the final "with all my heart and soul, I could see him [may father] looking at me". His performance against Belarussian Magomed Aripgadjiev showcased Ward's heart as well as his craft. Down 4-3 after round one, Ward was cut in round two by a heavy blow and, suffering from double vision, looked set for defeat, trailing 9-7 with two rounds remaining. However, in the last two stanzas Ward utilised his superior hand-speed to rally and pepper his opponent with scoring shots to take the fight 20-13. Endorsements and sponsorship deals followed as Ward turned professional before the year was over. Amazingly, no American man has won an Olympic gold medal since that emotional August evening when Ward triumphed.
2. Middleweight contest vs Darnell Boone, 19 November 2005 – won on points (6 rounds)
Given Ward's defensive genius, and how infrequently he has been in serious trouble during his professional career, it comes as something of a surprise to today view footage of this 2005 contest with Darnell Boone and watch the Ohio-born journeyman floor 'S.O.G.' pretty heavily in round four, courtesy of a right hand followed by an uppercut. Fortunately for Ward - who was fighting in only his seventh professional contest - he managed, despite looking seriously shaken, to negotiate the last 20 or so seconds of the round and then regain his equilibrium in the next two rounds to take the contest on points. As a learning experience, this bout clearly did the job, as Ward has only been floored once since, in his first contest with Kovalev. You might argue that the Boone contest bred in him a sense of caution which he has never wholly shed.
3. WBA super middleweight championship vs Mikkel Kessler, 21 November 2009 – won by technical decision in round 11
The 'Viking Warrior' Kessler entered this 'Super Six' tournament contest with a formidable reputation and an outstanding professional record of 42-1, with 32 KOs. A clear favourite with the bookmakers, the tough as nails Dane had only ever been bested by Hall of Famer Joe Calzaghe. Many thought that 20-fight comparative novice Ward might lack the toughness or street smarts needed to defeat his vastly more experienced foe, but he proved the doubters wrong in grand style. With his superior speed and sharp jab, Ward gradually busted up Kessler, also landing some huge shots to leave the reigning champion staggering, bloodied and bruised. As well as displaying breathtaking craft, Ward's tactics on the inside also drew some criticism, however, with the tenth-round stoppage and referral to the scorecards coming after Kessler was cut via head-butts which the referee claimed were unintentional. Kessler insists to this day that Ward fought dirty, and should have been punished for excessive holding as well as use of the head. As for Ward, he declared after the fight: "He never hurt me. I was a little surprised that they stopped it when they did. I had just connected with a big right hand and would like to have seen what would have happened if the round had continued. I felt like it was my time. There were two accidental butts. I am not a dirty fighter."
4. WBA / WBC and lineal super middleweight championship vs Carl Froch, 17 December 2011 – won by unanimous points decision
In the final of Showtime's 'Super Six' super middleweight tournament, Ward once again dazzled, as he out-boxed and out-thought England's granite but out-gunned Froch. By out jabbing the Nottingham man and tying him up on the inside, Ward once again demonstrated his mastery of boxing skills and canny ringcraft to leave 'the Cobra' a frustrated man. "I couldn't really get anything going, he was too slippery," Froch remarked afterwards. "I wanted to put my shots together but he moves low and slips and slides, he's very clever up close. It was very frustrating for me tonight. Fair play to him." As for Ward, he noted: "I was surprised at how slow Froch was. We were able to beat him to the punch. You don't get points for leaving the chin open. You can't fight like that and expect not to get hit." The only surprise in the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City was that two of the judges scored the fight to Ward by a slender 115-113 margin, the third had it more accurate at 118-110 as Ward charged further up the pound for pound rankings.
5. WBA / WBC and lineal super middleweight championship (and, arguably, the lineal light heavyweight championship) vs Chad Dawson, 8 September 2012 – won by TKO in round ten
Easily Ward's most devastating and complete career performance to date, it is telling that this contest took place nearly five years ago, since when, for various reasons, S.O.G.'s career has somewhat anti-climactic. Furthermore, although Dawson's star has faded dramatically since this bout, it is worth remembering that when it took place he was ranked by many as a top ten 'pound for pound' boxer and was the lineal light heavyweight champion. In retrospect, it was clearly too much of a sacrifice for Dawson to drop from the 175lb division to the 168lbs super middleweight limit. However, that should not detract from Ward's brilliance that heady night in Oakland as he nullified Dawson's overwhelming reach advantage, smashing 'Bad' to the canvas three times en route to a stoppage victory. "I love to win, and everybody is asking me what's the missing piece of the puzzle," Ward said after the fight. "Finishing guys is the last piece of the puzzle, and we are on our way to doing that. With better competition, I rise to the occasion. I raise my game. It might have looked easy, but Chad Dawson is a monster." Among those lauding Ward after this performance was ESPN's Dan Rafael who declared: "The performance from Ward was staggering. Potential-all-time-great staggering. This was as good as Roy Jones Jr. routing James Toney or Floyd Mayweather Jr. crushing Diego Corrales."
6. WBA 'super'/ IBF / WBO light heavyweight championship vs Sergey Kovalev, 19 November 2016 – won by unanimous points decision
Unquestionably the toughest test of Ward's career and his most controversial triumph to date. The unanimous decision in the Californian's favour (114-113 on all three cards) was bitterly disputed by some. The controversy, however, has largely overshadowed the fact that Ward did incredibly well to come back from a second-round knockdown to force his way back into the fight and nick the verdict. Whether you think he won or lost, this bout proved that Ward possesses guts, determination and boxing street smarts in abundance. Now he has to try and outsmart the Russian all over again in a rematch - a contest which will go a long way to defining Ward's legacy.