Andre Ward: Get in where you fit in
Don’t fight the intro but one of the best talents in this generation of boxing returns to the ring tonight in his hometown of Oakland, Calif. Yes, coming off a 20-month absence in the ring, Andre “S.O.G.” Ward, 27-0 (14), finally returns to a boxing landscape that has changed substantially since he blanked Edwin Rodriguez in Nov. 2013. So much so that Ward will be fighting on BET tonight night (10:00 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT), a first for Black Entertainment Television (at least since Butch Lewis enjoyed a partnership with the network), which predominantly provides reality television and music video countdowns. It’s the opening fight of a new deal between the network and Roc Nation Sports, which signed Ward this past January. It’s a new chapter for Ward’s boxing career, which has flailed the past three years as he has only managed to fight once in that time span.
The framework of Ward’s dominance stems off him winning Showtime’s “Super Six World Classic” tournament three years ago and then stopping Chad Dawson to retain his consensus super middleweight championship. The accomplishment gave Ward the utmost confidence in his own right, self-assurance akin to that of Oakland’s king of rap, Too $hort, mouthing off his rags-to-riches story in the hit song, “I’m a Player” (only if you substitute Ward’s boxing accomplishments with Too $hort’s sexual ones). Ward’s self-worth was at an all-time high – and who can blame him after proving he was the best? All that momentum was stopped, however, after Ward suffered a shoulder injury while preparing to fight Kelly Pavlik. Once he fully recovered from surgery, Ward beat Rodriguez in a comeback fight but the one-sided shellacking was already forgotten while it happened in front of a meager crowd that didn’t correlate with an American who is one of the best fighters in the world.
That’s just another day in boxing though. The elite talents don’t always push a show and Ward has been yet another victim to that fact. He isn’t alone, however, as consummate pound-for-pound guys like Guillermo Rigondeaux and Sergey Kovalev deal with same issue in the United States. But unlike Ward, both of those men are imported champions. One would think Ward has gotta get some lovin, being an elite American athlete but being inactive certainly doesn’t help his cause of being a domestic main attraction. After the fight with Rodriguez, Ward became dissatisfied with his contract with longtime promoter Dan Goossen and took him to court multiple times in hopes of making his way out. One way to get out of it would have been to fulfill the contract and literally fight his way out until it expired but luckily for Ward, Roc Nation Sports got into the boxing business and they bought him out of the Goossen contract last January.
Regardless of the negative connotations that always come in a courtroom fight between promoter and fighter, it’s in the past and Ward returns to his home seemingly at a perfect time with Oakland currently on a sporting high. The Golden State Warriors just won their first NBA Championship in 40 years on Tuesday and perhaps Ward can capitalize on there being some money in the ghetto tonight in the Warriors’ home at the Oracle Arena. His opponent, Paul Smith, 35-5 (20), of the United Kingdom, is reeling after suffering two losses in a row to his German rival, Arthur Abraham. With a contracted weight of 172-pounds, Ward will be going into uncharted waters and the WBA 168-pound title he currently holds will not be on the line. Smith, however, took it upon himself to weigh-in heavy yesterday at 176.4 pounds, perhaps thinking he gets an advantage, yet he will certainly pay a penalty to Ward, who made weight at 171.8 pounds.
It’s normal for fighters to take the proverbial soft touch when coming back from a long layoff and as Ward goes into this fight as a heavy favorite (70-1 via 5dimes.eu), he’s poised to perform well in his Roc Nation Sports/BET debut. With that and RNS boxing events including concerts as part of their boxing cards, fans at the Oracle Arena will be bobbing their heads to the music and likely nodding them as well in satisfaction with Ward’s performance (just like “Blowjob Betty,” It isn’t clear how many fans will show up tonight but, in reality, filling the 20,000 capacity venue shouldn’t be expected because Ward hasn’t been able to draw well in the past, even in his hometown (he certainly couldn’t claim, “All My Bitches Are Gone,” because there weren’t that many to begin with in the first place). It’s certainly possible that the new team behind Ward can help grow his popularity. There are droves of people who will follow whomever Roc Nation Sports head Jay Z, puts a stamp on and Ward would gladly benefit from that. Perhaps he can even grow a legion of fans and name them “The Dangerous Crew.”
Boxing is such a peculiar sport when it comes to attracting a fan base. The biggest American draw, Floyd Mayweather Jr., is also the biggest, worldwide, but it didn’t come without ruffling a few feathers, becoming a renowned jerk and gladly taking the role of the villain. Contrary to that kind of personality, Ward is a nice guy whose image can be best described as “squeaky clean.” Had he been in any other professional sport with the same amount of talent he has in boxing, Ward would be a bona fide superstar without any problems of drawing a crowd. “Get In Where You Fit In” is what Ward will be proclaiming as he starts this new chapter tonight. In other words, he will be doing his thing going forward, not seeking empathy from anyone or trying to justify his past actions. He will be minding his own business while he handles it and the future could be bright as he shows signs of maybe trying to clean out another division in boxing. With an accomplishment like that under his belt, he can be the boxing version of “Playboy $hort”.
Considering the catchweight bout tonight at 172 pounds, it shows that maybe Ward is looking to move up to the light heavyweight division. There as always been a clamoring for him to face middleweight phenom Gennady Golovkin and the fight would be huge with Golovkin’s recent growth, in terms of popularity, but it’s highly unlikely if Ward elects to move up. Sergey Kovalev and Adonis Stevenson are the two who sit atop 175 pounds and a clash with either one would also create major attraction. While both Kovalev and Stevenson are unable to work out a deal to face each other, Ward can maybe be the man to beat both if he indeed ventures to light heavyweight. He certainly has the skills to do so. One of the best statistics thrown out there for the 31-year-old is that the 2004 Olympic gold medalist (light heavyweight) has not lost a bout since he was 12 years old and it would be interesting to see what Ward’s detractors would say if he did. In that case, Ward would be living way too real.
As for now, Ward’s fight tonight will be overshadowed by two other cards on NBC and FOX Sports 2, in which their competitive main events will be, first and foremost, for a large majority of boxing fans (NBC: Adrien Broner-Shawn Porter, FS2: Hassan N’Dam-David Lemieux). It’s not with the intention for all to stash Ward-Smith on their DVRs for later; it’s just a happenstance of boxing collectively irritating its loyal fans. It’s all good though, everyone seems to know the outcome tonight for Ward and that can’t be easily said for the other two main events. Ward winning this fight is assumed with a lot confidence for fight fans and that not only has to do with his opponent but also the esteem for his talent in the ring. All he can do in the meantime is to try and dispatch Smith in an entertaining fashion, move forward with his career and fight on a regular basis. Hopefully Ward and his new team can start to rebuild a following that can become the growth of something new as he attempts to return to championship form. It won’t happen until he entertains in the ring regularly and naturally the fans will follow – just like Golovkin in the States. Maybe “S.O.G.” can take a page from “GGG” and eventually label a future card for Ward, “Oakland Style,” but it would be best if Ward beat him first.
This piece is brought to you in order by Too $hort’s album, “Get In Where You Fit In”.