Ward ready for Pudwill
Story by Robert Hough
Photos by 'Big' Joe Miranda
In a time-warp gym on a busted-up street, 15-month-old Amira Ward sleeps in her stroller.
Jump-ropes "thwick, thwick, thwick," fists thud on heavy bags, and trainer Virgil Hunter chews on Amira’s dad, super-middleweight Andre Ward.
“What are you going to do?,” Hunter snarls, close to Ward in the ring, circling left and swiftly right, popping up training pads for jabs and combinations. “What are you going to do?”
What the 25-year-old super-middleweight will do in the short term is relatively clear: fight Shelby Pudwill (22-3-1, 9 KOs) on September 12 in Temecula, Calif., and fight Denmark's Mikkel Kessler (41-1, 31 KOs) on November 21 in Oakland, Calif.—both fighters’ debut in Showtime’s Super Six tournament, a series of bouts also involving Jermain Taylor, Carl Froch, Andre Dirrell and Arthur Abraham.
Those opportunities excite Ward (19-0, 12 KOs), but on what for him was family day at Oakland’s King’s Gym, with his wife, daughter and two impeccably polite sons, Andre Jr., and Malachi, he talked of doing many things.
“There’s a lot I want to do in boxing and outside boxing,” said the Olympic Gold Medalist who started using Twitter—he’s asogward—to communicate with fans. “I want to box ‘til I’m 30, 32 and that’s it.”
As he knows, people have heard that from young fighters.
“I love boxing, but I don’t love it that much,” he said, urging that he be quoted as saying that. “There’s a lot I want to do that involves boxing and a lot that doesn’t.”
Ward looks out at a world of possibilities—one his wife, Tiffiney, helps him see.
“She’s so good for me because I have my strengths and I know I have my weaknesses and we compliment each other,” he said after working out in the gym with walls covered by fight posters. “My wife pushes me and helps me get better. I was on TV and she counted the number of times I said, ‘um.’ How many times was it?”
“Fifteen!,” she said.
A cute husband-and-wife-teasing-and-laughing moment, but to Ward, it’s being a man: love and respect, ego in check and asking for help.
He wants to learn about everything—from Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s fitness and stamina to how to be smoother on camera.
Ward wants more work as a commentator, having dipped his toes in local waters, but he hears a higher calling.
“My main goal is to have a ministry,” said a man with the faith, charisma and determination to make it more than plausible.
Meanwhile, there are things to be done as an adult and as a boxer.
“I want to shine a bright light on the sport,” he said. “I want to work with guys like Roy Jones Jr., and Bernard Hopkins and form a boxers’ union. I’ve learned a lot and I’m trying to learn about contracts, taxes, finances and everything else all the time, but there’s so much I don’t know and other boxers don’t know.
“There’s nowhere people have to go for answers. I’ve learned some things the hard way and it happens all the time to a lot of guys. Fighters don’t have a resource for good information and they should. Why not?”
On a personal level, Ward sets a respectful, polite, quick-to-smile example and loathes mouthy fighters.
“It’s played out,” he seethed. “It’s old. With Ali, in the 60s and 70s, what he did was unheard-of so people were checking it out, but that was, what, 40 years ago? It’s tired.”
Ward sees the Super Six tournament as an opportunity to scale the heights and be part of a classy example on a big stage, but he proclaims himself fully motivated for the Showtime-televised fight with Pudwill.
“I always say anything can happen in any fight,” Ward noted. “Pudwill’s going to fight with everything he has. I have this opportunity with the tournament to establish myself as one of the best boxers in the world and this fight could derail that. I will be motivated.”
To Dan Goossen, Ward’s promoter, the preparation and performance will reflect what makes Ward special.
“From my perspective, Andre is one of the most gifted athletes I’ve ever been around and part of that is his intelligence, focus and intestinal fortitude,” Goossen said. “I have every confidence that he will be fully prepared and focused, and that he will be victorious.”
If Pudwill tries to overcome his disadvantages by trying to make it dirty, Hunter, ever soft-spoken and serious, vows it would not be a problem.
“Whatever approach he decides to take, we will be more than ready to oblige him,” the big man said with the smallest of smiles.
Hunter brings a serious edge, but Ward’s focus is on having more fun.
“I’m here to work, but I’m learning that I can do that and it can be fun.” Ward said. “There are times when I—when I get on my nerves. There’s a saying, ‘Be a man about your business and be a kid about having fun.’ I used to be so serious all the time, but I’m working on it.”
Ward laughed his way through telling of a last-minute scramble to attend a Super Six promotional event. He flew from San Diego to San Francisco one morning and left that night for Germany.
“It was crazy, but I was relaxed and focused on doing what needed to be done,” he said. “The way I used to be, I would have a lot more stressed out about it.”
There was promotional work to be done, but Ward was anxious to size up the other guys, who had the same idea.
“Of course we were checking each other out!,” he said. “Taking the promotional things seriously is part of being professional so I’m happy to do that, but that was a big reason I wanted to be there; I wanted to get a look at these guys. All of us were looking each other in the eyes. I was a little surprised that they were all doing it because I missed the first two promotional events so I figured they’d seen each other and they’d all be focusing on me, that I’d have five great fighters staring at me, but we were all looking around at each other.”
Serious as it was, it was also what Ward wants for his sport: boxers being low-key and professional.
“Nobody talked trash, but you could tell everyone was confident,” he recalled. “I thought everyone was going to be more macho and tough, but they weren’t. They were confident. If anybody talked the most, it was Froch. He was saying, “I’m the WBC champion,’ ‘I’m the WBC champion,’ but everybody was pretty quiet.”
Understated as the fighters were in Germany, Ward knows Kessler and the rest—who Goossen called big boys with big reputations—present formidable challenges.
“It’s what I’ve worked hard for and now I’ll work harder,” Ward said. “We’ll have great fights and we’ll show people what boxing and boxers can be.”
And Ward will show the world what he’s got.
“I respect the other fighters and they’ve earned their reputations and titles, but I’m ready for this,” he said. “Let’s throw all the sharks in the tank and see which one comes out. I think it’ll be me.”