The Art of Being Andre Ward
Story by Bob Hough
Photos by Alexis Cuarezma / ACimage.com
Andre Ward, who was two years away from first grade when Bernard Hopkins made his pro debut, has gone to school watching the shrewd veteran.
The super middleweight, who fights Rubin Williams (29-3-1 16 KOs) on March 20 in San Jose, CA, reveres the Philly fighter for his commitment to fitness and his evolution.
“Bernard Hopkins has metamorphasized two or three times,” said Ward (14-0-0, 9 KOs). “He came out as a brawler, he became a calculated brawler, he got a little older and learned to box more. Now he’s a master. It’s a matter of working on little things for a long time and—BOOM!—you have a masterpiece.”
From Ward’s perspective, exceptional fighters and fights are like Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.
“To me, what I do is art,” said Ward, the 2004 Olympic gold medal winner at light heavyweight. “My goal is to become an artist and paint beautiful pictures in the ring.”
Ward’s mindset took root 15 years ago, when Hopkins had fought professionally 23 times.
“I’ve been a student of the game since I was 9,” said Ward, who was intrigued by hearing his father, a former amateur heavyweight, talk about fighting. “I wanted to be like my dad.”
Taking that path involved a year of training, watching and learning before his first amateur fight. He was impatient for action, but the wait was a lesson that there’s enormous value in training, observing and thinking.
“You have to be a student of the game,” said Ward, a father of two sons. “I definitely watch for details.”
In training for Williams, a veteran who’s faced some big names, Ward speaks of being a full-time student. For Ward, life before a fight is training, resting, attending church and watching boxing.
“I’m always like that before a fight, but this fight is a big step up, Ward said. “Rubin Williams has more than twice as many fights as I do. He’s tough, strong, experienced and he’s coming to win.”
Promoter Dan Goossen noted that Williams, who turns 32 in early April, fought well against former IBO and IBF champ Jeff Lacy before getting stopped in the seventh round.
“Obviously this is the next step in Andre Ward’s career,” Goossen said recently at Oakland’s King’s Gym, as Ward worked out. “Williams is a real fighter, at a different level from guys Andre’s been fighting. When Williams fought Jeff Lacy, it was back and forth; he wasn’t blown away.”
Ward, who has watched tapes of Williams in action, thinks there are things to be learned—what to do and what not to do—from watching any boxing match.
“I love to watch fights—big fights, small fights,” he said. “I love to watch people do what I do. There are always things you can pick up. I get depressed when there’s a weekend without fights on.”
Often enough, watching also provides a little more motivation.
“When I see fighters of any caliber with a belt around their waist, it makes me want it that much more,” he said.
To get it, it’s all about the Hopkins mindset of staying fit between fights and learning, learning, learning.
“The key thing is to stay in the gym, to continually evolve,” Ward said. “The things you work on in the gym, they show up. “You begin to evolve. It’s not just staying fit.”
Beyond the broader efforts to improve, the recent focus has been on defense and inside work. More subtly, the think-big-picture attitude also sharpens his mind, a critical aspect, Ward said.
“The mental aspect’s probably a little more important that the physical,” he said. “You have a lot of fighters who are fit, everything looks good and for some reason, they can’t produce. I think that’s a mental thing.”
To Ward, the mental thing is doing what’s necessary: being mean, resilient, aggressive, tactical and aware to establish control with a multidimensional approach.
“Pressure does not mean coming straight ahead,” he said. “It means knowing how to fight and doing it on my terms. I might fight or I might box. Being a master equates to applying pressure because the opponent has to deal with different things. That’s the goal: To put the other man under as much pressure as he can be under until he wilts.”
From Ward’s perspective, it takes mastery to address a simple matter.
“It’s definitely one man versus another man,” Ward said. “Everything’s on my shoulders and his shoulders. Let’s see what you’ve got.”
Ward marveled at Nate Campbell’s recent performance against Juan Diaz, noting that Campbell adjusted throughout the fight by mixing aggression and counter-punching without regard for how much it might or might not dazzle the fans.
“It’s called prizefighting for a reason,” Ward opined. “We fight and compete for a prize. Some people are critical of Floyd Mayweather, but he fights on his terms and he wins.”
What Ward wants to do now is ascend toward the Mayweather level of success by fighting frequently.
“I just want to stay busy and I think I’m ready to start moving up in competition,” he said. “For me, training is good, being in the gym is good, but I want to fight.
“I need to fight.”
Ideally, he’ll fight several times this year.
“I want to fight every 6-8 weeks if possible,” said Ward, who vows to fight in Oakland. “I want to stay as busy as possible, to stay sharp.”
If the Williams fight goes well, Ward could fight again in early June, Goossen said.
Ward has no set goal, nothing along the lines of facing a top-10 fighter by the year’s end.
“We don’t have a specific, calculated approach,” he said. “I feel now like I’m going into another zone. I’m maturing and maturing as a fighter.”
Goossen speculated that a successful 2008 would result in Ward fighting for a title in early 2009.
“We’ll have to see and it’s going to be a tough year for Andre Ward, but that’s what he wants and I’m confident that he’s ready,” said Goossen, who noted that Kelly Pavlik fought for seven years before he had a title shot.
There have been grumblings that Ward’s not progressed as quickly as he should. He simply doesn’t care. As is the case with fighting, he’ll do it on his terms. He’ll do what he believes will put him in the best position to succeed.
“I just turned 24,” he said. “We’re taking it as it comes, but I am working toward a goal of being world champion.”
There’s a balance to be struck between planning and being open to what life presents, in the ring and beyond.
Though he described himself as too stiff on the dance floor to ever follow Mayweather’s lead and do the cha-cha-cha on TV’s Dancing with the Stars, Ward’s intrigued and impressed by Oscar De La Hoya’s success as a promoter, by Manny Pacquaio’s run for public office.
“For now, it’s boxing and that’s what it’s going to be for a good, long time, but I’m young and I don’t want to just be thought of as ‘Andre Ward, boxing man,’” he said. “I keep abreast of what’s going on in the world and running for office would be an awesome thing to do. How many fighters can say they ran for office?”
That could happen in years or decades ahead, if Ward believes he could contribute—and win.
“Everything’s a question of timing,” he said. “I always do things when I’m ready and confident.”
Individual tickets, starting at $25, to the March 20th edition of “American Metal & Iron Fight Night at the Tank” featuring the Andre Ward versus Rubin Williams showdown are on sale at the HP Pavilion Ticket Office, Ticketmaster Ticket Centers located in Wherehouse Music stores, Tower Records and Ritmo Latino locations throughout the Bay Area; online at ticketmaster.com; or charge by phone at (408) 998-TIXS, (415) 421-TIXS or (510) 625-TIXS. Doors open at 6:30 pm and the first bout at 7:30 pm.