What do we ask for from our fighters?
The question seems simple enough, but the answer you may get from the average fight fan might not be the most honest one. The words “effort” “heart” and “gentleman” are likely to come up, but an argument can be made that these answers only pay lip service to the real truth. It sounds good to say you will root for any honest, hardworking pug who conducts himself with class, but the honest fact is that some form of buzz has to be present for a guy to cross over into mainstream success.
That buzz can come from exciting performances in the ring. Mike Tyson became perhaps the most famous athlete on the planet for a time because of the other-worldly displays of power he showcased during his bouts. Ray Leonard dazzled crowds with flashy footwork and hand speed. Both of these men and many others among boxing biggest stars had styles in the ring that were geared not just to win fights, but to look good doing it.
For those who aren’t brutal knockout artists or excellent showmen, creating controversy outside the ring seems to work just as well. Floyd Mayweather is rarely described as the honest gentleman type many fans claim to love, and his boxing style is certainly not geared towards entertaining anyone, but he has still become by miles and miles the biggest American boxing star. He has done so by fostering an image (some of it his nature and some hammed up for television cameras) of the “bad boy” that fans despise but at the same time can’t get enough of.
So where does that leave a world-class fighter with a fundamentally sound (or to put it less nicely, boring) style who also happens to be a fairly normal fella?
Ask Oakland, California native Andre Ward.
Ward (24-0-0, 13 KOs) is everything fans should like in a fighter. He’s the all-American kid that Hulk Hogan always talked about. The guy represents athletic excellence, says his prayers, eats his vitamins (I have no evidence of this but I’m going to assume it anyway) respects his opponents, blah blah blah. If you are still awake by now you have a better attention span than the average modern human being.
The problem with Ward is that he just doesn’t have anything to hang his hat on in terms of grabbing attention. He doesn’t slap his girlfriend (or his wife, as far as we know Ward might not even HAVE a girlfriend) or throw money at strippers outside of the ring, and he doesn’t have face-crushing power that can turn fights into a spectacle. A professional fighter that is just really good at what he does without making himself into a caricature is unfortunately boring to many fans.
If Ward manages to beat Britain’s Carl Froch (28-1-0, 20 KOs) in Showtime’s Super Six tournament final on Saturday, hopefully he will get the respect he deserves. Froch is a tough opponent but expect Ward to come out on top. While both men have plenty of heart and ring smarts, Ward has an extra dimension in the form of world class athleticism. Fans would do well to enjoy Ward, as great fighters don’t come along every day, and he just might be one.
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