Last week, one of the true legitimate greats of our time retired very shockingly as Andre Ward decided that at the peak of his powers, it was better to walk away than to fight another day. Throughout the course of his career, Ward fought the tough fights, embraced the high stakes and ultimately stood tall by ending his career undefeated and on top of the sport. For the most part, Andre Ward was what boxing was all about at its core as he was one of the best fighters in the world often proving himself against the best; fighters like Ward should be celebrated, but the consensus opinion on the news of his retirement did not disappoint to those who were paying attention.
That opinion among fans and media alike? Good riddance.
Good riddance to a fighter who, with less than 20 fights into his pro career, dominated a Super Middleweight division so deep that many of his conquests remained at or near the top after he dismantled them. Good riddance to a fighter who after nearly three years of something between exile and inactivity came back one division heavier, dominated a top contender to twice defeat a fighter in Sergey Kovalev who was so highly regarded that people swore he was the personification of a nuclear weapon. Ward rose above a system that actively seeks out to compromise fighters and strip them of their livelihoods long before their final days in the ring, and for that, we’re happy to see him go.
If this was any other sport, this behavior would be unheard of, but this is boxing and do we love to tear these guys down.
Ward’s divisiveness has been one of the defining characteristics of his career, often being the subject of discussion whether he was in the ring or not. Because of that, there is what really did happen in Ward’s career and what everybody is going to tell you what happened. It’s the truth vs. the “truth.”
The “truth” is that Ward was a snobbish diva who had the audacity to bite the hand that fed him when he tried, unsuccessfully, to separate from the late Dan Goossen shortly after the conclusion of the Super Six tournament. Ward had been with Goossen from the beginning of his career, but Ward felt that Goossen was hindering his career from a financial and professional standpoint, and would not play to the beat of his drum any longer. It was at that very moment that Ward became a marked man, especially considering how good of a relationship the late Goossen had with the boxing media, but Ward stood by his beliefs even as he continually failed to end his contract up until it lapsed in 2015.
Ward had a point, especially as his initial deal with HBO basically consisted of nearly two years of them turning down opponents as he brought them up to the point where he only had a weight-drained Chad Dawson and mandatory challenger Edwin Rodriguez to sum it all up. At the same time, he had to see ex-foes like Carl Froch go on to lucrative paydays and had to sit and watch as squash matches were being approved for the likes of Gennady Golovkin and Adrien Broner with no hesitation.
Ward saw potential fights such as rematches with Mikkel Kessler and Froch go down the drain and was allegedly being courted by Top Rank on more than one occasion for a fight with Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., something that never materialized. Honestly, it wasn’t until Ward did separate from Goossen that he was able to maximize his earning potential and got the fights he wanted, which in turn ended up leading to the fight everybody wanted him to take in the first place against Kovalev.
It isn’t out of the ordinary for fighters in Ward’s mold to catch such venom. People still hate Floyd Mayweather with a passion and couldn’t give an objective opinion of him if a gun was pointed to their head, and that flashpoint came the moment Mayweather separated from Bob Arum under similar circumstances. Like Mayweather, Ward found greener pastures when he was finally free.
Before Bernard Hopkins was revered and appreciated by the boxing populace, he was detested and frequently touted as boring, dirty and a general pain in the ass. His legendary post-fight interview with Larry Merchant after the Morrade Hakkar fight shows how much Hopkins was thought of in his prime, especially because he would not hesitate to speak his mind and speak out against the system that tried to bury him time and time again. Unlike Ward, Hopkins found unwavering praise and adoration once he started his business ventures with HBO and Golden Boy Promotions, essentially becoming part of the system he spoke out against so heavily.
The actual truth is that Andre Ward was not only a great fighter, but he was the kind of fighter that met and exceeded all the expectations and obstacles put in his way. He rose above, fought the tough fights and ended his career on top. How could a guy that took the fights with everything to lose so often get so little credit for ending up with all the spoils?
Gennady Golovkin receives endless praise for being the best fighter in one of the sport’s actively weakest divisions, having just now fighting the best opponents of his career after almost 20 defenses of his title. Vasyl Lomachenko’s short career of hyped squash matches has shot him at or near the top of pound-for-pound lists around the sport even though he lost to Orlando Salido. Ward didn’t have the luxury of choice until he signed with Roc Nation Sports, but he still took the fights to establish his stance as the best the sport had to offer, but he’s still the asshole.
What it ultimately comes down to is that Andre Ward is going to be a hot topic for debate in the months to come, but it’s all useless especially because as much as people try to drag him through the mud and minimize his accomplishments…how can they? He was THE best at Super Middleweight and Light Heavyweight and he earned that distinction the way very few fighters do nowadays. He continues to be a staple of the sport as an analyst and a budding career as an advisor to young fighters and will forever be associated with greatness as he walked away on top with his facilities intact.
He talked the walk, stood tall against a system that even still tries to bury them now that their chance is long gone and is reviled by countless people because of his success. The truth, the real truth, is that Andre Ward’s greatness is undeniable as he’ll be an immediate recipient of a Hall of Fame entry when eligible, praised for his knowledge and intelligence behind the microphone as he was in the ring and may yet guide another fighter through the same muck and darkness he did when he traded years of his prime for his dignity and independence.
While it wasn’t always a pleasant ride, it was happy to have him, and we’re going to miss him now that he’s gone.