Imagine if you will, a former Olympian who holds the only Gold Medal for his country in men’s boxing since 2004. A boxer who is undefeated. Has conquered two weight classes. Has an extraordinary personal story, and who regularly gives his time and money to causes in his community. A fighter of high skill and flexibility who can adjust to almost any type of style coming from his opponent. A tough as nails sort whose own fighting style may not always be fan-friendly, but is full of both grit and guile. A man who may just be the best boxer in the world.
Now imagine that guy is Andre Ward. Well, you don’t have to imagine. Because that guy is Andre Ward. And here’s the strange thing.
Everybody hates Andre Ward.
Okay, maybe not everybody, but considering his bona fides in the ring and his clean nose out of it, Andre Ward is a remarkably unpopular boxer in his sport and in his own country.
The question is why?
On Saturday night, Ward took on the biggest, baddest bully on the block in Las Vegas. Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev. A massive puncher with underrated boxing skills who also happens to be the meanest, cruelest deliverer of punishment in the sport. With his wicked grin, nasty in the ring demeanor, and lethal fists, Kovalev is the best central casting villain since Dolph Lundgren laced them up in Rocky IV.
The fight was basically a “pick ‘em” going into the ring, with the mild betting favorite being Ward. There were many questions surrounding the American. A protracted dispute with his now-deceased promoter, Dan Goosen, had greatly limited Ward’s time in the ring over the last five years. Prior to Kovalev, Ward had fought only five times in five years. Aside from his destruction of the A list Chad Dawson in September of 2012, all of his opponents were at best of the “tune up” variety.
Many people (me included), felt Ward’s war of principle with Goosen was flittering away much of his prime. So, coming up in weight to take on the very active Kovalev (twelve fights since September of 2012), who had been fighting a higher quality of competition, left much doubt as to the outcome–despite Ward’s pedigree.
Those doubts seemed to come to fruition in the second round when Kovalev dropped Ward for only the second time in his career with a bruising right hand. This was no flash knockdown. Ward was blinking when he got up, and he looked far less than confident in his approach throughout the first half of the fight.
It was as if the chickens had come home to roost.
Whoever had Ward going into the fight was probably thinking about the impending lightness of their bank account.
Slowly though—almost invisibly—Ward recovered from his trip to the canvas and worked his way back into the fight. While he often struggled to find Kovalev’s head (save some notable head-snapping jabs and an infrequent hook), he committed to getting inside of the Russian’s power, landing thudding body blows that slowed Kovalev in the back half of the fight. It’s not easy to sway judges with inside fighting and body work. Head shots from guys with heavy hands often carry the day, and most of those punches came from Kovalev.
As the two fierce combatants closed out the twelfth round, I felt Ward had simply run out of time to catch up after Kovalev built his early lead. If this fight were going fifteen, I thought, Ward would surely win. After twelve, I had Kovalev by a point.
When the judges came in with a unanimous verdict for Ward (all cards carrying the same score 114-113), I was mildly surprised, but hardly aghast. Many of these rounds were close, and while I felt to score the fight for Ward, you pretty much had to give him all of the tight ones, I did not find it unreasonable to do so.
Apparently, I was in the minority.
In T-Mobile arena, the booing of the decision was lusty. However, it was no match for what was going on in the interwebs of social media. People were pressing on their CAPS LOCK and wearing out their exclamation point key.
ROBBED!!! BOGUS!!! THEFT!!! MISCARRIAGE OF JUSTICE!!!
So much shouting. It was like being at a virtual stoning.
This struck me as excessive. Even as someone who scored the fight for Kovalev, it seemed like the height of overreaction to call the result a highway robbery. This was an excellent, tight, and tense fight. While I may not have agreed with the decision, I could understand it.
Hell, it was nowhere near the worst decision of the night. If you wanted a focus for your outrage, you only needed to look two fights earlier on the undercard at the Perez/Hooker bout to find an object of ridicule. Perez thoroughly dominated Hooker from stem to stern and all he got for his trouble was a laughable split draw.
But I digress.
What’s difficult for me to get my head around was why so many people were so angry about watching a fight where the undefeated American champion picked himself off the canvas, battled with heart, mind, and body to get into the fight and put question into the minds of the judges at its close. I mean, SO ANGRY.
The truth of the matter as I see it, is people simply hate Andre Ward. For reasons that are as mysterious as the plotline to HBO’s Westworld (seriously, I have no idea what’s going on there).
There seems to be not even the slightest appreciation from of Ward’s life and career from the majority of boxing fans. Among the casual and the deeply committed, so much of what is aimed at Ward is downright vitriolic.
Again, I ask why?
I hesitate to suggest this, but is the reason why Ward is so disliked because he’s not a bad enough person? I mean, if you are an American, fighting on your country’s soil against a Russian in the age of Putin, wouldn’t you think you might score a little nationalist pride? Let’s face it folks, we are in the age of nationalism. Just look around you. Signs are everywhere. The movement just doesn’t seem to benefit Ward.
I acknowledge that Ward’s style isn’t always easy on the eyes despite his high level of skill. He’s hardly Winky Wright though. Or even Floyd Mayweather. Mayweather makes awful fights, has a risible history outside of the ring, and takes unpleasantness to new heights every time he opens his mouth. For this, he is loved by many in the boxing community with no small amount of fervor.
In many ways, Andre Ward is the opposite of that. He is tough, courageous, smart, and skilled. He has overcome an extremely rough start in life to ascend to the peak of his profession, and has not blemished himself outside the ring with even a single smudge on a police report.
Why don’t we like this man more? Why don’t we at least respect him?
Maybe we ought to spend some time thinking about that. Maybe we should have a mirror in hand while we do.