You may not like what you're about to read— but you want to.
You don't have to be Andre Ward, legendary super middleweight and unified light heavyweight champion, to know what reading someone you do not like feels like, and the desire to do something about. But this isn't about an article, or, art ordered “To Go” for a long road trip from Los Angeles to cover the Media Day workout for “S.O.G” just outside of Oakland. Rather, the mindset of a champion out to avenge victory.
“Andre, do you feel like the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world after this performance?” I hurled at Ward, from a distance inside T-Mobile arena last November 16, after his narrow escape of Kovalev.
“I feel like a champion, but I hope you feel that way,” Ward pondered after some thought. “In the end, all I do is win.”
I didn't think he won.
Neither did James Wimberly, former pro fighter and boxing radio personality with ties to a younger Ward. “He (Ward) has to do some inventory. We're going to see if Kovalev knocked him into a different reality. The Andre I used to know is better than what he showed,” said Wimberly, who at 62, still has a jab that reminded me of the late Vernon Forrest.
Upon arrival at Virgil Hunter's gym (which feels tucked inside of an elaborate storage facility), there's a down-to-earth championship aura about Ward that hints of Michael Jordan. Michael Yormark, president and chief of brand strategy for ROC Nation, Iooks on at his prized Ward with a wry grin and eyes reminiscent of Superman's when producing lasers.
On this Friday, there's an extra buzz to camp with Hunter dispatched for Canada as Andrezj Fonfara is set to challenge boxing's real “Superman” (and potential Ward foe) Adonis Stevenson. Word is the crafty Polish product looked great, (eh, no one foresaw a 2nd round mugging). Andre Berto, weeks removed from being Cleveland Brown'd by Shawn Porter in Brooklyn, is on hand as a gym rat cheerleader for the star of this facility.
Ward now looks like a big light heavyweight with added power. Camp I'm told has been “brutal”, but ‘worth every early arrival and late departure'.
I watch his #23 kicks as he punches and shifts southpaw in front of the long mirror, then moments later, in the ring. A new wrinkle, perhaps. This is after a plyometric display along with a few weighted strength building neck exercises. Photos snap constantly as he changes gear and flexes painstakingly laborious results.
He doesn't merely want to beat Kovalev– he needs to, for reasons that include exposing ‘a racist bully'. Ward is indifferent as to whether or not Main Events is an endorser of Kovalev's “serious problem” (CEO Kathy Duva has always personified class), but rules nothing out.
The underlining theme was this: If “Krusher” views himself as a Russian styled Great White Hope, then Ward is his Black American problem- and a warning.
“Lennox Lewis, one of the greatest heavyweights ever, called him out on it. He responded with monkey symbols. What does that tell you?” Ward told Fighthype after the workout. With wit, he noted that Team Kovalev seems ‘to be the smartest at the negotiating table', but plays clueless while failing to ‘pull his coattails' on racism.
“I'm going to call him out physically on June 17th and it might get ugly,” fired Ward, in a way that suggested he'll arrest and jail Kovalev for 12 rounds. Wimberly, a recent subject in the racially charged Police V Citizens film “Walking While Black” by director A.J. Ali, would love to see Ward stop Kovalev— or make him quit.
Then, there's the issue of trainer John David Jackson, whom Ward insisted tried to defect and was guilty of boxing's worst form of espionage: Camp betrayal and attempting to play both sides as a would-be sellout. Ward indicated that John David was basically a Team Kovalev rat who dimed about a potpourri of no-no's filled with red flags.
Kovalev and his camp have an entirely different take on things, as you'll read about next ([Vol.II]: Anti-S.O.G); but on this day, Ward looked and sounded like a man armed with enough data to administer a beating. This is his very first rematch with anyone as a professional.
“Your Dad would be proud, Andre. I hope you go out there and see the distance between you, rather than the distance,” I'm telling him as we pose for pictures.
“Thanks man. That means a lot, man, I appreciate that,” said the 1/2 Irish Ward, with a slight mist to the eyes, as his ever supportive wife and kids bounce around the ring.
“This one is different… With all that's going on in the world, this is going to be special.”