For his critics, winning a gold medal for the United States in 2004 Olympics, going pro and attaining an unbeaten record (26-0) while being recognized as the second best fighter in the world behind Floyd Mayweather isn’t enough. According to the skeptics, the WBA (Super) and The Ring Super Middleweight champion continues to win fights, but hasn’t figured out the winning combination to win over new fans. He doesn’t have the great equalizer in knockout power and doesn’t have the polarizing personality to make him attractive to mainstream boxing fans. He’s just a good guy who fights very, very well. But shouldn’t that be enough? As he prepares to take on Edwin Rodriguez on November 16, Knockout Nation sits down with Andre Ward to talk about his mainstream appeal, whether or not he has beef with Floyd Mayweather and the plight of the African American boxer.
Knockout Nation: Two things stuck out to me in the Dawson fight, one was that you said you wanted to remove the he’s good “but” part out of the conversation when people speak of you. The other was that you alluded to making Chad Dawson quit before it actually happened. Was the plan to essentially kill two birds with one stone when you fought Dawson?
Andre Ward: We went into the fight knowing that we could stop Chad Dawson. He’s not a man that you can go in there and know you’ll knock him out. It just doesn’t happen. But we had the mindset and in the weeks leading up to the fight I said to not be surprised if he runs into a shot. The plan was to break him down and catch him late and that’s exactly what we did. So, the answer to your question is yes.
Knockout Nation: The momentum you gained by stopping Dawson was slowed down when an injury forced you out for the past year. How frustrating was it to be on the sidelines even though you were still visible doing commentary for HBO?
Andre Ward: It was very frustrating. Sometimes even discouraging because I had the best seat in the house calling fights but I couldn’t participate. The fans would always ask when would I be back and I didn’t have an answer. Even when I was physically cleared there were holdups with the business side of things. It was frustrating but you cannot just embrace the good times. You have to value the bad ones as well. I decided that I would enjoy my life while I waited to get back into the ring. When I come back, I’m going to do it with a statement and that’s where my mindset is right now.
Knockout Nation: On the flipside of that, you were in a series of highly competitive fights. So perhaps this was also a much needed break?
Andre Ward: That’s very true. I know my body needed a year off. It’s one thing to be eager and want to come right back. But your body sometimes says something different. I’ve got twenty years under my belt of training and fighting and taking punches. That year off isn’t going to hurt me; it is going to help me. It may not be ideal but when you look at Floyd Mayweather taking the hiatuses that he taken over the last four years have preserved him. Especially considering that he’s been fighting since he was a kid. You see Pacquiao fighting two or three times a year and all the training camps he has to go through. Sometimes the body says enough is enough. Floyd did right making those decisions to take extended breaks. He knows what he needed to do. I’m learning the same thing. I’m thinking that in the end it will benefit me in the long run.
“I’m not in competition with Floyd Mayweather”
Knockout Nation: Rodriguez is unbeaten but nobody is really giving him a chance to beat you. But what is your take on Rodriguez?
Andre Ward: I don’t read the general consensus of what people feel about my opponent because I know that he’s earned his shot, his eager and he’s coming to take something. I’m not a champion who looks past his opponents. I take everyone very seriously. Sometimes more serious than I probably should because I want to make sure that I’m mentally up to par.
Knockout Nation: The plight of the African American boxer is an interesting one. Gone are the days when African American boxers could possess crossover appeal for their in ring ability without being too controversial. Guys like Hearns, Leonard, Hagler, Holmes were fighters young kids could look up to and their parents would feel comfortable with their children looking up to them. Now we are missing black boxers with that crossover appeal unless there is some kind of controversy that follows them. What is your take?
Click here for the rest of the interview, where Ward talks Hip-Hop, Gospel and his refusal to do publicity stunts to maintain relevance.