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Why Now’s the Time to Appreciate Andre Ward, the Bay’s Best Boxer

The “Son of God” takes on Alexander Brand Saturday in advance of November’s megafight.

 

East Bay pugilist extraordinaire Andre Ward—he of the Olympic gold medal, star-studded ring entourage (which in recent fights has included Steph Curry, Marshawn Lynch, and E-40, among others), and cameo appearance in Creed—will be back in the ring Saturday night in Oakland. The fight, against decided underdog Alexander Brand, 39, is essentially a tune-up in advance of a Nov. 19 mega-bout with top-ranked light heavyweight Sergei Kovalev, a scrap that’s already been signed to paper and picked up by HBO Pay-Per-View. (Although, this being boxing, don’t assume anything until both men step in the ring.)

So while Saturday’s fight will almost certainly be a walk-over—don’t be fooled by Brand’s 25-1 record or 19 knockouts; he most certainly is, in boxing parlance, a tomato can—that doesn’t mean the evening will be devoid of excitement. (Did we mention Ward’s entourage?) And, for those of you for whom the sweet science might as well be thermodynamics, we’ve helpfully culled together a few pointers that’ll make you sound like a veritable Cus D’Amato come fight night, or at the very least, make for some nice light reading while the hometown hero scrubs the canvas with this overmatched punching bag.

Ward is undefeated, sort of
Ward, regarded by Ring Magazine as the No. 4 pound-for-pound fighter on this planet or any other, sports a tidy record of 29 victories, zero defeats, and 15 knockouts—this after going undefeated to win gold at the 2004 Olympics as an amateur. (Ward remains the last American to win boxing gold.) But: He has, technically speaking, lost a fight before. His first fight. “Samuel Orosco,” he recalls without a moment’s hesitation. “Santa Clara P.A.L. I was 10 years old at that time.” That wasn’t his only loss, either: He also lost two other “smokers” (club fights of three one-minute rounds). “They’re fixed, man, in the forefront” of his mind, Ward jokes. “It sucked to lose the first one...but it really just lit a fire.” So when some jamoke mentions Ward’s unblemished resume, feel free to interject that he’s only undefeated after age 12.

Ward is moving up in weight, sort of
Having vacated his super middleweight belt for a shot at Kovalev’s light heavyweight strap, Ward is moving from his longtime 168-pound kingdom to the land of 175 monsters. (Ward’s last two bouts, against Paul “One-Shot” Smith—about how many shots it took Ward to knock him out—and Sullivan Barrera were waged at 172 and 175, respectively, as he acclimated to the division.) But in many ways, Ward has already proved he can hang with the best of the light heavies: In 2012, the hometown hero knocked out then-175 champ “Bad” Chad Dawson in Oakland, in a bout for Ward’s super middle belts. Though the fight was waged at the 168 limit, Dawson was still the bigger man, and Ward cut him down in an absolute beatdown.

Ward isn’t the only local attraction
Though he represents the fighting pride of the Bay Area, Ward isn’t the only contender with roots in the Bay: There’s San Leandro’s “Filipino Flash,” Nonito Donaire, a former four-division champion and current Ring No. 3 junior featherweight; and veteran Fillmore fighter Karim “The Hard Hitta” Mayfield, though he’s fallen on hard times lately (losing three of his past four bouts, with the lone win coming at the Longshoreman’s Hall near Fisherman’s Wharf), is still in the fight game and will appear on a televised Showtime card Aug. 19. Here’s another local name to watch: Bayview native Raquel “Pretty Beast” Miller, an Olympic women’s boxing alternate in 2012, will step in for her second pro fight Saturday on Ward’s undercard, the first women’s fight ever staged by promoter Roc Nation Sports.

Ward should be appreciated now, because he might not be around long
Ward has taken hiatuses from fighting in the past—he missed 19 months of his prime to a contractual dispute with his previous promoter—and insists he won’t end up a punch-drunk veteran like so many who’ve come before him (including his childhood hero, Roy Jones Jr., who at age 47 has a bout scheduled for later this month). “I’m going to have my day where I’ve got to answer the same question,” Ward says. “God willing, I’ll do the right thing when it’s time. Not when I’m shown it’s time—when some young guy shows me it’s time—but long before it’s time.” One silver lining of Ward’s waning prime is that the pressure is on to make big-money fights (like the Kovalev brawl) while he still has peak earning potential—a fact that isn’t lost on Ward. “This is called prizefighting for a reason,” he says. “More time than not, athletes, specifically fighters, have a 15 or 20-year career, and unfortunately we end up right where we started when it’s over. All we have is maybe a round of applause when we walk in a room—Hey, there’s the champ! That’s great; I want that, but I’ve got to have something tangible to show for it too.”

Ward is a bad, bad man—except when he isn’t
Ward backs up his ring name, “Son of God,” by walking the walk. The straight-and-narrow walk, that is. In fact, he’s an alter worker and frequent volunteer at the Well Christian Community Church in Livermore, a nondenominational congregation led by, get this, former Oakland Raiders running back and now Rev. Napolean Kaufman. “He’s doing big things, man,” Ward says of Kaufman, who presumably also knows a few things about getting banged around for a living. “He’s like a spiritual father to me.” And if everything goes according to plan, the two should have something to laugh about together come Sunday morning.

 

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