Timing Is Everything To Andre Ward

By Francis Walker
Updated: March 27, 2007

NEW YORK — Andre Ward’s transition from an amateur Olympic champion to professional boxer couldn’t have been calculated more perfectly.

Less than three years removed from becoming the only American to win a gold medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics, Ward (10-0, 5 KOs), with the help of his trainer and godfather Virgil Hunter, is on course to become one of boxing’s biggest stars within the next five years.

“He’s right on schedule, very nicely,” Hunter said during an exclusive interview with BASN. “His pace is nice and he’s already made the pro adjustments. He’s projected to do great things in the up and coming months and years. No matter where he is, he’s going to take it to the next level because he’s driven.”

Driven is just one of the many words that can describe the path Ward took to win the gold medal at the Athens Olympics. Ward, a natural 160-165 pound fighter moved up to 175 to compete as a light heavyweight.

Ward would box experienced amateur world champion boxers who were 6-feet-5 to 6-feet-6 and had to come down from weights higher than 180. No other Olympian has won a gold medal fighting outside of their weight class.

The transition from being a 175 Olympian to his professional debut at 160 pounds (middleweight), to his current fighting weight at 168 pounds as a super middleweight was simply no big deal for Ward.

“I’ve been fighting at 178 pounds,” Ward said. “It took me a year to come from 170 to 160. 170 was my natural weight at the time. I’ll see how my body feels and how my body matures”.

“If I’m filling out, I’m moving up definitely. It’s hard to say, you hear a lot of different stories about when a young man stops growing.”

After joining Oscar De La Hoya and David Reid as only the American fighters to win an Olympic gold medal in the last 23 years, Ward started his professional career on December 18, 2004.

He stopped Chris Molina in the second round. Ward has already beaten two undefeated boxers and nine of his first 10 opponents have had winning records.

“I just want to win and that hasn’t changed,” Ward told BASN about his transition as an amateur to the professional ranks. “There are smaller gloves, different crowds, and the referee is more lenient. My goal has always been to win. My father as always been growing in God.”

Ward, who was introduced to boxing at age nine by his father Frank Ward. Hunter has worked with Ward since. In August of 2002, Andre lost his father.

Similar to when De La Hoya lost his mother prior to winning a gold medal the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, Ward dedicates each of his fights to his father Frank.

Less than five years later, Ward, who reportedly has not lost a fight since 1998, will be making his super middleweight debut in his eleventh pro fight against Delray Raines (8-1, 5 KOs) on Saturday, March 29, at HP Pavilion, in San Jose, CA.

Ward has never seen his opponent fight but added: “we’re prepared. I’ve been in the game long enough to know how to adjust. We’ve done our part from A-Z. All of the work has been done in training. We’re ready to go.”

Part of Ward’s preparation and readiness stems from his amateur days with Hunter. Ward, who didn’t compete in many tournaments, always sparred with professional fighters.

“Where are you getting the experience?” Hunter asked. “You lose once in a tournament and you’re out. I took Andre to Texas , Las Vegas to fight pros. I kept him out of the radar”.

“In amateur boxing, the more dominant countries have a system. If you compete with that, they store you and find a way to beat you. They have tapes and can make the adjustments.”

“Until he went into the Olympics he had minimal international experience,” Hunter added. “I didn’t let him go to the Pan-Am games, the World Games. I knew they couldn’t beat him in 3-2 minute rounds. You can’t figure him out in two minutes.”

Ward was never star-hungry to be seen on television. Ward was in no rush to exhaust himself unnecessarily in international tournaments. Therefore, Ward’s relationship with Hunter was never strained. Their strategy was strongly supported.

“I think we’re on the same page,” Ward said. “It wasn’t always his plan to keep me out. It didn’t frustrate me. We were on the same page, same accord. There was no reason for us to wear ourselves out”.

“Me being a smaller fighter in a weight division, we would work to build myself up. We made the Olympic trials on to the goal medal. A lot of Olympians were burned out. It worked out.”

While other Olympians struggled to adapt to the fighting styles of the more experienced amateur boxers from Cuba and Russia (many of which were professionals), weight was never an issue for Ward or Hunter.

“When you’re an amateur, you have to hold that weight for the entire tournament,” Hunter said. “If he was 165, he’d have to hold that weight. As a light heavyweight, he was able to eat, train, and eat breakfast before the weigh in during the morning. We always knew that in the pros, he would be a middleweight.”

“All of the things were told to me about him competing in his weight class,” Hunter said. “He’s small. If he was 160, he would have a good chance. The U.S. makes light heavys, heavyweights. I knew from the beginning there was no doubt. He’s proven that”.

“He’s the only fighter to fight out of his own weight class to win an Olympic gold medal. He beat a former world champion and the runner-up champion of three years in a row.”

Ward’s arrival into the super middleweight division could bring eventual star power to a weight-class that’s not very recognizable to American boxing fans. Ward was born in February of 1984 and is approximately one month older than the super middleweight division.

Although American fighters such as Sugar Ray Leonard, Roy Jones, Jr., James Toney, and Michael Nunn won the super middleweight title, their impact at 168 pounds was brief. Leonard’s legacy was already sealed when he beat Donny LaLonde for both the WBC super middleweight and light heavyweight titles in November of 1988.

Jones, Jr. went on to become undisputed world light heavyweight champion and won a heavyweight title. Toney, a former middleweight champion who won a cruiserweight title, also fought for a heavyweight title. Ward will not be distracted by the fame and career achievements of the great fighters before him.

“It all goes back to hard work,” Ward added. “I am a Christian. I allow God to be with me and my whole team of fighters. Fighters get sidetracked. They look at what other fighters should have. I’ve been on HBO. I’m content. My main focus is the fight. Let it be the will of God and I’m satisfied with that.”

Europeans such as Chris Eubank, Nigel Benn, Steve Collins, Sven Ottke, and recently Joe Calzaghe has had lasting impacts in the super middleweight division. Can Ward successfully climb that uphill battle of bring American mass-attention to his current 168-pound class?”

“I think a lot of young fighters get questions like that,” Ward said. I’m taking it one day and one step at a time. “For a prospect and eventual future world champion like myself, I have to stay focused. If people get interested in the weight class and big fights arise, so be it.”

Whether Ward can elevate the popularity of the super middleweight division or return to 175 is very difficult to project. “Hard to entertain that since its a little ways off,” Hunter added. I’m confident he’ll emerge victorious whenever that maybe.”

Hunter certainly believes that “without a doubt, Andre Ward has the ability to rewrite boxing. Critics have different expectations of how a fighter should be. It’s just a matter of time. Ward’s amateur pedigree will assist him. He’s seen a variety of styles.”

“It all goes back to hard work,” Ward added. “I am a Christian. I allow God to be with me and my whole team of fighters. Fighters get sidetracked. They look at what other fighters should have. I’ve been on HBO. I’m content. My main focus is the fight. Let it be the will of God and I’m satisfied with that.”

Training with Ward is always a deeply spiritual, fun, and an energetic experience for Hunter. Ward and Hunter exchange boxing secrets, drill and challenge each other as part of their daily routine.

“Everything is based on the last opponent,” Hunter concluded. “We go over what we learned. Sparring and boxing stays consistent, drills and repetitions. We keep camp interesting and fun. With Andre, you never have to start at square one because he’s so determined and motivated”.

“It’s fun and loving because we are all blood. We have a great time. Camps are always spiritually strong. Physical demands are always met. We’re always doing defensive drills, techniques and strategies. Hit and not get hit.”