Boxing
World champ Ward wasn't always a sure thing
Lyle Fitzsimmons

By Lyle Fitzsimmons,
Contributing Boxing Editor


Ocala, FL (Sports Network) - It wasn't all that long ago.

Rather than an accomplished world champion favored by consensus to win a star- studded cable network tournament, Andre Ward was something else.

A protected and untested pro, living off scraps of a reputation forged as the only American gold medalist from a forgotten boxing Olympics in Athens, Greece.

We talked a few summers back in June 2008, before he departed on a Caribbean trip for a ShoBox date with Jerson Ravelo, who'd be the 16th foe on a victim list at that point largely ignored.

And even then, the kid had it together.

Reacting to his unbeaten mark and 10 KOs failing to generate the notice heaped on fellow Olympic champions Ray Mercer (1988), Oscar De La Hoya (1992) and David Reid (1996) -- not to mention past stars like Leonard, Jones and Whitaker -- he took the high road.


Andre Ward (above) will meet longtime middleweight title claimant Arthur Abraham on Saturday night.
"That's the way the game is sometimes," he said. "You have different guys with different promoters and they have different plans for them from the start.

"People remember guys like Oscar, but they might not point out a guy like David Reid, who's a good friend of mine and won a world title, but didn't have a reign."

He continued, showing maturity beyond his years -- then just 24 in number.

"That's where I want to be different," he said. "My goal isn't simply to win a championship and be finished. I want that to be the start of the process.

"I could've tried to get a title shot right away and finagled my way into a championship, but I want to earn it the right way and then hold on to it for a while.

"I'm absolutely not just a shooting star."

The eighth-round TKO of Ravelo in the Caymans did precious little to stir the masses, as did subsequent defeats of Esteban Camou, Henry Buchanan, Edison Miranda and Shelby Pudwill.

So little, in fact, that when time came for Ward's first spotlight turn opposite WBA champ Mikkel Kessler to begin the 168-pound round-robin, he was widely dismissed as decorated cannon fodder.

"(Kessler's) resume is far superior to that of Ward," one fight-week preview railed.

"Other than Jerson Ravelo and Edison Miranda, Ward has never even come close to facing stiff opposition, and one could make the argument that neither Ravelo, a Contender reject; nor Miranda, a reject of a different type; can be considered quality tests."

So much for perception being reality.

Instead, the Oakland native made fools of that expert and others with a virtuoso performance, winning seven of 10 rounds from the rugged Dane on one card and eight of 10 on two others before the fight ended in the 11th with Kessler bleeding badly from a gash above the left eye.

He's defended twice with scorecard defeats of Allan Green and Sakio Bika and advanced to the semifinals of the Showtime event, where he'll meet longtime middleweight title claimant Arthur Abraham on Saturday night at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California.

The broadcast begins at 10 p.m. (et) and will include a replay of last week's Pacquiao-Mosley main event from Las Vegas. The Ward-Abraham winner advances to the tournament final against the winner of a June 4 semifinal between Carl Froch and Glen Johnson in Atlantic City.

Saturday's card also features ex-title challenger Chris Arreola, who meets skidding foe Nagy Aguilera in a scheduled 10-rounder. Arreola was 27-0 before losing to Vitali Klitschko for the WBC heavyweight belt in 2009 and was subsequently beaten by contender Tomasz Adamek seven months later.

He's since defeated Manuel Quezada and Joey Abell by decision and first-round KO, respectively.

Aguilera was 15-2 after a first-round stoppage of former belt-holder Oleg Maskaev in 2009, but has lost three of four since -- including a decision to Antonio Tarver in his last fight October 15.

"I cannot overlook Nagy Aguilera. This man is a tough fighter," Arreola said. "I'm in this shape for him, to fight him. Not to look at two or three fights from now. My main motivation right now is him. Every fighter I've ever boxed I've respected and now I'm respecting boxing, the sport I love."

Abraham won the IBF 160-pound belt in 2005 and defended it 10 times through 2009, but has been a touch less successful at 168 -- defeating fellow ex- middleweight champ Jermain Taylor by final-round TKO before consecutive tourney losses to Andre Dirrell and Froch.

Ward's manager, James Prince, pointed out the challenger's recent difficulty at super middleweight, addressing him directly this week during the final pre- fight media conference.

"Come Saturday it's going to get real hot in the ring," Prince said. "You were a great fighter at 160 pounds but I feel like your advisers have tricked you into placing you into a different weight division where you don't belong. I want to extend my warmest hospitality and welcome you to the States, but that's where it ends."

The Armenian-born resident of Berlin has fought once since the loss to Froch, weighing-in at 169 1/2 pounds to defeat journeyman Stjepan Bozic in two rounds on February 12 when the Croatian was unable to continue with an injured left hand.

"I have a lot of respect for Andre Ward," Abraham said. "He's a technically sound boxer. But that talk doesn't matter when we get in the ring on Saturday. I'm here to win and I'm here to destroy him."

TV TOPICS

FRIDAY

ESPN2 -- Chumash Casino, Santa Ynez, CA

Kendall Holt (26-4) vs. Julio Diaz (38-6) -- 10, junior welterweights

Showtime -- Buffalo Bill's Star Arena, Primm, NV

Seth Mitchell (21-0-1) vs. Evans Quinn (20-5-1) -- 10, heavyweights

Sharif Bogere (19-0) vs. Raymundo Beltran (24-4) -- 10, lightweights

TeleFutura -- Coliseo Angel 'Cholo' Espada, Salinas, PR

Michael Perez (12-0-1) vs. Ira Terry (24-4) -- 8, lightweights

Jhonatan Vidal (13-0) vs. Cecilio Santos (25-18-3) -- 8, junior featherweights

SATURDAY

Showtime -- Home Depot Center, Carson, CA

Andre Ward (23-0) vs. Arthur Abraham (32-2) -- 12, WBA super middleweight title

Chris Arreola (30-2) vs. Nagy Aguilera (16-5) -- 10, heavyweights

NOTE: Some fights may not be televised.

Lyle Fitzsimmons is a veteran sports columnist who's written professionally since 1988 and covered boxing since 1995. His work is published in print and posted online for clients in North America and Europe. Reach him at fitzbitz@msn.com or follow him on Twitter.

Jabs, hooks or knockouts, Lyle Fitzsimmons can be reached at fitzbitz@msn.com.

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