Ward has too many tools
Andre Ward is the most recent U.S. Olympic boxing gold medalist, having won at the 2004 Athens Games as a light heavyweight. As a professional, he is perfect (24-0, 13 KOs).
He dominated Mikkel Kessler to win a super middleweight world title in his opening bout of Showtime's Super Six World Boxing Classic, and has rolled through the tournament by winning each of his bouts in utterly dominant fashion.
In his 11th-round technical decision over the heavily favored Kessler, Ward shut him down. He was leading by six points on two scorecards and four points on the third when it was stopped.
In his second tournament bout, Ward pitched a clean shutout against Allan Green.
In a non-tournament bout against Sakio Bika, Ward scored a near shutout. He did the same thing to Arthur Abraham in the semifinals. Ward has made quality professionals look as though they didn't belong in the ring with him.
In fact, the last time Ward lost a fight, which was in 1996, he was 12. He is now 27 and an elite professional champion.
There's a reason he has had that kind of success. He is technically gifted, has speed, tremendous defense, heart and ring intelligence. He is also versatile, capable of switching styles when necessary. If he has to box from the outside, no sweat. If he has to rumble on the inside, he can do that, too. And don't let that million-dollar smile fool you. He is a fierce, fierce competitor.
His power isn't off the charts, but he can crack enough to keep opponents honest. And despite an early-career knockdown against a journeyman, Ward has shown a good chin on the rare occasions he has been tagged cleanly.
There really is no true weakness in his game, which is why he is the favorite going into the Super Six final against fellow titleholder Carl Froch on Saturday night at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.
As much respect as Froch deserves for his accomplishments, and as tenacious and powerful as he is, he has flaws. He is also 34 -- seven years older than Ward -- and has had many harder fights.
In the fight before the tournament began, Froch defended his title against Jermain Taylor, the diminished former middleweight champ who had lost twice in a row to Kelly Pavlik and moved up to 168 pounds to defeat the even more diminished Jeff Lacy. Yet there was Taylor taking Froch to school in a surprising scene. He dropped Froch in the third round -- the only time Froch has been knocked down -- and was on his way to a decision win when he ran out of gas and was stopped with 14 seconds left.
Froch dodged a bullet with that last-second comeback, but what I can't let go of is this: If a faded Taylor could so easily outbox Froch for as long as he did, what do you think Ward, whom I view as a potential pound-for-pound No. 1, is going to do?
In his tournament opener, Froch was lucky to escape with a hometown split-decision win against Andre Dirrell. Ward is an even better technician than Dirrell.
In Group Stage 2, Kessler beat Froch to the punch and outworked him to hand him his first defeat in a grueling fight. That would be the same Kessler whom Ward toyed with.
Ward has supreme defense and the speed to outmaneuver Froch's bombs all night. Ward will also have the advantage of fighting in his home country, while Froch is coming from England. It was only last week that another Brit, Amir Khan, got rolled by an American referee, who cost him his title against Lamont Peterson because of two uncalled-for point deductions. Fair or not, anything close is likely to go Ward's way.
But I don't think it's going to be all that close anyway. Ward is an all-around talent entering his prime and will continue his 15-year winning streak by outpointing Froch and hoisting the Super Six World Boxing Classic cup and two world title belts.
Don't rule out Carl, kid
Carl Froch has never been a big respecter of reputations.
Long before he joined the Super Six tournament, which he could win on American soil Saturday night, Froch was verbally ripping British compatriot Joe Calzaghe, one of the best super middleweight champions ever. They never fought, but make no mistake: Froch wanted it.
Why, then, should Froch be worried about Andre Ward, the unbeaten former Olympic gold medalist he will meet to unify the WBC and WBA 168-pound titles in Atlantic City?
Guess what? He isn't.
While all the Calzaghe talk boosted his profile, Froch has since gone on to prove himself a fearless, hardcore pro in his own right. I stood a few feet from him in David Haye's London gym in the summer, and you couldn't wish to be around a more amiable guy. But in the ring, Froch is as serious as they come.
In the last three years, Froch has come through a run of impossibly hard fights, including four abroad, two of them in America. No one can recall any Brit in the modern era surviving a similar schedule.
Londoner Nigel Benn, a fighter with Froch's warrior mentality, had five consecutive bouts in the U.S. in 1989-90, but they weren't all against top-liners. Froch's have been. Jean Pascal, Jermain Taylor, Andre Dirrell, Mikkel Kessler, Arthur Abraham and Glen Johnson have all come, one after the other. In the process, Froch has won, lost and regained the WBC portion of the 168-pound championship -- one of four Calzaghe held with such distinction over 10 years.
By anyone's reckoning, that's experience you just can't buy.
Ward, although younger, slicker and arguably the more complete fighter, might just be about to find that out.
Although Froch starts the underdog -- just over 2-1 against in Britain -- Ward will count him out at his peril. Taylor, who had floored Froch and was ahead on points going into the last round of their fight in Mashantucket, Conn., in April 2009, was knocked over and out in the final seconds in one of the most dramatic turnarounds I've seen.
Sure, Froch can be ungainly, occasionally crude, and he leaves himself open too often for comfort. But that's part of his appeal. He takes risks to get rewards.
The Englishman, though, can also be versatile. When faced with the choice of beating Abraham or going out of the tournament a year ago, Froch reverted to boxer to outclass the German over 12 rounds. It was a clinic.
To win this fight, Froch has to go back to being the bully.
If Ward gets into a rhythm early and starts to frustrate Froch, while peppering him with fast punches and moving away, it could turn into a one-sided affair.
But if Froch harries and hustles, exerting pressure on Ward in every round, the American might start to feel a little uncomfortable.
And the moment Froch sees discomfort in Ward is the moment he will believe the fight is his -- if that isn't the case already.
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