Andre Ward's announcement on Thursday that he was retiring at age 33 took the boxing world by surprise.
But Ward (32-0, 16 KOs) walks away undefeated and with a huge résumé that almost surely will make him a first-ballot Hall of Famer. I vote, and I know I will check his name when he is eligible in five years.
As an amateur, he won an Olympic gold medal at the 2004 Athens Games, and during his professional career from 2004 to 2017, Ward cleaned out the super middleweight division (unifying two titles and winning the Super Six World Boxing Classic), won three light heavyweight belts, and on the day he retired was the widely regarded No. 1 fighter in the world pound-for-pound. His last loss? He was a 12-year-old amateur.
So which fights were the most significant in Ward's great career? Here's my view of his top five:
1. Sergey Kovalev II (June 17, 2017, at Las Vegas): When Ward barely outpointed Kovalev to win three light heavyweight belts in their first fight in November 2016, most thought Ward got a gift decision. But when they met in the rematch seven months later, he asserted his dominance against Kovalev to leave no doubt. It was a highly competitive fight until the eighth round, when Ward landed a ferocious right hand on the chin and Kovalev turned jelly-legged. Ward went right after him, backed him into the ropes and fired away until Kovalev wilted and the referee stopped the fight. Kovalev complained bitterly later about low blows, but Ward essentially made Kovalev quit.
2. Carl Froch (Dec. 17, 2011, at Atlantic City, N.J.): In a dazzling display, Ward easily outboxed the rugged Froch -- himself a probable Hall of Famer -- to unify super middleweight world titles in the final of the Super Six World Boxing Classic. Ward won a unanimous decision, 118-110 on one scorecard with the two other judges stunningly scoring the one-sided fight 115-113. Whatever the scores, however, Ward was in total command as he cleaned Froch's clock with left hooks. Making his victory even more impressive was that Ward came into the fight with an injured left hand that he ended up fracturing in two places during the fight.
3. Chad Dawson (Sept. 8, 2012, at Oakland, California): In his first fight after winning the Super Six tournament, Ward destroyed Dawson in extremely impressive fashion. Dawson was the reigning light heavyweight world champion and agreed to move down from 175 pounds to challenge Ward for his 168-pound title. It was a blowout. Ward did as he pleased. He dropped Dawson in the third, fourth and 10th rounds en route to a 10th-round knockout victory.
4. Mikkel Kessler (Nov. 21, 2009, at Oakland): Ward was not given much of a chance to win the Super Six World Boxing Classic, and his chances looked even worse when he was paired with super middleweight world titleholder Kessler, the favorite to win it all, in the first round of the tournament. But Ward absolutely dominated and announced his arrival as a force to be reckoned with. He won his first world title by 11th-round technical decision when Kessler could not continue because of cuts from an accidental head-butt, but Ward dominated throughout to take the fight 98-92, 98-92 and 97-93.
5. Sergey Kovalev I (Nov. 19, 2016, at Las Vegas): Ward and Kovalev had been on a collision course since Ward moved up to light heavyweight in 2015, and when they met, it was not only for Kovalev's three world title belts but also for potential pound-for-pound supremacy. The fighters disliked each other almost as much as their promoters did in a heated promotion, and the fight turned out to be a very good one. Kovalev dropped Ward in the second round, but he got off the deck and fought his way back into the fight. Although most believed Kovalev deserved to win a close decision, it was Ward who prevailed 114-113 on all three scorecards to claim a world title in his second weight division and set up the rematch.