There isn't much that unbeaten super middleweight champion Andre Ward can't do in a boxing ring.
The 2004 Olympic gold medalist has made an impressive leap over the past two years, from hot prospect to one of the sport's pound-for-pound elite, after cruising through a respected field en route to the Super Six title.
At 28, Ward (25-0, 13 KOs) is entering his prime in high demand and currently preparing for a challenging defense of his 168-pound title against light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson (31-1, 17 KOs) on Sept. 8 (HBO, 9:45 p.m. ET/PT) in Ward's hometown of Oakland.
ESPN.com caught up with Ward as his training camp winds down ahead of his fifth title defense.
How did the idea for the fight against Dawson come together?
It started as a talk between our two promoters. I was making the switch from Showtime to HBO, and with Chad being an HBO fighter, I just think it was a natural fit. Chad was always clamoring and talking about how easy it was to make 168 pounds and that it's really his natural weight. He had no competitors at 175 unless he went back to Jean Pascal, and for whatever reason that wasn't a fight that was on the books, so I just think that it was the right matchup. He's coming off a big fight and big victory against Bernard Hopkins, and I'm coming off my win in the Super Six against Carl Froch. I just think it was a unique and fitting matchup at this time in our careers.
Considering Dawson's nearly six-inch reach advantage and ability to box, what kind of challenge do you expect from him?
I expect the biggest challenge. Chad is a skilled fighter. He's got reach and he's got height. But at the end of the day, it's not just about that. I've fought big guys, tall guys, long guys, short guys. If you want to be the best, you have to learn how to fight everybody and accept every challenge that is in front of you. Everybody is talking about Chad's ability and what he's able to do. But I don't just have to deal with Chad Dawson -- he also has to deal with Andre Ward and what I bring to the table.
Would you have been willing to move up to 175 pounds or meet Dawson in the middle at a catchweight if necessary? Were you surprised he was so willing to come down to 168 pounds?
To be honest with you, we hadn't even given it any thought because in his postfight interview [against Hopkins] everybody saw where he said it's no problem making 168, and in the weeks after that his team met with him and everybody talked about it, and it was never an issue with me. But him coming out recently on some radio show and saying that we demanded [the weight], I never demanded anything. He's contradicting what he said on national television. The man said that he could make 168 pounds, no problem. So why would you say that and then try and come and get 170 after the fact? I'm not saying I would have ruled it out. That's something that we would have been open to discuss, but it never got to that point.
How important do you think fights like this -- with Dawson moving down in weight and lineal champions facing off -- are for the overall health of the sport?
It just depends, everybody's body is different. Once again, we are taking this man Chad Dawson at his word, and everybody on his team who keep saying how easy it's going to be for him [to make 168]. On ESPN2 a couple of weeks ago he's saying, "I'm already down." There's nothing but positive feedback from Dawson and his team about his weight. So I think it's safe to say that at the end of this fight, the weight shouldn't be an issue, and I hope it wouldn't be because everything they are saying is documented. But in terms of other fighters, it's just tough because not everybody is like a Chad Dawson, who can maybe fight in two different weight classes. For me, I can make 160, but I wouldn't be any good when I got down there. So even though it may be a nice trend, it's not physically possible for some guys. So if it can be done, I think it's a great thing for the sport. I think it definitely brings intrigue or excitement.
Have you ever given thought to a potential superfight against the winner of the middleweight title bout between Sergio Martinez and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.? Where is your cutoff point in terms of how many pounds you could go below the 168-pound limit and still be effective?
I would have to go to a professional and really dig deep and see what's safe and not only where can I make the weight, but where can I be productive and still compete at the highest level. It makes no sense for a guy when you look at [Oscar] De La Hoya and [Manny] Pacquiao, when De La Hoya went into the fight just half-dead. Yeah, he made the weight. He said he felt great. He went to training camp up in Big Bear [Calif.] and did everything he was supposed to do, but his body wouldn't respond in that way. I never want to be in a situation like that. But fighting the winner of Martinez and Chavez, I think, would be a megafight just like this fight. Fighting these kind of fights gets you to bigger and better things.
You've had a nearly flawless professional career, but critics always find something to talk about. Does it bother you when people make the case that you are a safety-first or boring fighter who doesn't always look to finish opponents when the opportunity is there?
No, it doesn't mess with me. It fuels me. But I also understand the state of this sport right now and how the best fighter in the world, Floyd Mayweather, doesn't even get the respect he deserves unless he's bleeding or has a cut or a bloody nose. It kind of is what it is and comes with the territory. It's unfortunate because every fight is not going to be a fight of the year candidate. It's just not. And if it's not, the fighter should not be penalized for it. As a boxing fan, as far back as I can remember I've always loved two guys who could scrap going toe-to-toe. But there's something about a master at work, and I want to be a master of my craft. In terms of finishing guys, at the highest level you don't see a lot of knockouts. You tell me the last time you saw a pay-per-view in the last few years that ended in a knockout? It doesn't happen very often between two top-level guys. Every now and then, a guy might run into a shot like Ricky Hatton [against Pacquiao in 2009], but it's not something that is easy to do. At the end of the day, it's about winning and getting your hand raised.
We've recently seen Pacquiao get what appeared to be a raw deal against Timothy Bradley Jr. Against Froch, two judges scored it 115-113 for you in a fight that most believe you dominated. With seven of your last eight fights having gone to the scorecards, does that concern you or change your game plan?
It's always a concern in the back of your mind because, just looking at my fight with Froch, that was highly concerning and just frankly wasn't right. What I think happened was Froch and his team were successful in making a lot of noise before the fight about getting a fair shake, and I think the judges overcompensated for that. It's always something that is on your mind whether you are fighting at home or abroad.
Many have anointed you the pound-for-pound successor to Mayweather and Pacquiao. But what kind of goals do you have for your career? Do you think about things like retiring undefeated or collecting titles in multiple divisions?
The bottom line is, I don't like to lose. I try to do everything in my power to prepare and go get my hand raised. Being a multi-divisional champion is one of my goals, as is just having a Hall of Fame career that I can look back on and appreciate the level of competition that I fought. If I can look back and know that I've given my career -- every fight, every training camp -- everything that I have and made the right decision from a business standpoint, then I'd be fully satisfied.
You've built a considerable following in boxing, but how important is it to you to become a crossover star and a household name in the eyes of the general public? What do you have to do in order to make that leap?
You've just got to keep fighting and keep winning. I think that once the public and the media really scratch beneath the surface and see that you are more than a fighter -- that you have a life, you a have personality, you have conversation and that you are a great ambassador and a great representative for not only the sport but any corporate company that wants to get behind you -- I think that's where it kind of happens. With shows like "Fight Camp 360" and "24/7," those kind of shows give people a glimpse as to who you are as a person, and people start to kind of fall in love with you and start to really appreciate you for being more than just a fighter.
You're generally considered to be poised and classy outside of the ring. How important is it to you to be a role model to younger fans?
The good thing is that it's who I am. It's my heart and it's something that is real to me. That part is easy and not something that I have to premeditate and say, "OK, I'm in front of a bunch of kids, let me watch my language." It's just me, because I was that kid once looking up to guys that I respected and guys that were doing something, and I know the importance of being that example when you are on a certain platform. So it's a big deal to me and a big deal to be an example not only to my children but to kids that are on the outside looking in. I think it's a cop-out for athletes to say, "I didn't sign up to be a role model." Kids are going to follow you regardless, because of the attention and the fame that you have. It is our duty to do that.
Do you think the Dawson fight will play out like the chess match most have predicted, or is there potential for toe-to-toe action in the center of the ring?
It's hard to say how the fight is going to turn out. He seems to be saying things like it's going to be fight of the year, and if he brings that to the table, then absolutely. I've never seen Chad in a fight-of-the-year type of fight, but I would love for him to bring that type of fight. I think it would play right into our hands.