<
>

Ward wallops Ravelo to move one step closer to title shot

GEORGE TOWN, Grand Cayman -- Andre Ward is always referred to as the lone gold medal winner for the U.S. boxing team in the 2004 Olympic Games. He will need to win a world championship before he can make that accomplishment a footnote to his name.

Ward took a step closer to making that happen when he demolished Jerson Ravelo, a 2000 Olympian with the Dominican boxing team, at the Royal Watler Cruise Terminal on Friday. Ward scored a devastating eighth round TKO against Ravelo, dropping Ravelo to his knees and then face forward to the canvas with a short left hand followed by a quick right. Ravelo made it up by the count of eight, but he was unsteady on his feet.

As Ward charged in to continue his assault, a white towel flew in from Ravelo's corner. Referee Steve Smoger had his back turned to the towel coming into the ring, but he reacted just as quickly to step in and protect Ravelo (18-3, 12 KOs) from further injury, stopping the fight at 2:37 of Round 8 to give Ward his sixth straight knockout victory since moving up to the super middleweight division last year.

"My objective was accomplished," Ward said of his knockout over Ravelo. "It was the old cliché. Don't rush it, don't be too anxious. I was telling myself the whole week this was going to be the best performance of my career."

Ward (16-0, 11 KOs) ended the fight just the way he wanted.

"It was a little left hook to blind him and a right hand to put him down," he said. "Like Bernard Hopkins does it."

With the victory, Ward clinched the NABO title, which he considers his first world title. It is a minor title at best, but it does give Ward position in the top 10 of the WBO, where Joe Calzaghe remains the reigning king.

"We're not looking for a world title fight yet," said Dan Goossen, Ward's promoter. "We've been patient and I see no need to rush anything just yet. I could see him being ready for a title shot in a couple more fights. But this was the type of fight that he needed, because he was a little hesitant at first, but once he settled down, he controlled the fight."

Ward rushed out of the corner like he was launched from a rocket to begin Round 1. It seemed to catch Ravelo off guard.

Ravelo, who was a member of the 2000 Dominican Olympic boxing team, never seemed to get in a rhythm against the faster Ward. And even though he had a height and reach advantage, Ravelo never pressed it. Instead, he kept getting popped by Ward's pop shots.

Ward briefly switched to a southpaw stance in the fifth round, hoping to catch Ravelo off guard because he knew that Ravelo had been stopped previously by a lefty. But after Ward found it easy to land the right hand from the orthodox stance, he didn't do it anymore.

By the seventh round, Ravelo, who has broken his right hand five times in his career and had it surgically repaired three times, looked exhausted. His mouth was open and he was gasping for air. It seemed only a matter of time before Ward would catch up to him.

Ward was anxious to get back home to Oakland to be with his wife and newborn daughter, who was born on June 12. Ward said he got to spend a day with her before he had to fly to the Cayman Islands for the fight with Ravelo.

"All I wanted to do was get back home and lay my belt at the feet of my wife and daughter," he said.

If he continues to fight the way he did against Ravelo last night, Ward, 24, will soon be laying some bigger and better hardware at the feet of his two queens.

In other key fights on the undercard, Wayne McCullough, a former bantamweight and featherweight world champion, called it quits for good after his corner stopped his fight against Juan Ruiz after the sixth round.

"This is probably my last fight," McCullough announced to the small crowd at the outdoor Cayman Island cruise ship terminal. "I got the silver medal for Ireland [at the 1992 Olympic Games] and I got the WBC [bantamweight] title for Ireland. I want to thank the American fans and the fans in the Caymans who came out for their support. I'll be retired after [Friday night]. Thank you everybody."

McCullough was taking a lot of shots from Ruiz (22-5, 7 KOs), but he seemed to be giving as good as he was getting. Two of the judges had McCullough ahead at the time of the stoppage. Judge Jose Rivera had it 58-57 and Judge Nelson Vazquez had it 58-56 for McCullough, while Judge Roberto Ramirez had it 56-58 for Ruiz.

McCullough (27-7, 18 KOs) hadn't fought in three years before climbing into the ring against Ruiz on Friday night. His last fight had been a 10th round TKO against Oscar Larios for the WBC super bantamweight title on June 16, 2005. But McCullough's résumé was filled with fights against great world champions like Erik Morales, Naseem Hamed, Scott Harrison and Daniel Zaragoza.

Heavyweight contender "Fast" Eddie Chambers started slow against Raphael Butler. But once Chambers (31-1, 17 KOs) got rolling and let his hands go he made quick work of Butler, scoring an impressive TKO victory at 2:23 of the sixth round. Chambers stunned Butler (31-5, 24 KOs) with a left to the jaw and quickly followed it with another barrage of punches, finally sending Butler through the second rope and sprawled onto the ring apron with a big right.

The way that Chambers stopped Butler, who outweighed him by 33 pounds, was a measure of redemption for the way that he lost to Alexander Povetkin in his last fight. The match against Povetkin was especially painful because it was an IBF title eliminator.

"I'm happy with the knockout, although I expected it to come sooner," Chambers said. "I was setting him up with the jab all day. I'm glad I got a couple of rounds in, but I really could have stopped him earlier."

Junior middleweight contender Ronald Hearns (19-0, 15 KOs) stopped Jose Luis Gonzalez (12-4-1, 10 KOs) on a TKO at 2:01 of the seventh round. Gonzalez was getting battered from the first round on and his corner stopped the fight shortly after Hearns landed a big right hand that stunned Gonzalez. Hearns is the son of former welterweight and middleweight champ Thomas Hearns, who worked the corner on Friday.

Tim Smith is the boxing columnist for the New York Daily News.