Andre “Son Of God” Ward is easily the best fighter on the planet that nobody talks about anymore. Despite his gold medal in the 2004 Summer Olympics, an impressive run through the sport’s top super middleweights in Showtime’s Super Six World Boxing Classic and a breakout performance in 2012 against Chad Dawson, Ward has been unable to capitalize on any momentum that he once had.
Ward, who was a consensus No. 2 pound-for-pound fighter according to a number of reputable outlets, should have taken his proper place as the man who would supplant Floyd Mayweather as the best boxer in the world once “Money” cashed out and retired.
However, between a seemingly endless stream of injuries and a bitter contract dispute with the late Dan Goossen, Ward faded into the background right in the midst of boxing having a resurgence of sorts with a crop of rising stars, a return to network television and the highest-grossing fight in the history of the sport taking place.
From 2012-2014, Ward only stepped into the ring on two occasions: His TKO stoppage of Dawson on Sept. 8, 2012, and a middling bout with unheralded Edwin Rodriguez on Nov. 16, 2013.
Essentially, Ward had a Mayweather-like schedule without Mayweather-like appeal. And for a rising star like Ward, visibility is key. How one of the most talented practitioners of the sweet science managed to become virtually invisible to the general public during this time can only be viewed as a marketing travesty that has bordered on career suicide.
Once out of the web of injuries and contract disputes, Ward curiously inked a deal with Jay Z’s Roc Nation Sports, which has effectively boxed him out of some of the bigger fights due to many of the top fighters being under Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions umbrella and, to a lesser degree, the rumored toxic relationship between Haymon and Ward’s new promoter.
His return to the ring on June 20 against Paul Smith on BET after 19 months of inactivity fell on relatively deaf ears due to the fight being up against the PBC’s highly anticipated Adrien Broner vs. Shawn Porter showdown.
Nevertheless, given his talent, Ward could find himself right back in the conversation amongst casual fans as long as he faces the right opposition.
Here are five opponents who would help boost Ward’s mainstream appeal:
Sergey Kovalev: Main Events CEO Kathy Duva has already said the sides have engaged in preliminary conversations for the fight to take place in the near future. Kovalev’s rampage through the ranks with a trail of notable bodies left in his wake has endeared him to fight fans who crave brutality inside of the squared circle. He’s never, ever, met a fight that he didn’t like and you’d be hard pressed to find a less than scintillating performance on his résumé.
And, at this point in his career, if Kovalev cannot land the ever-elusive light heavyweight unification bout against Adonis Stevenson that he’s been after for years, his attention may as well turn to Ward. There isn’t much left for “Krusher” to do in the land of 175-pounders except put on a display of punching power in what would be seen as a series of exhibition fights against the rest of the division. It only makes sense for Ward and Kovalev to meet sooner rather than later.
A win for Ward against the WBA, IBF and WBO light heavyweight champion would do wonders for his career and immediately thrust his name back into the limelight. However, this is a high-risk/high-reward fight to the most significant degree, as Ward would have to jump up a weight class to meet the power-punching Russian.
Bernard Hopkins: The fact that a 50-year-old Hopkins, who took arguably the worst beating of his 25-year career against Kovalev in his last fight, is on this list speaks highly to the lack of big names that Ward could face who would enhance his profile. This would almost certainly be a strictly business affair that would be seen as a passing of the torch as it’s hard to believe that Hopkins could compete with Ward.
Nevertheless, the promotional machine would be remiss to not remind that “B-Hop” has defied the odds before and could do so against Ward. The crafty veteran would almost certainly talk a good game heading into the fight and will convince more than a handful of people to believe that it would be a competitive scrap. Hopkins has already said on “his mom’s grave” that he would “never fight Andre Ward” so the likelihood of this ever taking place is next to nil.
Then again, Hopkins also promised his mother that he wouldn’t fight past the age of 40 and we saw how that turned out.
Gennady Golovkin: This is, to a much lesser degree, your next Mayweather-Pacquiao showdown. Ward and Golovkin possess starkly contrasting styles, both in and out of the ring, that brings about instant intrigue to fight fans and, given the right promotion, it could be a massive draw.
Golovkin has been a wrecking ball of power and precision since making his professional debut in 2006. The silver medalist in the middleweight division at the 2004 Olympics is currently sitting on a streak of 20 consecutive knockouts and has endeared himself to both casual and diehard fans courtesy of his debilitating punching power.
Ward is the antithesis of GGG. His remarkable defensive prowess coupled with his deft boxing ability is seen by many as the perfect mixture to solve Triple G.
It only makes sense to pair these two considering that GGG is desperately seeking a fight against a top name and Ward is in a similar boat. Although Ward recently called out Golovkin, Team Ward must admit that Golovkin is now the A-side and should make a few concessions in order to make this fight happen.
Ward-Golovkin is a fight that does not necessarily need to happen right now. If handled right and both fighters continue to impress, it could turn out to be one of the biggest showdowns in boxing. But a lot has to go right in order for that to happen.
Adonis Stevenson: The always-mouthy Stevenson could use a significant dance partner to silence the skeptics who have showered him with criticism ever since he avoided a fight with Kovalev by switching networks from HBO to Showtime and signing with the powerful Al Haymon.
For Ward, this would be viewed as an opportunity to topple one of the bigger names in the heavier weight classes as Stevenson is considered a draw and his 2013 bout with Tony Bellew averaged 1.3 million viewers on HBO.
However, Stevenson has seen his stock decline with viewers because of his lack of formidable opposition. And, at the age of 37, he will need to land a marquee name sooner than later. If he won’t fight Kovalev, perhaps it makes sense to fight a smaller man with a significant name in Ward.
Despite the leap in divisions, Ward would likely lick his chops to take on Superman considering the adversity Stevenson faced in his recent fight with Andrzej Fonfara and the perception that the Haitian struggles with technically savvy boxers. A selling point between the two fighters would be that Stevenson annihilated Chad Dawson in a single round while it took 10 rounds for Ward to dispatch of the former light heavyweight champion.
The problem with securing this fight is that Haymon oversees Stevenson’s career and would squash any possible conversation thanks to the combination of the threat Ward poses to his fighter and his sour relationship with Jay Z.
Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.: If Ward is looking for a low-risk/high-reward fight that would help push him into the mainstream, look no further than Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.
Considering that Chavez Jr. is still a draw (his fight with Marcos Reyes averaged 663,000 viewers) who controls a strong Mexican contingency and Ward has struggled mightily with capturing eyeballs (his return bout against Paul Smith on BET averaged a paltry 325,000 viewers), the pairing makes all the sense in the world from Ward’s perspective.
From an expert in-ring perspective, this is a fight Ward can easily win due to Chavez Jr.’s lackadaisical approach to the sport that his father took by storm in the 80s. However, JCC still has a rabid yet dwindling, base of believers who will blindly throw their support behind him.
Ward has yet to face a formidable Mexican fighter and could definitely improve his mainstream visibility by introducing himself to that audience. This fight would have to happen sooner than later because no one knows what to make of Chavez Jr.’s future in the sport.
As with Stevenson, the silent rivalry between Haymon and Jay Z almost ensures that this fight never happens. Unless Haymon truly believed that Chavez Jr. has an opportunity to win and would put his full focus into a proper training camp, there’s no reason for him to allow Chavez to ever enter into a fight with someone with the ability of Ward.