For his critics, winning a gold medal for the United States in 2004 Olympics, going pro and attaining an unbeaten record (26-0) while being recognized as the second best fighter in the world behind Floyd Mayweather isn’t enough. According to the skeptics, the WBA (Super) and The Ring Super Middleweight champion continues to win fights, but hasn’t figured out the winning combination to win over new fans. He doesn’t have the great equalizer in knockout power and doesn’t have the polarizing personality to make him attractive to mainstream boxing fans. He’s just a good guy who fights very, very well. But shouldn’t that be enough? As he prepares to take on Edwin Rodriguez on November 16, Knockout Nation sits down with Andre Ward to talk about his mainstream appeal, whether or not he has beef with Floyd Mayweather and the plight of the African American boxer.
Knockout Nation: Two things stuck out to me in the Dawson fight, one was that you said you wanted to remove the he’s good “but” part out of the conversation when people speak of you. The other was that you alluded to making Chad Dawson quit before it actually happened. Was the plan to essentially kill two birds with one stone when you fought Dawson?
Andre Ward: We went into the fight knowing that we could stop Chad Dawson. He’s not a man that you can go in there and know you’ll knock him out. It just doesn’t happen. But we had the mindset and in the weeks leading up to the fight I said to not be surprised if he runs into a shot. The plan was to break him down and catch him late and that’s exactly what we did. So, the answer to your question is yes.
Knockout Nation: The momentum you gained by stopping Dawson was slowed down when an injury forced you out for the past year. How frustrating was it to be on the sidelines even though you were still visible doing commentary for HBO?
Andre Ward: It was very frustrating. Sometimes even discouraging because I had the best seat in the house calling fights but I couldn’t participate. The fans would always ask when would I be back and I didn’t have an answer. Even when I was physically cleared there were holdups with the business side of things. It was frustrating but you cannot just embrace the good times. You have to value the bad ones as well. I decided that I would enjoy my life while I waited to get back into the ring. When I come back, I’m going to do it with a statement and that’s where my mindset is right now.
Knockout Nation: On the flipside of that, you were in a series of highly competitive fights. So perhaps this was also a much needed break?
Andre Ward: That’s very true. I know my body needed a year off. It’s one thing to be eager and want to come right back. But your body sometimes says something different. I’ve got twenty years under my belt of training and fighting and taking punches. That year off isn’t going to hurt me; it is going to help me. It may not be ideal but when you look at Floyd Mayweather taking the hiatuses that he taken over the last four years have preserved him. Especially considering that he’s been fighting since he was a kid. You see Pacquiao fighting two or three times a year and all the training camps he has to go through. Sometimes the body says enough is enough. Floyd did right making those decisions to take extended breaks. He knows what he needed to do. I’m learning the same thing. I’m thinking that in the end it will benefit me in the long run.
“I’m not in competition with Floyd Mayweather”
Knockout Nation: Rodriguez is unbeaten but nobody is really giving him a chance to beat you. But what is your take on Rodriguez?
Andre Ward: I don’t read the general consensus of what people feel about my opponent because I know that he’s earned his shot, his eager and he’s coming to take something. I’m not a champion who looks past his opponents. I take everyone very seriously. Sometimes more serious than I probably should because I want to make sure that I’m mentally up to par.
Knockout Nation: The plight of the African American boxer is an interesting one. Gone are the days when African American boxers could possess crossover appeal for their in ring ability without being too controversial. Guys like Hearns, Leonard, Hagler, Holmes were fighters young kids could look up to and their parents would feel comfortable with their children looking up to them. Now we are missing black boxers with that crossover appeal unless there is some kind of controversy that follows them. What is your take?
Andre Ward: You make a good point. I just tell people to be themselves. When I was younger, I was a knucklehead who got in trouble. I gave my life to the lord and put that all behind me. I’m not willing to compromise and be something that I’m not. I’m not willing to create publicity stunts for more Twitter followers or buzz on the net. Personally, I’m not willing to do it. When mothers come up to me and say I’m a role model for their children that lets me know that people are watching and taking notice. I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing if God didn’t bless me and protect me and push me in the right direction. I’m not going to turn my back on him for some instant gratification. It’s a mindset to me. I’m just not willing to compromise who I am.
Knockout Nation: Floyd Mayweather had some things to say about you earlier this year. He questioned your nickname “Son Of God” and suggested that you aren’t selling tickets except in Oakland. Where do you think that all came from and why say anything about you?
Andre Ward: I know exactly where it came from. When I was asked who I was supporting in Floyd’s fight against Robert Guerrero I said that I supported my fellow Christian in Guerrero. That might have ruffled his feathers a little bit and made him say the things he said about me.
As a fighter you don’t necessarily like when somebody close to you sides with the other fighter. So I understood it. Since then I was at his weigh in for the Canelo fight and I didn’t think he was going to say a word to me but he gave me a hug and it’s a thing of the past. I appreciate him. I support Floyd a great deal for what he’s done for our sport. I’m not in competition with Floyd. I’m going to make my money and make my mark but he’s a living legend in my era. I grew up watching him and respect what he’s done. There’s nothing but respect and I think he knows and understands that.
“I’m not willing to create publicity stunts for more Twitter followers or buzz on the net.”
Knockout Nation: When you speak of competition, the name Gennady Golovkin is often brought up. What are your thoughts on facing him?
Andre Ward: I don’t know how much Golovkin’s team wants the fight. I know that GGG is very respectful and humble. It is his trainer that likes the attention of the press and calls guys out. It’s a fight that I’m hoping for now but realistically It will happen down the road.
Knockout Nation: Who are your top 5 boxers dead or alive?
Andre Ward: In no particular order…
- Floyd Mayweather: He’s a living legend.
- Roy Jones: He was my guy and still is. He’s the first fighter I locked eyes on and said I wanted to be like him.
- Bernard Hopkins: Look at what he’s accomplished at his age.
- Muhammad Ali: Enough said.
- Sugar Ray Robinson or Sugar Ray Leonard. But I’ll have to say Leonard because he’s closer to my era but they are interchangeable.
Knockout Nation: Who are your top 5 rappers dead or alive?
Andre Ward: Believe it or not I don’t listen to rap music. I listen to gospel rap. That’s my thing. I stopped listening to rap a long, long time ago. I listen to guys like Lecrae, Transparant from the Bay. He’s taking his ministry around the world. Tedashii, Derek Minor and the list goes on. Those are the guys I support who have crazy good beats and when you listen to the message it is both uplifting and powerful.
Knockout Nation: Lecrae has been making waves in hip hop as a rapper who gave his life to God…
Andre Ward: He’s got some bangers man! “Take Me As I Am” of his debut album Real Talk is when I took notice. The song basically talks about the lifestyle he came from and he felt like it was no good. In the midst of him being who he was and living the life he lived, God still had a place for him. I can relate.