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Andre Ward: A Career Appreciation

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Andre Ward

What a year 2017 has been for boxing. We’ve seen a plethora of fantastic fights where the best have been fighting the best. On the downside, Floyd Mayweather, Juan Manuel Marquez, Shane Mosley and Timothy Bradley retired. This morning (Sept. 21, 2017) Andre Ward announced that he too was hanging up his gloves.

Ward, who hasn’t lost a fight since he was 13 years old, reached the highest level as an amateur, winning a gold medal at the 2004 Olympics fighting as a light heavyweight. He concludes his pro career as one of three fighters who recently retired undefeated, joining Floyd Mayweather and Tyson Fury. Andre departs boxing with a career record 32-0 (16). He won world titles at super middleweight and light heavyweight. On the day of his departure, Ward was the reigning WBA/IBF/WBO light heavyweight champion and was considered by many the top pound-for-pound fighter in boxing.

There are many things that stand out about Ward as a fighter, starting with his versatility and toughness. En route to winning the Super Six tournament, designed to crown the best super middleweight in the world, Ward defeated fighters with varying styles and skill sets. He nullified Mikkel Kessler’s reach and neutralized his jab. He out-maneuvered and out-muscled a strong and heavy handed fighter in Arthur Abraham and in the finale he beat Carl Froch at every turn. He forced Froch to box when Froch wanted to fight and when Froch became desperate and needed to fight with urgency, Ward boxed smart and avoided getting caught with anything meaningful.

After beating Froch, Ward induced WBC and lineal light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson, who was coming off a decision over Bernard Hopkins, to come down in weight. After two close rounds, Ward dropped Dawson in the third with a right to the body and a short left hook. In the fourth Ward put Dawson down again. Showing great resiliency, Dawson survived the round but Ward never let up and when a tired and beaten Dawson went down again in the 10th, the fight was stopped.

Due to injuries and contract disputes with his promoter, Ward was inactive for 19 months. In January of 2015 he announced that he would be fighting under the Roc Nation banner.

In his first bout with Roc Nation, he TKO’d Paul Smith in the ninth round fighting at a catch- weight of 172. Ward fought twice more at 175, beating previously undefeated Sullivan Barrera and the once-beaten Alexander Brand before back-to-back fights with WBA/IBF/WBO light heavyweight champ Sergey Kovalev, the opponent he will most likely be most remembered for. At the time of their first meeting Kovalev, a terrific boxer-puncher, was undefeated (30-0-1, with 26 KOs). He was considered one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world and clearly the elite fighter in the light heavyweight division.

Ward-Kovalev I was closely contested and went the distance. Ward was dropped by a big right hand in the second round, but once again Andre summoned great reserve, getting up and fighting off a charging Kovalev. He battled back and won the third round and eventually stabilized the tempo of the fight. He fought his best, counter-punching and going to Kovalev’s body from rounds six through 12. In what came as a surprise to many, Ward was awarded the decision, winning by scores of 114-113 on all three cards. The controversy over the decision made the rematch a natural. Seven months later, Ward and Kovalev fought again with Ward now in the role of the defending champ.

The bout was evenly contested in the beginning with little to choose between them, but as the bout progressed, Ward started to fight a little more aggressively, beating Kovalev to the punch. In the eighth round he hurt Kovalev with a big right hook and then backed him into the ropes where he landed three hooks to Sergey’s body that appeared to be at least borderline low. As Kovalev was doubled over against the ropes, the referee stepped in and declared Ward the winner. Kovalev complained that he had been fouled and that the bout shouldn’t have been stopped, but in the eyes of many ringsiders it was a moot point as Ward had seized control of the fight.

It’s plausible that a couple of Ward’s body shots did land a little south. Along with being a masterful technician, Andre wasn’t above stretching the rules and fighting rough. He was terrific at holding and hitting and made great use of his forearms and elbows on the inside, although he was seldom called on it.

Because he wasn’t flashy in or out of the ring, Andre Ward flew under the radar and was never a superstar. But he certainly had superstar skills. He was a quiet guy with integrity and failed to boast or do things against his character and good nature in order to bring attention to himself in the way that Floyd Mayweather did. And that cost him financially. (As a friend pointed out to me, Mayweather made more money in his last bout fighting a guy making his pro boxing debut than Ward made in his entire career.) So be it, but as a fighter Andre was Mayweather’s equal and maybe even more. And the reason for that is that Ward cleaned out two weight divisions fighting the most feared guy in both. And unlike Mayweather, he could not be accused of avoiding other elite fighters or waiting for the opportune time to fight them when their skills had declined.

As the years go by, not only will Andre Ward be inducted into the IBHOF, but his legacy will escalate. He had all the goods a fighter could want. He was a smart and versatile technician and he was much more durable and tough than he got credit for being. He had more than adequate speed and power and — something that’s often overlooked — he had an unbreakable will. It was impossible to shake his confidence or convince him that he couldn’t figure you out and beat you. Some considered his style boring, but I’d say efficient is more appropriate.

At the least Ward has to be considered one of the three or four greatest super middleweights in the history of the division. And he is without a doubt one of the greats to have fought over the last 25 years, right alongside Evander Holyfield, Lennox Lewis, Roy Jones, Bernard Hopkins, James Toney, Floyd Mayweather, and Manny Pacquiao.

He now says that his body is succumbing to the rigors of training and that the desire is no longer there. And because he took boxing so seriously, I believe he is serious and will never make a comeback. Andre Ward’s name will now be added to the short list of fighters who retired from boxing with their health, wealth and respect. Along with that, he leaves on top as champion when there’s still something left in the tank as a fighter if he wanted to call on it. 

For a closer look at Andre Ward the man, check out this piece by that Thomas Hauser that ran here last November.

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Lemieux vs. O’Sullivan: There Will Be Blood

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There is not much to dislike about Gary “Spike” O’Sullivan. The bald and mustachioed O’Sullivan looks like his name and fights like an Irishman named “Spike.” He rarely backs up and just keeps coming and coming until he wears out his opponent. And he is willing to take two to give one as he did against Antoine Douglass (22-0-1 coming in) in December 2017. The Douglass win, a KO, gave Spike a regional title, but more importantly put him squarely in the mix of top contenders. In fact, he has joined the growing chorus of those who want to fight Gennady Golovkin—and the early retirement payday that could follow. If he beats David Lemieux on the undercard of the Canelo -GGG mega fight on September 15 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, he just might get his chance, but that’s a big “if.”

Thus far, Spike’s only two losses have been to Chris Eubank Jr in 2015 and slick and tough Billy Joe Saunders in 2013. Since the Eubank loss, Spike (28-2) has won six straight, the last five by stoppage. When he KOd Melvin Betancourt in May 2015 in Boston, MA, the Dominican middleweight was 29-1. Today he is 29-6. Pleasing local Irish fans (and this writer), O’Sullivan has fought nine times in the Greater Boston area, bringing back memories of another tough Irish fighter by the name of Stevie Collins.

Lemieux

David Lemieux was also outboxed and shut down by Billy Joe Saunders in a clash of styles that favored Saunders. This time, the styles virtually guarantee a thriller for as long as it lasts. Lemieux (39-4) has 33 stoppage wins compared to Spike’s 20. His KO of Curtis Stevens still resonates as one of the more chilling one’s ever seen.

Unlike the globetrotting O’Sullivan, The popular Canadian fighter has done most of his work in Montreal but is 4-1 outside Canada losing his title to GGG at Madison Square Garden in October 2015. At stake in this one were the IBF, WBA, and interim WBC World Middleweight Titles. David was badly bloodied by Golovkin (then 33-0) but did not disgrace himself as he fought to win.

David is a tremendously powerful puncher with either hand and begins the stalk as soon as the bell rings. But Spike also generally moves forward at the opening bell. Something has to give here and it just might give early on. Spike is no BJS and moving away and slipping punches is not his strong suit. But it’s not in Lemieux’s DNA either. This is almost guaranteed to be a spine tingling, all action thriller. Fans had better stay glued to the telecast.

Chocolatito

In addition to Lemieux-O’Sullivan, it appears that all-action fighter Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez (46-2) will also appear on the GGG/Canelo undercard, opposing Moises Fuentes (25-5-1). If so, this one will be over sooner rather than later. In fact, the promoters better have some solid fill-in fights on tap before the main event.

This is about as good as it gets; this is a boxing fan’s dream. Don’t miss it!

Ted Sares is one of the oldest active full power lifters and recently won the Maine State Champions in his class. A member of Ring 10, and Ring 4’s Boxing Hall of Fame, he was recently cited by Hannibal Boxing as one of three “Must-Read” boxing writers.

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Why Fury’s Bout with Pianeta is Bigger than Ever Imagined

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Artur Szpilka

Back in January of 2016, Tyson Fury got into the ring and upstaged him on live TV after he struggled with and eventually stopped Artur Szpilka in the ninth round. Now it’s being conveyed that WBC titlist Deontay Wilder will be ringside for Tyson Fury’s second comeback fight against Francesco Pianeta in Belfast Saturday night, and it’s expected that he’ll pay Fury back and get in the ring and upstage him and call him out.

Wilder quickly accepted Fury’s challenge on that night in Brooklyn, but Fury went away and in his own words overindulged with food, alcohol and drugs. And with that, the talk of Wilder vs. Fury died.

Since then, Wilder has established himself more as a title holder and, in the opinion of most, is thought to be the second best heavyweight in the world, ranking behind only Anthony Joshua. Two months ago in June, Fury made his awaited ring return and stopped a non-entity in Sefer Seferi. Throughout the spring and summer the talk of a showdown between Joshua and Wilder remained one of the foremost stories in boxing. Every time it looked close to becoming a reality it fell through, due mostly to how the purse split should be divided with each side blaming the other and avid fans of both fighters siding with their man. While arrows were being slung back and forth between Team Joshua and Team Wilder, the shrewd Fury slung arrows at both of them.

Tyson Fury is one of the greatest salesmen in boxing history and nobody uses social media better than he does. Seeing how hard Joshua’s promoter Eddie Hearn is to deal with, a light went off in Fury’s head and he began to shy away from AJ and began turning his attention towards Wilder, who has been riding a high since stopping Luis Ortiz in his last fight. Tyson, fully understanding that Wilder has never earned huge money for any of his bouts, understood that a match between him and Wilder could rival nearly any bout Hearn/Joshua could make, excluding one involving himself or Wilder. With that, someone must’ve got in Wilder’s ear and outlined the monumental upside it would be for him to face Fury and what beating him would do as far as helping him negotiate the anticipated fight with Joshua. Not to mention he wouldn’t be facing Fury at his best.

With Fury having lost a lot of the weight he gained during his exile, an impressive showing this weekend versus Franceso Pianeta would go a long way to help boost the interest in a Wilder-Fury bout. The Fury-Pianeta clash has been picked up by Showtime and that says a lot in regards to the way Fury can attract attention. With Wilder having committed to attend the bout, is there a morsel of doubt that he’ll be a big part of the broadcast?

The mere fact that Wilder will be there has increased the credibility among fans in that Wilder-Fury is no longer a press grab and it very well might just come to fruition. And to help increase the profile of a future bout between Wilder and Fury, it’s impossible not to believe Wilder won’t get into the ring after Fury wins and publicly challenge him. If Wilder does that, hopefully he’ll script what he says and not adlib because exchanging adlibs with Fury would be a losing battle for Deontay….even Muhammad Ali might be the underdog doing so because Fury is such a good talker and so quick-witted.

And if there’s any doubt about Fury being able to sling verbally and hype a fight between he and Wilder, I present his recent words….

“I’m just sat here thinking, isn’t it marvelous that the world’s biggest fight, Fury vs Wilder is going to happen and that smug little t****r Eddie Hearn has nothing to do with it at all.”

“He has nothing to do with the world’s biggest fight — or his little puppet on the string the fighter he’s got [Joshua].”

“They’re not involved in the biggest fight the world has ever seen, between the two biggest heavyweights on the planet.”

“The two most controversial — most outspoken heavyweights out there — both over 6ft 6, both talkers, one Brit. one American.”

“Isn’t it marvelous that this fight is going to happen and little Eddie ain’t got nothing to do with it.”

At the moment Fury is killing Hearn and Joshua on social media while at the same time convincing everyone within earshot that he and Wilder is the biggest fight in boxing and the authentic heavyweight championship. Along with that, Wilder and Fury are both going to earn their blockbuster payday facing each other and without fighting Joshua. The winner will easily be able to get a 50-50 purse split when he meets AJ, and there will be nothing Hearn can do about it….because Team Joshua knows that for AJ to be recognized as the true undisputed champ, he must beat the winner of Wilder versus Fury.

Another testament to the Fury factor is found in the odds. Earlier this week, a friend emailed me the pending Vegas odds on Wilder vs. Joshua and Fury vs. Joshua. In a proposed fight with Wilder, Joshua was listed a 2-1 favorite. However, if he were to face Fury, he’d only be an 8-5 favorite, signifying that Fury, with only two fights under his belt after a nearly two-and-a-half year layoff, is considered by the betting public to be the bigger threat to Joshua.

At this time it looks as though only a loss to Pianeta 35-4-1 (21), who’s never ranked among the top-10, can derail Wilder-Fury from becoming a reality, and even against a rusty Fury that looks doubtful. In Pianeta’s only title shot he entered the bout undefeated and was still bounced around the ring by Wladimir Klitschko as if he were a Spalding basketball. He had the advantage of being one of Klitschko’s sparring partners for a year prior to them meeting and yet he still couldn’t make it out of the sixth round.

Since losing to Wladimir in 2013, Pianeta has gone 7-3 (6) and in his last bout lost a 10-round unanimous decision to Petar Milas, who was fighting for only the 12th time as a pro. Fury looks in good shape based on his recent pictures on social media, and is one of the most difficult heavyweights to fight and look good against since Vitali Klitschko was at his best. True, Fury isn’t a devastating puncher and sometimes fighters who aren’t in his league can go rounds with him, but with so much on the line and Wilder observing from ringside, it’s nearly impossible to envision him losing.

The prospect of a Wilder-Fury confrontation has escalated the interest in Fury’s second comeback fight this weekend. It’s unlikely the actual fight between Fury and Pianeta will be fan-friendly, but the thought of Wilder being there to help launch their fight makes it worthwhile to see. Don’t be surprised if Wilder vs. Fury is announced in the ring after Fury’s bout concludes. And if that’s the case, or when it is announced, for the first time as the alpha heavyweight in the world, Anthony Joshua won’t own the headlines nor will he be the sole focus pertaining to the heavyweight division.

Like him or loathe him, Tyson Fury’s return has provided the division with an infusion of anticipation. And Joshua will ultimately benefit financially as a fight between him and the Fury-Wilder winner becomes that much bigger and lucrative for all the parties involved.

Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com

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What Are You Up To, Paddy Barnes?

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Paddy Barnes

For all the hullabaloo about Tyson Fury and his victim elect Francesco Pianeta in Belfast, Northern Ireland this weekend; for all the “Irish Eyes Are Smiling” rhetoric surrounding the return of Carl Frampton to Windsor Park, where he, too, will defeat an overmatched opponent in Luke Jackson; for all that and the barely concealed excitement with which writers and promoters crane their necks at the futures of both these men – for all that, the most intriguing and competitive fight on this Saturday Night’s big “Norn Iron” card is the rampantly ambitious attempt by Paddy Barnes to win a title-strap against Cristofer Rosales (27-3) in just his sixth contest.

This might not be quite Vasily Lomachenko taking on Orlando Salido in his second fight but Rosales, just twenty-three years old and fighting out of Nicaragua, will not be visiting Northern Irish shores to lose. In fact, the TBRB rank him as the worlds #2 flyweight, second only to veteran Donnie Nietes. Flyweight’s radiance may be on the wane but becoming the second best fighter at 112lbs is no small matter, no matter the drain being inflicted upon the division by super-flyweight, the new home of the fashionable small man. Rosales earned the right, and Barnes will have to take it from him.

Like Lomachenko, Barnes is a storied amateur, a two-time Commonwealth gold medalist and two-time Olympic bronze medalist.  Prior to his third swipe at Olympic glory, Barnes turned in a sterling performance in the World Series of Boxing, once controversial for straddling the amateur and professional codes so comfortably, now  seen as nothing more (nor less) than a nursery for top-class amateurs who are ready to mount an assault on the professional ranks.

Barnes began his assault on the professional ranks in the traditional way, beating up overmatched, underfed opposition with losing records.  In 2017 he staged his fifth fight, his fourth in Belfast, against Elie Quezada (21-6-3) who represented something of a step up, though to nothing like world-level where many were sure Barnes was headed.

Even against his taller, heavier, more experienced, switch-hitting opponent, Barnes looked good that night, feinting with the jab behind organized pressure-footwork, opening up shots to the body with jabs, outs-squabbling his rangy opponent when Quezada decided to throw. In the second, investment in the body paid early dividends as a withering short right-hand to the torso married earlier work done with the left hook to achieve a knockdown and nine-count. A ten count at the very end of the sixth was earned with a left-uppercut to the by then tenderized body of an overmatched opponent.

In between the two knockdowns there were naturally issues, the kind experienced by all raw prospects. For that’s what Barnes is, at thirty-one years of age and carrying an armful of amateur medals; professional fighting is different.

So it should be noted that Barnes repeatedly strayed low, and was so paranoid about his inability to keep his punches north of the borderline he apologized to the referee on one occasion without being warned. He hit Quezada when he was down after the first knockdown. He has issues with temperament that need fights to iron out.

More pertinently he was hit, often, by an opponent who was not afraid to trade with him.  Barnes is not a puncher. Quick and accurate, he’s very capable of hurting his opponents but not of turning them away or, as a rule, concussing them. This is problematic and demands careful attention by style, but Barnes does not box like a man who can seek but cannot destroy. He brings speedy pressure, using his quickness and natural balance to unseat an opponent and turn him, all while throwing fast combinations which tantalize between slickness and indeterminate.   Like Rocky Marciano, Barnes has a “land and it’ll do” rule of combat, unlike Rocky Marciano he’s not breaking any bones while he does it.

How is Rosales, a legitimately world class opponent, going to handle all this?

A possible clue lies in another fight Quezada lost. Also a Nicaraguan, last March he met Rosales over ten rounds in their shared hometown of Managua. Rosales won in a fun, bruising fight but was unable to stop his countryman despite throwing and landing a large volume of punches; the judges, a little unkindly I thought, awarded only a split decision but it was interesting that Barnes was able to get Quezada out of there and Rosales was not.

Nevertheless, Rosales was at a more advanced stage of his career and was rewarded (only after defeating the unbeaten Italian Mohammed Obbadi in Italy) with a shot at the strap held by the latest Japanese wonderkid, Daigo Higa. 15-0 with fifteen consecutive knockouts, Higa was favored to win that fight but after struggling with the weight was badly beaten by a vicious Rosales.

Much of this was put off on to Higa’s indiscipline on the scales, but Rosales was exceptional that night in Yokohama. Aggressive and direct, he is a big, big flyweight, pushing 5’7 and sporting a reach of nearly 71” by BoxRec. Rosales does little to favor this reach advantage. He is loose with his selected leads, booming over trailing right hands from outside and sometimes shortening up his own jab by stepping in; on the other hand he loves and administers serious punishment on the inside. Rosales is delightfully old-fashioned in his attitude to his physical advantages and is adapt with both hook and uppercut.

He used both of these to his advantage against Higa, positively bullying him in the eighth, before brutalizing him with his left hand in the ninth.  His corner pulled him after little more than a minute of that round.

Reviewing this footage, the right pick is absolutely clear: it’s Rosales. Bigger, he is probably the puncher in the fight, certainly the more experienced of the two, and he was equal to the relentless body assault Higa mounted early in their fight; but there’s more.

Rosales does not have a spotless record in the UK. One year before his defeat of Higa, he was being out-boxed by the less talented of the two Selby brothers, Andrew. Andrew Selby weathered a dramatic and forceful storm from the Nicaraguan late, but my impression was that he was good for his points win. Two years previous to this, Khalid Yafai, who holds a strap up at 115lbs, defeated him over eight rounds in another tough scrap.

Rosales travels well but not to the UK, and my impression while checking in with friends who follow the smaller men was that his reputation was firmer abroad than upon these shores.

What to make of this web of intrigue?  Has Barnes overstepped in agreeing to fight Rosales so soon based upon a week British rep? Or has Rosales falsely enhanced his status by beating up a weight-drained, crestfallen Higa? Is Rosales too big for Barnes? Or is his propensity for letting wasp-like, whip-crack fighters like Barnes inside a disaster of a style-matchup and one which Barnes, who has slightly faster hands, is primed to take advantage of?

Here’s the truth: I don’t know. I’ve had this fight under the microscope all last week and can’t pick a winner. Just when I think some crucial aspect has been revealed to me it is counter-balanced by some snippet of information from the other camp, or spied on the often single-camera video that spills out of Nicaragua.

I suspect the fight itself will be a thriller though. Both are busy, both have proven punch resistance, both come to fight, both want to mix it up close. The hand that is raised may be the one that is most tempered, the one most ready to shy away from what is natural. Can Rosales spear Barnes on the outside, making him pay for every step? Can Barnes resist the temptation to rush and use his superior speed to close the reach and height gap by staging a sometime counter-punching offense?

With all due love and respect to Tyson Fury, perhaps my favorite active fighter, and Carl Frampton, the man of the moment for the rampant Belfast fans, finding the answer to the above questions is the main reason I’ll be tuning in.

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