“True mastery transcends any particular art. It stems from mastery of oneself--the ability, developed through self-discipline, to be calm, fully aware, and completely in tune with oneself and the surroundings. Then, and only then, can a person know himself.”
― Bruce Lee
It has been two decades since Andre Ward knew defeat in a boxing ring.
That doesn’t mean Andre does not understand loss.
The drive and desire that propels Andre “S.O.G” Ward befits a corporate raider or a powerful politician or an artist obsessing over his craft.
Few people work harder in the sport of boxing than Andre Ward few athletes have ever been as committed to its perfection and mastery.
Like the former champion Sergey Kovalev – now challenger – the weapons that Andre brings with him to the ring have been forged in a crucible of struggle.
In many respects Kovalev and Ward have so much in common they could have been friends, as it happens they are irreconcilable rivals.
It is said that one’s relationships in life act like a mirror.
What does Andre Ward see when he looks at Sergey Kovalev?
33 years ago, in the temperate Bay Area city of Hayward, CA Andre Ward was born to Frank Ward and Madeline Arvie Taylor.
Ward grew up idolizing his father Frank who regaled Andre and his brother with the tales of great boxers.
Frank himself was a boxer, an undefeated heavyweight who got his start on his high school boxing team. From the age of nine Andre would be around boxing and knew he would follow in his father’s footsteps.
One opponent that Frank was not tough enough to beat was his secret addiction to heroin, Ward recalled finding his father’s needles around the house as early as 12 years old.
A pattern would arise in Ward’s home life of domestic violence, rehab and relapse, homelessness and desolation.
All the while the one place of relative stability and calm was U.S. Karate & Boxing Gym, just off Mission Ave in Hayward. There Andre would be introduced to Virgil Hunter, the man who would become Andre’s trainer, a man who would quite literally become like a father to Andre.
On the 26th of August 2002 Ward got a shocking call from one of his cousins – his troubled but now sober father Frank had died suddenly of a heart attack.
Only 18 Ward had nowhere to go, so Virgil Hunter took Andre in and has treated him as a son ever since.
With patient guidance, stability and love Virgil taught Andre how to box and how to be a man.
Andre recorded an amateur record of 114-5. Andre became a U.S. Amateur Champion at Middleweight and Light Heavyweight. Culminating in a gold medal in Athens Greece in the 2004 Olympics.
Ward was shown a ceiling and burst through it. He resolved to make boxing his vocation.
Andre made his debut in December 2004 stopping Chris Molina. He continued his winning way over the next six fights then made a step up in class against Darnell Boone, the same Darnell Boone that would knock Sergey Kovalev down several years later also stunned Andre, though Andre battled back and won a unanimous decision
Ward continued to refine his style, developing a formidable game, dictating range and becoming a dangerous inside fighter.
Fighting mostly in and around The Bay Area Andre was becoming a home town hero routinely selling out the Oracle in Oakland, CA. He was developing a vaunted reputation as serious combat athlete sparring with the likes of UFC veterans Nick and Nate Diaz.
However, without the menace of a Tyson or the flamboyance of a Mayweather it was understandably difficult to notice Andre.
He shunned the spotlight and rejected the histrionics popular in the fight game. Boxing was a serious job to Andre and he approached it as such.
By 2009 the opportunity Andre had been waiting for arrived.
Taken as body of work Andre’s victory in Showtime Super Six Super Middleweight Tournament was impressive and proved career defining.
Ward fought and beat the toughest fighters in that tournament convincingly beginning with the odds on favorite Mikkel Kessler, the WBA Super Middleweight Champion. A boxer with double the amount of fights as Ward, Kessler had been in the ring with the legendary Joe Calzaghe, arguably the greatest Super Middleweight of all time. Andre took Kessler to the cleaners, the fight ended on a technical decision due to cuts Kessler received from the rugged inside fighting style of Andre ward.
Against the powerful rugged puncher Arthur Abraham, Ward again made use of his educated jab and mugging clinch game to breakdown and wear down Abraham. Andre again won by wide decision. Ward had punched his ticket to the finals of the Super Six.
The odyssey that had begun two years earlier reached its climax on the 17th of December 2011 when Andre took on another all-time great Super Middleweight Carl Froch. A dangerous technical and wily boxer known for controlling range. Andre turned the tables and barely laid a glove on Ward. Froch would be forced to relinquish his WBC Super Middleweight title and prompting Boxing commentator Barry McGuigan to exclaim “Ward has catapulted himself into the top ten pound-for-pound. That was a most magnificent performance. He diffused Froch's power…really beautiful stuff."
It was after the Super Six that I really discovered Andre Ward. After conquering the Super Middleweight class, Andre decided to move up in weight to 175 pounds. His last Super Middleweight bout is one of my favorites.
In November 2013 Ward took on undefeated challenger Edwin Rodriguez at the Citizens Bank Arena in Northern California. From the opening bell Ward and Rodriguez clashed angrily, the fight was rough and dirty, after being struck by a glancing elbow trying to separate the two fighters Jack Reiss deducted a point from both men and threatened to disqualify both boxers.
Disqualification means no fight – no fight no paycheck.
Once order was restored, Andre Ward “boxed a masterpiece” as Virgil Hunter put it in between rounds. Even with a five-inch reach disadvantage Andre out jabbed Rodriguez and landed several hard lead left hooks – one of Andre’s best weapons.
Andre had shrewdly forced Rodriguez to burn himself out earlier in the fight and picked Rodriguez apart for the remainder winning another wide decision.
Ward showed his trademark varied attack, his offense set up by hard jabs to the body sapping his opponent’s strength enabling him to land hard right crosses and the lead left hook. Andre showed ruthless ring generalship and a true mean streak, he effortlessly bullied a boxer known for being a bully.
Like Kovalev Andre Ward is a devoted husband and father. Any time not spent training is spent at home with his wife Tiffany and three boys.
Andre Ward’s faith is also central to his life and the Son of God knows unequivocally that every obstacle every struggle that has been placed in front of him, from the death of his father to every blessing in his life like his family and his mentor Virgil Hunter are all part of a bigger plan.
So, when Andre Ward faced Kovalev last November he demonstrated no fear.
And in the aftermath of the controversial decision Andre has chosen for the most part to take the high road. However, there is a crack that has appeared in the measured calm of the undisputed Light Heavyweight Champion. The disdain Ward feels for Kovalev grows more palpable with every interview, Andre mocks Sergey’s protestations that the fight was a robbery every chance he has turning the screw and many believe Andre Ward is “in Kovalev’s head.”
Again, the irony of these two men, fated to meet again – two of the best pound for pound fighters of the last decade is undeniable, The tension caused by two men, so competitive and driven, nearly masters of their craft, like two magnets with the same poles at once repelled by one another and forced into the same ring again to bring closure to the fissure created in the first bout.
They don’t realize it but they have much to teach each other about themselves.