Monday, August 8, 2016

Brief Thoughts On Ward-Brand

When undefeated former Super-Middleweight world champion Andre Ward won the Super-Six World Boxing Classic  Super-Middleweight tournament in 2011 with a twelve round unanimous decision over Carl Froch, it was in many ways a coronation of a great fighter. Ward entered the Super-Six tournament as an undefeated professional and the 2004 Olympic gold medalist in the Light-Heavyweight division.  When all was said and done, Ward left the tournament not only as a unified Super-Middleweight world champion, but also regarded as one of the best pound for pound fighters in the world having defeated several of the top fighters in the Super-Middleweight division over the course of the Super-Six tournament.

In a scenario where tournament concepts have taken place in Professional Boxing, in most cases the fighter who emerges triumphant at the end of such tournaments is almost branded as not only one of the best fighters in the world, but also a mainstream attraction in the sport. An argument can be made that Ward emerged as one of the best pound for pound fighters in the world, but has not completely emerged as one of the sport’s mainstream attractions or would be pay-per-view draws.

Despite remaining undefeated and nearly dominating all opposition that has been placed before him, Ward also saw his career stall for a period of time due to a well-publicized promotional dispute with his former promoter the late Dan Goossen, which caused him to be inactive for nearly two years between 2013 and 2015. When Ward returned to the ring in June of last year, he did not show any ill effects from the inactivity as he stopped an over matched Paul Smith in nine rounds.

Ward, who had returned to the ring as a Light-Heavyweight then squared off against IBF number one Light-Heavweight contender Sullivan Barrera in March of this year. The victory over Barrera put the former world champion in a unique position of a potential clash against undefeated unified WBO/IBF/WBA Light-Heavyweight world champion and knockout artist Sergey Kovalev for November of this year, provided that both Kovalev and Ward were successful in their previously scheduled bouts prior to the would be pay-per-view showdown between the two.

Kovalev for his part, took care of business on July 11th when the champion successfully defended his title for the eighth time by scoring a twelve round unanimous decision over WBO number eleven rated contender Isaac Chilemba in Ekaterinburg, Russia. Although some were critical of Kovalev for being unable to stop the awkward and “Game” Chilemba, it was as this observer stated in my coverage of that fight, a case where Kovalev simply did what he had to do in retaining his world championship and position atop the Light-Heavyweight division against an opponent that is difficult to look good against.

It was now time for Andre Ward to do his part to set up a showdown with Kovalev later this year. The time came for Ward on August 6th in his hometown of Oakland, CA as he took on relative unknown contender Alexander Brand at the Oracle Arena, a venue that has served as home turf for Ward throughout much of his career.

As was the case when Kovalev took on Chilemba, the question was whether or not Ward would underestimate Brand, an opponent who was treated as a mere “Tune Up” with a lucrative fight with Kovalev waiting in the wings. Whenever an opponent such as Brand is cast as the “Tune Up” for a fighter who has a big payday in the works, the question is always can the fighter who is being called a mere opponent turn what some may see as a mere formality into a fight.

Despite having an awkward and defense oriented style, Brand was simply unable to provide Ward with much offense, but did provide the former world champion with some resistance in being able to go the distance as Ward thoroughly dominated the fight for all twelve rounds and in the process gave the Colombian-based contender Brand a gradual beating as Ward would win every round on the scorecards earning a twelve round unanimous decision. Much as was the case when Sergey Kovalev defeated Isaac Chilemba last month, this was a fight where one fighter Ward simply had a superior skill set and was dominant throughout against a fighter in Brand, who was able to hang in there and occasionally land some punches, but ultimately not enough to provide a significant test for Ward as the former world champion out landed Brand one hundred ninety total punches to only forty-five for Brand over the course of the twelve round bout according to CompuBox.

As was the case when Ward defeated Sullivan Barrera earlier this year, there was no drama that accompanied this fight. Much like Sergey Kovalev, Andre Ward simply did what he had to do against a very “Game” and awkward opponent in Alexander Brand, who took the best that Ward could dish out, but a fighter who was ultimately outclassed.

Kovalev and Ward have now each done their respective part to set up an intriguing showdown between the two currently scheduled to take place on November 19th in a bout that will be televised by HBO Pay-Per-View in the United States. For both fighters, this will be the first time that either has headlined a major pay-per-view card. A classic battle of a puncher and knockout artist in Kovalev against a highly skilled boxer in Ward. Both fighters have faced and defeated all opposition that has been placed before them, both fighters have earned their status as superstars of the sport, although I look forward to providing further analysis as this fight gets closer, this fight does have the potential to not only be a Fight Of The Year candidate, but potentially an all-time classic in this observer’s eyes. A showdown that I am very much looking forward to.

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

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