Exclusive: With Floyd Mayweather Jr. Retired, It's Andre Ward's Time To Prove He's Boxing's Best

Andre Ward Exclusive: With Floyd Mayweather Jr. Retired, It's Andre Ward's Time To Prove He's Boxing's Best

The Roc Nation Sports fighter talks trying to stay undefeated Saturday night and more.

Published November 19, 2016

Boxing fans have always griped about not getting a chance to see the right fight at the right time, sometimes having to wait years before the desired prize bout happens and other times, painfully watching the anticipated matchup dissolve altogether.

Well, not this time. Andre Ward will face Sergey Kovalev for the unified light heavyweight championship — not to mention, pound-for-pound best bragging rights — at Las Vegas's T-Mobile Arena live on HBO Pay-Per-View on Saturday night (Nov. 19) at 9 p.m. ET. Each boxer enters the bout undefeated with a 30-0 record: bruising Kovalev counting 26 knockouts to smooth Ward's 15.

While Sin City stands firm as most boxers' stomping yard, this incredibly marks the first time that Ward, 32, is fighting in Vegas. (How Sway!?) The "Son of God" has fought his last three matches in his Oakland hometown, even having Stephen Curry walk him out to the ring in his June 2015 victory over Paul Smith. Yet, throughout his career, he has never fought in Vegas.

And that's just part of what makes him something of an enigma. Ward has been a world champion for nearly eight years, yet has managed to fly under the radar. Hardcore fight fans know him as a slick, polished boxer — perhaps the best the sport has to offer. Casual boxing/sports fans know him as "Andre Ward ... who?"

But signing with Jay Z's Roc Nation Sports in January 2015 has helped change Ward's profile, considering this is the third fight he's taking this year. Previously, you'd have to date back to 2011 for the last time that Ward has fought two bouts in one year, with nagging injuries to blame along the way. Save for a Gennady Golovkin, it's Andre Ward's time to prove he's boxing's best — especially since Floyd Mayweather Jr. is retired.

Here, talks to Ward about the challenges that Russian KO artist Sergey "Krusher" Kovalev presents, being part of Roc Nation Sports and counting Rap-a-Lot Records CEO James Prince as his manager — despite loving gospel and not listening to rap anymore. Plus, his role in Creed alongside Michael B. Jordan. Ring the bell!

(Photo: HBO)
(Photo: HBO)

Two undefeated boxers, vying to see who's the pound-for-pound best. The timing of this fight is right and fans didn’t have to wait too long for it. Could this match have been scripted any better?

I couldn’t agree more. When these kind of things line up like this, you just sit back and enjoy them as a fan, a reporter and as somebody who follows and supports the sport. You don’t try to overthink it, man. You just embrace it and enjoy it because it’s going to be a great show November 19. I think it’s a beautiful thing. I’m thankful to be in this position and of course, it’s always a good look for the sport of boxing. This is what hardcore and casual fans clamor about — the best fighting the best and in this case, they’re getting that. 

Sergey Kovalev didn’t get the nickname “Krusher” by chance. If this fight comes down to slug-it-out brawling, is that an area that you could surprise him in any way?

I wouldn’t call myself a brawler. There are definitely spots in any fight where you get your respect if you stand your ground and I think those moments are definitely going to surprise them — the physical strength and even the punching power because they just don’t see it coming. They think it’s something that’s non-existent and they just can’t fathom this man getting hit. His trainer talks a lot about what he’s going to be doing and he just can’t wrap his brain around the fact about what’s going to be happening to him in the meantime. So, "surprise" is a good word because you have to prepare for everything, man, and they’re just not equipped mentally to prepare for it because he’s had his way, so why would they think otherwise?

When you throw punches with the kind of power that Kovalev does and you’re always on the offense, do you think a fighter of his caliber could be underestimating your punching power?

It’s possible. It’s not really what I’m known for. That’s the kind of thing that fighters come out of the ring talking about. But leading into the fight, it’s more or less what the headlines read and that’s not really what I’m known for. I get the headlines for being slick and different things like that — which is part of my game — but it’s just amazing to me that a lot of times the people don’t see the other things that go on in that ring. But a lot of times, when my opponents figure it out, the fight is over. It’s too late.

What makes him and his style tough to prepare for while training?

Overall, he’s just a great champion. Any time, you fight a champion, you got to watch the tape closely and study him closely. There’s always great things that champions do. It can be inside fighting, this person uses his range well, this person has a great right hand — any time you fight a champion, there’s multiple things that they do well and you have to try to take those strengths away. Like all fighters, we all have weaknesses. You’ve got to try to exploit those weaknesses. That’s what winning a fight at the highest level all boils down to.

Thirty fights, 30 wins. In your opinion, do you think the name Andre Ward resonates as big as it should, not just to boxing fans, but casual boxing and sports fans as well?

Personally, I’m not looking for more fame. I didn’t get into the sport ... how do we quantify that? I do know that I’ve been fortunate to be all over the world and I’ve been recognized on the streets all over the world. Honestly, I have enough of [fame]. You could always get more attention from the casual [fans]. I feel like I get plenty of recognition. There’s only one guy [in boxing] that I know of that you could say is a household name all over the world and that’s Floyd Mayweather. But if you’re comparing any fighter to him, it’s almost not fair. But I’m fine, man. I’m content. Don’t get me wrong — I would always welcome new fans, new supporters, new followers, but that stuff comes naturally. You don’t chase after that stuff. I’ve been in this sport a long time … it will be 22 years at the end of this year and I could do away with the fame. It’s not something that I’m really into, not something that I look for, strive for or try to find creative ways to get. I just take it as it comes and I’m thankful for it and appreciative for it.

What would a convincing win over Kovalev do for your career?

It’s tough to say. That’s for the experts and the critics to say. Personally, I know it’d be another great champion on my resume. It would make me a multiple division champion. It would continue to solidify what we’ve been doing all these years. It wouldn’t be some major shocker surprise to me or my team because we’ve been fortunate to be on this level for a long time. Now, how the public or media receives it, is more of a question for them because they have a vote in the matter.

You’re signed to Jay Z’s Roc Nation Sports and James Prince is your manager, but you love gospel. What might your playlist sound like leading up to fight night?

I listen to a lot of gospel music. Gospel rock and gospel rap. I listen to guys like LecraeTriple-ETedashiiChris TomlinKari Jobe. I don’t listen to rap music like that anymore. I stopped listening to that years and years and years ago. But when E-40 comes out, we live close to each other, and that’s the big homie and I respect him. He shows me a lot of love.

We saw your role in Creed as boxer Danny "Stuntman" Wheeler against Michael B. Jordan’s Adonis JohnsonCan you describe that experience and would you be open to more acting in the future, including roles out of your comfort zone?

I would definitely be open to more acting in the future. I loved it. I didn’t think I would enjoy the process as much as I did because obviously I hadn’t done it, but I loved it. It was literally 12-hour days straight through, a lot of work. Going back to my hotel, icing my shoulder, taking epsom salt baths. It’s work, it’s a grind. I fell in love with it. And then obviously seeing that finished product, is a beautiful thing and an honor, too. I was in my element, yeah [laughs]. [A future role] would have to be the right situation, but if it made sense, yeah, sure, I would take on that challenge.

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Written by Mark Lelinwalla

(Photo: Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)


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