Two-time World Champion Andre Ward, of Oakland, pauses during shadowboxing inside the ring in preparation for his upcoming fight against undefeated and number one rated IBF light heavyweight Cuban contender Sullivan Barrera during a media day at King’s Boxing Gym in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, March 22, 2016. Ward and Barrera will fight in a 12-round IBF number one position and mandatory position eliminatory Saturday, March 26, 2016, at Oracle Arena. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)
OAKLAND — Andre Ward has nothing left to prove.
After cleaning out the 168-pound division, defeating every top fighter in the weight class, the Oakland native moved up to 175 last November and earned a close unanimous decision victory over light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev.
Ward, 33, has not tasted defeat since he was a teenager. Finding success outside the ring as an analyst for HBO Boxing and the host of a new fight show on NBC Sports Bay Area, he could have easily stuck with those jobs and retired undefeated with a resume worthy of the Hall of Fame.
The thought of hanging them up did cross his mind on a few occasions, but Ward and his team, which includes trainer Virgil Hunter and manager James Prince, decided the light heavyweight champion still has plenty of fight left in him, starting with a rematch against the Russian knockout artist on June 17 in Las Vegas.
“We talked and they convinced me that I have a lot of time left in this sport,” Ward said. “There’s a lot left to do.”
First on the list of things to do is to defeat Kovalev so convincingly the second time around that there are no excuses.
During a sit-down with reporters before Tuesday’s press conference at the Oakland Marriott, Kovalev said he did not perform to his usual standards in the first fight because of overtraining. With a month before the fight, the former champion said he found himself unable to finish sparring sessions and regular workouts because his energy was drained.
It’s a reasonable explanation given that Ward dominated the second half of the fight as Kovalev appeared to fade, but Ward isn’t necessarily buying it.
“The only problem with that conclusion is that I’ve seen multiple fights in which he fades late,” Ward said. “As an athlete you never want to accept that someone was the better man. It’s a hard thing to do so I can understand after losing a close fight like that after being undefeated, he’s searching for answers.”
Rather than Kovalev tiring out, Ward believes it was the adjustments he made after getting knocked down in the second round that led to his 114-113 victory on all three scorecards.
Often times when a fighter who has the ability to adjust like Ward can, they make a rematch with the same fighter look a lot easier because they have already seen what the opponent has to offer. It’s what made fighters like Floyd Mayweather so great. Mayweather fought to close decision wins against the likes of Jose Luis Castillo and Marcos Maidana, but made adjustments and blew them out in the rematch. Ward is looking to do the same.
“He got off to a faster start than me but I plan on picking up where I left off in the first fight,” Ward said. “My goal in this fight is to retain my belts and to take all the excuses off the table. He’s gonna have to knock me out to beat me.”
For Kovalev, this fight has become personal. He felt robbed of a victory he said he earned the first time around and thinks Ward will look for a way to cancel the rematch. If the fight does go on, Kovalev said he will be looking to not just defeat Ward, but make sure he never fights again.
“I still think he’s going to try to get out of this fight somehow,” Kovalev said. “I want to destroy Andre Ward and finish his boxing career. He didn’t deserve the last victory and I want to retire him.”
When told about Kovalev’s sentiments, Ward just shrugged it off.
“He could talk all he wants about ending my career. It sounds good. I actually love it. It sells pay-per-views,” Ward said. “When I was young I used to take that stuff personal but not anymore. He just better be ready to stand by what he said and back it up.”