Olympic sensation enters the Panther's lair

The first question I have to raise about Andre Ward's next, and by far most dangerous fight is: what makes him the favourite?

The hyped-up 2004 Olympic gold medalist is 18 fights into his pro career and has been carefully pitted against opponents who all share the same common denominator: they don't throw leather at him. Such is the reticence of Ward's victims thus far, he has enjoyed a dominant, trouble free build up to the fight of his life. There's nothing better for your confidence than when the opposition sit back and let you do your thing. Such was the case in his recent defeats of Henry Buchanan, Esteban Camou, Rubin Williams and Roger Cantrell. Ward was allowed to showcase his skills, fight at his pace, always gaining confidence, and landing telling shots at will.

Ward has a solid enough shot, but certainly not concussive. It's more precision and speed, combined with a good punch output, which do the damage. And his stylish array of punches are aesthetically pleasing - A+ material. Ward looks a natural in the pro arena, but like all modern boxers in the nascent phase of their development, his chin has not come close to being tested. Not since he was dazed in his second pro fight.

To his credit he has beaten everyone who has been placed in his path and he has done it with style. He has shown stong potential, has a high work rate and his speed will cause problems for your average super middleweight. He also has a real instinct to finish a fight.

In my opinion, Ward is facing his right of passage as he is thrown into the lair of Pantera, Edison Miranda, who is a big puncher and has fought on the fringes of world titles for years now. He is an intimidating, rough, rugged, flawed, but very live fighter who has knocked out the majority of his opponents and only fallen short against two outstanding men: one of the pound-for-pound heaviest punchers, undefeated King Arthur Abraham and another heavy puncher, who backs you up with 100 punches a round, Kelly Pavlik. These fights were at middleweight where Miranda was constantly drained. Sometimes he shed a staggering 60 pounds to get down to the 160 limit. He traded leather with Pavlik in a memorable fight, where Pavlik's relentless style, and granite chin, took the Columbian by surprise. He took a ridiculous amount of punishment, giving out plenty himself, before wilting in the seventh. No shame in that.

He was alway out of his depth against IBF world champion Aruthur Abraham, who twice beat Miranda, once with a broken jaw, caused by a Columbian headbutt, and the most recent with a spectacular KO in the fourth. Abraham is reserved in the ring and only explodes sporadically, but his power in phenomenal. But Miranda does have something in common with Pavlik and Abraham, he is a warrior. He willingly takes punishment, will hunt you down and trade with you until one of you goes down. He is not a smart fighter, nor does he protect himself enough, but he has great confidence in his ability to apply pressure and once he lets his hands go, you're in a dangerous place. You can only survive the Panther's lair by having courage and some good whiskers. Does Andre Ward have either of these attributes? We are about to find out. But once things for sure, although Miranda will probably always be on the peripheral of the world class, he is good enough to destroy anyone below that tier of exceptional fighters who can stand toe-to-toe with him and come out on top.

Having said that, Miranda has now moved up to super middleweight, hence this fight with Ward, and he has looked a little sluggish in each of his recent KO's. Certainly his speed has dminished. But he still possesses that brutal power which enables him to bully opponents and drag them into a war, which he usually wins.

Ward will look to use his speed and work Miranda from the outside as he is pursued by the Columbian. He has good jab, can mix it up and is confident enough to switch to southpaw if he thinks it will work. I don't think Ward will be intimidated easily, nor will any of Miranda's roughhouse tactics phase him too much. But Pantera has at least twice as much pluck, power and pressure than anyone Ward has fought. It's a gigantic step up in class. Miranda has fought two of the world's best fighters and has nothing to fear in Ward. This fight will come down to how Ward copes with Miranda's power. Ward has the skills to outbox Miranda and will not have a problem finding the target. He can outland Miranda, but who will land the telling shots? The punch will dicatate the momentum of this fight. I don't think Ward's power will trouble Miranda, at least until the later stages, but if Ward can stand up to Miranda's punch, maybe he can claim a memorable, late stoppage with the accumulation taking it's toll on the Columbian.Ward is good at avoiding punches and must use this skill, constantly moving so that he avoids being embroiled in a war. He should thrive on fighting in his back yard in Oakland CA.

Yet if the Columbian catches him, pins him on the ropes,and drags him into his fight, I envisage another Miranda KO and a crushing blow to the prospects of Andre Ward. I have an overwhleming feeling that Ward is fighting Miranda too soon. Based on that i'm saying Miranda by KO in the 7th, with Ward still emerging with a bright future.


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