Andre Ward faces Sakio Bika on Saturday night.
Super Middleweights, 12 Rounds
Andre Ward v. Sakio Bika
TV: Showtime, 9pm EST
Andre Ward is, I guess you could say, a rose that grew from concrete. Not because he's from Oakland, but because he came through the United States amateur system when he did. In an era where the U.S. amateur team is not noted for excellence, Ward had a celebrated amateur career, going 110-5 and winning the gold medal at the 2004 Olympics in Athens as a light heavyweight. He is, as it stands today, the last American to win an Olympic gold medal in boxing.
Ward turned pro in December 2004, just a few months after Athens. He took it pretty easy to start, though a few of his early opponents are either still respected journeymen or otherwise somewhat notable -- in his first 10 fights, Ward notched wins over the likes of Darnell Boone, Andy Kolle, Kenny Kost and Derrick Findley. But then advancement became legitimately slow for a fighter with Ward's amateur credentials. In 2008, he beat solid veterans Rubin Williams, Jerson Ravelo and Esteban Camou. He also came back from a knee injury that played a role in hampering his advancement.
In 2009, he topped Henry "Sugar Poo" Buchanan and Edison Miranda, plus Shelby Pudwill in a mismatch that is better forgotten, and then signed up for the Super Six World Boxing Classic. Last November, he made a huge splash on the world stage by brutalizing Mikkel Kessler in the opening stage of the tournament, shocking many not just with the fact that he won, but that he dominated, bullied and beat up the betting favorite to win the entire tournament. Ward was supposed to face Jermain Taylor in stage two, but when Taylor pulled out of the tournament, Allan Green took his place. Ward dominated Green in June with an almost embarrassingly easy 12-round decision. A fight with friend Andre Dirrell was supposed to be Ward's next bout, but now he's facing Sakio Bika in a non-tournament fight. Ward's WBA title is at stake.
Bika is nothing like Ward -- well, almost nothing. Bika represented Cameroon in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney as a junior middleweight, though he did not win a medal. The experience did result in his relocation to Australia, however, and he became a citizen of the country in 2006. He turned pro in December 2000, and two years later lost his first fight, a majority decision to long-time contender Sam Soliman, who at the time was 15-7, if you can imagine such a world. In 2006, Bika got a couple of big chances. First, he faced WBC super middleweight titlist Markus Beyer in Germany, which went to a technical decision after four rounds. The fight had been stopped due to a cut on Beyer caused by an accidental headbutt.
Five months later, Bika went to Manchester to face IBF and WBO titlist Joe Calzaghe, who was fresh off of a completely overwhelming victory against Jeff Lacy. Bika lost on scores of 117-110 (twice) and 116-111, but definitely put up more of a fight than did the far more heralded Lacy. After the bout, Calzaghe called Bika a dirty fighter, which has long been his reputation.
Bika won a couple of easy fights before taking on Lucian Bute, again on the road, this time in Montreal. Bute beat Bika, and that win still arguably stands as the best of Bute's career to date. Bika then went on the super middleweight version of "The Contender," which was the best tournament in the history of that show. He defeated Donny McCrary and Sam Soliman in October, and then on November 6 engaged in a brutal war with Jaidon Codrington in the finals. Both men ate heavy doses of leather and went down in the first round. In the eighth, Bika kept pouring it on and stopped Codrington. It was a Fight of the Year candidate and easily the best bout in the history of the "Contender" tournament.
Since the win over Codrington, though, Bika has been flaky for one reason or another. He's gone 3-1, with his best win being a Hulk smash of Peter Manfredo Jr. in Rhode Island in November 2008 (once again fighting on someone else's turf). In his last bout, Bika lost an eliminator against Jean Paul Mendy when "The Scorpion" was disqualified for nailing Mendy while he was down in the first round. It was clear Bika was the better fighter, but rules is rules, as they say. Bika had a chance earlier this year to fight Allan Green for the right to enter the Super Six, but pulled out. He also declined to accept a spot in the tournament with this fight, instead choosing to fight Ward and move on from there, win or lose. A win, for what it's worth, would almost certainly set him up as a potential 2011 opponent for Lucian Bute, who has just signed with Showtime.
Grading the Fighters
The reason I don't rate Ward higher in punch resistance/heart is we really just haven't seen him tested in those categories yet. The A-ratings are for proven excellence in a category, and Ward just hasn't been there yet. Ward is the far more complete, far more skilled fighter overall, however, and I don't think that's a stretch by any means. Bika is crude and violent -- one of the most violent fighters in the sport today. When he gets on a roll, he's vicious and relentless. Ward's pressure style could play into that, or could take it out of the game entirely. Bika's defense is mediocre at best and his hand speed is just about average for a top fighter. Ward doesn't have showy handspeed (or doesn't use it lately), but he's quick when he needs to be. His power isn't remarkable, but it does the job and has to be respected. If I were rating headbutts, Ward would get an A. If I were rating a scrappy intangible, they'd both get an A.
Ward is either No. 1 or No. 2 at 168 pounds, depending on who you ask, and has emerged as the hottest young American fighter in the game today. Bika is still a top ten guy in the division and while he hasn't been successful yet in his chances against the top fighters he's faced, you never leave a fight with Sakio Bika not knowing you've been in a fight. Bika's reputation is that of a rough, tough opponent for anyone, and he is a live dog in this one.
Good Fight Potential:
Personally, I think this could be a great fight. Ward and Bika are rough customers and that could lend itself to a super aggressive brawl. Stranger matchups have produced brawls in the past. But there's also a chance this fight gets so chippy that it just plain sucks.
Overall Pre-Fight Score:
Could be a good fight, has relevance, is about as good a matchup as was possible with Dirrell pulling out against Ward. It's also a much better fight than Ward-Green was, and I get the feeling that if Bika-Green had gone through in February, we would've already seen this fight.
Ward has bullied his last two opponents. Bika isn't as good a fighter as Mikkel Kessler, but he's a lot tougher and a lot meaner. And Bika's got a lot more spirit and grit than Allan Green, too. Simply put, Ward will not be able to so easily discourage Bika.
So will he try? I get the feeling he won't. I get the feeling Ward puts on his boxin' shoes for this fight and takes Bika back to school. A brawl gives Bika a legitimate chance to win this fight, or any fight at 168. But a boxing match will be all Andre Ward, and Ward's a smart cookie. He knows that. His team knows that. Bika is no pushover, but Ward is likely to avoid a firefight if he can. Bika will give his best and fight all 12 rounds, but he won't be close to winning. Ward UD-12