Despite great results, stardom continues to elude Andre Ward. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Bongarts/Getty Images)
Kory Kitchen is back at Bad Left Hook this morning to talk about Saturday night's Super Six World Boxing Classic final between Andre Ward and Carl Froch. Can the winner become a real star?
One of the common discussions among boxing fans is to converse about which fighters throughout history have been the most underappreciated.
Names like Ezzard Charles, Jersey Joe Walcott, Charley Burley, Sam Langford, and many other African-Americans from generations past that received their title shot late (or not at all) will populate such a discussion. However, in recent years the more likely reason for being underappreciated by the majority of the viewing public has more to do with style and personality than color. Elite boxers such as Winky Wright and Vernon Forrest were subjected to performing their craft in front of sparse crowds because they didn't scintillate in the ring, and did not possess the gift of gab outside of it. Wright even fought often in Europe in an attempt to take his talent to an audience that may respect his skills more. Neither man ever got the elusive payday with Oscar de la Hoya that each lobbied for.
The moral of their story is that simply being an excellent boxer is not enough to gain a true, faithful audience. This is especially true in today's world where precious few fighters gain mainstream attention, and premium boxing ratings continue to slide. There are generally two ways to go in order to be a star in boxing. Either be a great talker or an exciting fighter. Some are both, but those are few and far between.
Take Paulie Malignaggi for example. The "Magic Man" has never been an elite fighter, but he has continued to get opportunities due to the fact that he can talk up a storm. The guy knows how to promote a fight, and that means something to promoters that want to sign a man who will be more than a faceless opponent for their star to fight. It doesn't matter if the thing he is most popular for is receiving a haircut in between rounds of a boxing match. More than likely, in a goofy way that has probably helped his popularity more than anything. Just last year he faced Amir Khan on HBO, and the fight drew a good rating which in no doubt was aided by Malignaggi's ability to talk a great fight despite being unable to deliver a great fight.
This Saturday the Super Six tournament will finally come to its hard-earned conclusion. The man favored to win the trophy Saturday night is Andre "Son of God" Ward, and he is about as far from being a "Magic Man" as one can get. Legendary United States president Teddy Roosevelt was fond of saying "speak softly and carry a big stick". I cannot think of a more accurate way of describing the mindset of the 2004 Olympic gold medalist.
Outside of the ring Ward is a mild-mannered "nice guy". You won't see him getting drunk at a nightclub, and shooting himself in the leg. He is not the kind of guy that will record a profanity-laced video aimed at his opponent to upload on the internet. As his nickname suggests, he is a religious man that prefers the quieter lifestyle. He leans on his Christian faith, and references it frequently when discussing his personal life. He is often described as the kind of man that one would want his daughter to meet.
Inside of the ring Ward is a multi-faceted fighter capable of being chameleon-like to adapt to his opponent. Against Arthur Abraham he boxed his way to victory by using an educated jab and counterpunching. When he faced Mikel Kessler in his tourney opener he fought like a bull in the ring, bent on running roughshod over his European counterpart. Some have compared him to a young Bernard Hopkins because of his versatility, and I will not disagree with that. It may be a bit premature, but Kevin Iole of Yahoo Sports even ranked him at third in his pound-for-pound voting.
Let all of what I have just told you sink in. Ward is a great guy, and could be on track to someday be the best fighter in the world, pound-for-pound. Now, also consider this: he may never come close to becoming the big star that his talent suggests that he should be. When the Super Six tournament was created it had two main goals. First, find out who the top super middleweight in the world was (alongside Bute). Secondly, create a top star that can become a mainstream attraction. Not on the level of Manny Pacquiao or Floyd Mayweather, but at least a respectable name that mainstream audiences will recognize. It seems that we may have found the world's top 168-pound boxer, but the major star goal, however, has fallen short.
Ratings for the Super Six tournament have been abysmal. Fair or not, none of the fighters have mainstream credibility in the United States. At the beginning, Jermain Taylor was the most popular domestic boxer in the tournament, but he was viewed as shot going in. Ward and Andre Dirrell were largely unknown Olympians with immense talent, but little fanfare. In fact, it's a bit disheartening to consider Ward is an Olympic gold medalist, yet so few Americans actually know who he is.
Maybe Ward should have taken up swimming. Abraham, Kessler, and finalist Carl Froch are each different, unique men to boxing nuts like us, but to the average American they are all one-in-the-same anonymous Europeans. The Super Six featured some high-quality matchups on paper, but none of them ever turned into something great. The best fight was Kessler's decision over Froch in his native country of Denmark. It was followed by Froch complaining non-stop about the verdict, and Kessler squashing any momentum he had by not fighting since due to an eye injury. The sweet science at its finest.
Again, overall the matchups were perfectly fine, but largely failed to execute. Watching Dirrell sprint from Froch in Nottingham, England while Gus Johnson constantly referred to Froch as "Robin Hood" was not the type of event to keep viewers coming back. Ditto for Abraham freezing in his bouts against DIrrell, Froch, and Ward. Abraham's pathetic performance was especially embarrassing to endure for those of us that picked him to win the Super Six when it was announced.
Yes, I'm bitter. Finally, as good and as dominant as Ward has been, his fights were like a broken record. After he gained control of his opponent his bouts became a bit monotonous. In short, there was never a "WOW" moment during the whole tournament. Abraham's knockout of Taylor was sweet, but neither of them are going anywhere now.
This Saturday night Ward has one more chance to make one of those moments become a reality. He must do something that will make people stop flipping through the channels, and watch him when they could be doing something else. Ward entered the Super Six to prove that he is the best super middleweight in the world, and raise his profile immensely. He has achieved the former, but the latter will not be quenched merely by winning. He must look special.
For Andre Ward the time for him to shine is immediate. He needs to look like a star against Carl Froch on Saturday, or much of what he has aimed for will be missed. And Froch will not be an easy target.