Eddie Gonzalez is back at Bad Left Hook this Christmas Eve with a look at Andre Ward's chances of becoming a true star attraction.
Last Saturday night, Oakland's Andre Ward became the best 168-pound fighter in the world with a win over Carl Froch. Ward was already seen as the best super middleweight in the world before the fight, but easily beating Froch, the consensus #2 at the weight, further cemented the claim.
While Ward was dominant, many boxing fans wonder now if he can someday become a "star." And not just a boxing "star," but a figure whose star power extends beyond the reaches of the boxing world. One that dances with the stars, or shares "60 Minutes" episodes with the Rresident.
Ward, the last American to win an Olympic gold medal in boxing, has all the tools to be that guy. He's supremely talented, has the gold medal, a home fanbase that supports him in Oakland, a good back story, all things boxing promoters look for when they look to make stars.
Once upon a time, a great young fighter named Floyd Mayweather was in this position. Winning all his fights, toting all the tools to be a star but somehow not breaking through. To combat this, eventually "Money" Mayweather was born. Mayweather, with new persona in tow, went on to become the biggest draw in the sport, and the highest paid athlete in the world.
Whether or not Ward can exhibit that kind of personality remains to be seen, but what is certain is he will not compromise himself, nor his faith to do so.
If anything, in some ways his faith has become his personality. His nickname, S.O.G, of course is an acronym for Son of God. In a recent profile on Ward by the San Jose Mercury News he said himself, "I'm a Christian who happens to be an athlete, not the other way around." And that is exactly how he presents himself. Because of his strong faith, and the fact that he just isn't going to sacrifice his faith to become more of a "personality," I think it's safe to assume there will never be a "Money" Ward.
In fact, I think Ward actually quitting his sport to further devote himself to his faith, like his pastor, former Oakland Raiders running back Napoleon Kaufman, is more likely.The fact is he would have to endear himself somehow to the mainstream fans moreso than he does now if he ever wants to become a "star," and that just isn't likely.
What should be noted, however, is Ward has said several times that he doesn't want to be a star, and though he has the tools, things are sort of looking like he never will be.
Ward dominates in the ring, he completely imposes his style on fights, and just keeps winning wide decisions. Will he open up the offense to become more fan friendly? I doubt it, at this point in his career Ward kind of just is who he is, and who he's going to be in the ring. Ward's in-ring doppelganger, Bernard Hopkins, never became a "star" mostly due to his in ring style. While he is one of the more successful in ring performers of this era, winning, even dominantly, just isn't enough.
And while BHop has become a strong personality, it simply wasn't/isn't strong enough. In the past few years Hopkins has seen his popularity surge as he has become sort of a novelty item. The really old guy who really shouldn't be able to win championships anymore intrigues people, there is a sort of freak show aspect to every Hopkins fight. He's 46, he's older than my dad, what's he doing in there, I gotta see if this old guy can still fight. That's all fine and dandy, I'm a huge BHop fan, but this doesn't help Ward's (our?) quest for stardom. Ward is 27, in his prime, and far from a novelty item.
So how could Ward become a star? Keep winning? Maybe not, the Klitschko brothers keep winning, and at some point they started receiving backlash. If Ward effectively cleans out the super middleweight division, and he is one or two fights away from doing so, will he receive that same sort of "he has only beat bums" that the brothers Klitschko have received, the Roy Jones once received, that others before them received?
Ward showed this week that he has little desire to fight the only other fight out there for him at 168, Lucian Bute, and has also stated before that he has little desire to move up. We've seen in the past that a fight with Andre Dirrell is not going to happen under any circumstances. What can Ward do in the ring, what fight would he have to win, who would he have to beat to get to the next level?
There is no Oscar de la Hoya near him in weight to make him a star. There really is no big fight for him at 168 or 175. Will he ever headline a PPV? Doubt it. The fight with the most intrigue probably is a fight with Hopkins. But both have said that isn't going to happen, probably thankfully so, because there is no way that fight would be good. If anything that fight would hurt Ward's chances at becoming a star.
The one thing I am certain about is that Ward can be a star in Northern California. Being in Sacramento, a short drive away from Oakland, it was hard to escape Andre Ward last week. He was on local newscasts, in every paper in the area, on the local Fox Sports Net. The local media loves to support one of their own when they reach a bigger stage.
While the attendance at the Oracle Arena for Ward's fight with Sakio Bika was abysmal, it was a passionate group, as has been for every fight Ward fights in Oakland. If the Goossen Tutor plan is for Ward to become a "star" the start should be there. The focus should be on making Ward's passionate and supportive local fan base bigger, and growing from there.
If Don King can make Devon Alexander a big local draw in St. Louis, Dan Goossen should be able to figure out how to make Andre Ward a huge draw in Oakland. If Ward, and his team want him to be a star, home is where they need to start.