Many of us were waiting for former Olympic gold medalist Andre Ward to truly prove himself as a professional. When he signed a fight with Colombian slugger Edison Miranda, that was his first genuine step into legit competition.
Ward dominated Miranda in every facet of the game on Saturday night, not exactly an unexpected outcome. As far as pure skill goes, Ward was always Miranda's superior. There were some questions about his chin, about how deep he was willing to wade into the waters of a tough fight, and whether or not he could or would stand up to a bully fighter.
Like Arthur Abraham and Kelly Pavlik before him, Ward seemed to figure out before he even got in there that Miranda may be a bully, but he's a bully who's exceptionally easy to push around. When met with resistance anymore, Miranda seems to lose his chutzpah, his machismo. Ward not only beat him handily at range, but he pushed Miranda around, out-muscled him, and beat him up when they fought in close.
But given what we know now about Miranda, what did this really prove?
It might seem like I'm saying Ward didn't prove much, but I'm not. Miranda may well be nothing more than a gatekeeper with a big right hand at 168, but Ward so impressively dominated him that we can now say for sure he's a legit contender, a solid pro, and a guy with some fantastic skills. His ability to switch between orthodox and southpaw stances may well be the best in the sport. Offensively, he even seems to do better as a southpaw.
He may be among the world's 10 best at 168, but if he's not, it's no longer because of any doubts about his ability, simply that 168 is among the best divisions in the sport. I will say that I think he's a tough matchup for just about anyone.
Where can he go next? Showtime no doubt would like to position Ward for a marquee matchup. Hey, if Allan Green finds himself unable to land an opponent, that'd be a heck of a matchup to make paired with something bigger. Green is another guy that can punch, but might not get so easily discouraged so early the way Miranda did. Skills-wise, though? That one's got a Ward win all over it, and then he's even more legit.
(And yes, I know Miranda beat Green at 160, but for one thing I really believe Green wasn't at all healthy for that fight, and for another thing I truly believe Kelly Pavlik's wicked beating of Miranda took a lot out of "Pantera." If Green and Miranda fought at 168, I think Green stops him.)
Jermain Taylor fought pretty well against Carl Froch and needs an opponent. It'd be serious crossroads time for Taylor -- a loss to Ward would really plummet him, and a win against Ward would be big. Beating an undefeated gold medalist would put him back in line.
And what about Sakio Bika? Ward taking a challenge from the guy no one wants to fight would say a lot about his guts.
Right now, it's just a guessing game. But Ward acquitted himself quite nicely on Saturday, and he has earned his due propers. There's still work to do, but then again there always is, isn't there?