Andre Ward returns on Saturday night (10:30 pm ET) on HBO, facing Colombia’s Alexander Brand in a fight that will set up a November showdown with Sergey Kovalev in Las Vegas.
Here’s a look at the matchup.
Andre Ward vs Alexander Brand
Record: 29-0 (15 KO) ... Streak: W29 ... Last 5: 5-0 ... Last 10: 10-0 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 6’0" / 71" ... Age: 32
Thoughts: In 2016, the question about Andre Ward is simple: is he the best fighter in boxing, or one of the best fighters in boxing? It’s an important distinction, if you care about such things. It’s completely and absolutely unimportant if you do not.
We know Andre Ward well at this point. He’s not a very exciting fighter, but he’s not a chore to watch usually, either. His ability allows him a comfort level that most fighters, even the elites, just don’t get to enjoy often, even against really good opponents. When Ward beat Mikkel Kessler to open the Super Six World Boxing Classic in 2009, he really announced his arrival as an elite fighter, and hasn’t looked back. After wins over Allan Green, Arthur Abraham, and Carl Froch to close the Super Six in 2011, he had a pound-for-pound argument, even with Floyd Mayweather still around.
Mayweather is now out of boxing, but Ward has never firmly taken hold of that top spot. He’s fought just once in 2012, once in 2013, zero times in 2014, once in 2015, and once this year, though he is planning three fights in 2016. That inactivity has cost him the chance to be seen as THE best fighter in the world. He may claim that spot by the end of 2016, and to do that, he has to beat Sergey Kovalev in November, and to do that, he has to beat Alexander Brand on Saturday.
He will. Brand is no threat to Ward. The only thing that’s going to stop Ward from facing Kovalev in November is an injury — knock on wood, because Ward’s had a few. Otherwise, this should be easy pickings for him. He’s not a class above Brand, he’s three or four.
Record: 25-1 (19 KO) ... Streak: W8 ... Last 5: 5-0 ... Last 10: 9-1 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 5'10½" / 71½" ... Age: 39
Thoughts: Alexander Brand has a record better than his skills, and the fact that he’s 39 doesn’t say much for that, either. But although the vast majority of his wins have come on the infamously soft soil of his native Colombia, Brand’s one loss, to Badou Jack in 2012, was an eight-round split decision, and there was a decent enough argument for him in that fight.
Brand is not going to beat Andre Ward. What he did effectively against Badou Jack was mostly preying upon Jack’s inexperience, as it was Jack’s 11th professional fight, and he’d never faced anyone as odd and awkward as Brand before, and really hasn’t since. There really aren’t many fights as odd as Brand was in that fight, where he tripped over his own feet repeatedly, lunged goofily constantly, and more or less stunk out the joint, but somehow was about 50-50 with Jack in the fight.
None of what we saw then is going to work against Andre Ward, who is as calm and collected as anyone in the ring, and has a patience that will allow him to shut down any of that nonsense, and eventually take over the fight. The only risk here is that the fight could be a true turd as far as entertainment value, but Ward should be handy enough to land clean, and it’s then a question of what Brand can handle.
Matchup Grade: C-. I said last month in the Kovalev-Chilemba preview that I’d give this fight the exact grade I gave that one, and I stand by it. Brand is not as good a fighter as Chilemba, but come in with roughly the same chance of winning the fight. Chilemba won three rounds or so against Kovalev. Brand probably will win zero against Ward. This is just about getting to the real fight. To be entirely honest, you can comfortably skip this one if there’s literally anything better for you to be doing. There are no surprises coming.