December 20, 2016
December 20, 2016
Andre Ward

Stacey Verbeek

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ANDRE WARD is not overly popular with some members of the American media, a fact underlined by the furious reaction to him getting the decision – after an incredibly close fight – over Sergey Kovalev. While it’s fine to disagree with the judges, and in boxing such conflict between officials and observers is common, but the manner in which this decision was greeted was incredible.

Within seconds of the fight starting, a local writer alongside me was screaming for Ward to be deducted a point, and spent much of the next 12 rounds shaking his head and throwing his arms wide in disgust every time the American fighter got anywhere near Kovalev.

The bout was a cracker, I thought, and one that both fighters should be proud of. And after so long being accused of failing to make the best possible contests, it was just what boxing needed. To me, it delivered everything asked of it. Whoever got the decision, I felt the sport that staged the matchup would be the biggest winner. But then came the announcement of the verdict. The aforementioned writer ranted and raved, shouted “Fix” at the top of his voice, and all but flipped the table in front of him in anger.

“Ward didn’t win more than two goddamn rounds!” he bawled about a man who had just given his all for 36 gruelling minutes.

When I told him I’d scored the fight the same way – 114-113 for the new light-heavyweight champion – he looked at me like I’d admitted I was plotting to kill his mother.

“What?” he said repeatedly, increasing the volume with each utterance, and staring at me long after I’d disengaged eye contact.

Call me crazy, but it seemed that not only did he think Ward had lost, he didn’t want him to win in the first place. Not an ideal mind-frame when you’re supposed to be reporting on a sport as subjective as boxing.

While his feelings for Ward may have been extreme, the uproar about the decision was common. All around me writers were calling it a blatant robbery, and on social media, that feeling was echoed. Paul Smith, Matthew Macklin and Paul Malignaggi in particular were abused for their opinions on Sky Sports, while one esteemed writer from the USA declared that Britons “drink too much” when it was brought to his attention that Macklin and co had scored for Ward, and the reaction in the UK was quite different to where the fight took place. To him, it was one of the worst decisions in boxing history.

Again, offering an opinion is fine, but the spite is unwelcome. To me, it was an exceptionally tight encounter that could have gone either way. And that is just the opinion I offer, if you saw it differently, that’s absolutely fine with me, I won’t let it ruin my life.

But the whole thing certainly got me thinking. What is it about Ward that is so unpopular? It could perhaps be his style, and the hangover from the Floyd Mayweather era. Certainly during that period of Mayweather rule, he received as much criticism as praise due to his safety-first mode of boxing. He was rarely in exciting contests as a result, and maybe it was felt that the next leader needed to be more aggressive, more thrilling. More like Kovalev, less like Ward.

Whatever it is, it seems deep-rooted with certain individuals. At a Kovalev-Ward press conference staged in Dallas in September, Andre spent much of it being spoken to like he was an idiot, being asked a question and then spoken over while trying to answer. That contempt seemed to stem from the time that Ward spent out of the ring as a consequence of his legal battle with former promoter, Dan Goossen.

To Boxing News, Ward – like Kovalev, I should add – has never been anything but polite, honest, and generous with his time. Which is why it was a surprise when I heard whispers that Ward is not so charitable to some American journalists.

Well, it was a surprise until November 19 in Las Vegas.

This article was originally published in Boxing News magazine