IN a professional career spanning 13 years, unified light-heavyweight champion Andre Ward has enjoyed highs that many fighters can only dream of, but his efforts still divide opinions on a grand scale.
After gold medal success at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, the American later dominated the super-middleweight division in the professional ranks, outclassing all of Carl Froch, Mikkel Kessler, Arthur Abraham and Chad Dawson along his impressive path to success.
A disputed unanimous decision victory over Sergey Kovalev last November saw him reach a career pinnacle, unifying the belts at 175lbs and dethroning a fighter many regarded as an unstoppable force.
For all those impressive feats achieved, Ward has also had to deal with career negatives, though outside of the ring, in the form of long periods of sporadic inactivity through injury and a break down in contract negotiations.
Ward’s long spells out of action and an insistence on controlling as many factors as possible in fight negotiations have made him an easy target for an army of sceptics that overlook his accomplishments and focus on out-of-ring matters instead.
The 33-year-old has perhaps already amassed enough during his time as a pro to warrant a future spot in the Hall of Fame, but many still overlook his admirable triumphs and refuse to acknowledge the stellar career he’s accumulated so far.
Ironically, Ward’s victory over Kovalev last year only further fuelled those who question his credentials, as many believe his Russian opponent should have had his hand raised at the T-Mobile Arena in Nevada instead.
The former light-heavyweight kingpin himself has been at the forefront of those outcries, having been on a relentless mission to gain redemption ever since tasting a first ever defeat late in 2016.
He will get the opportunity to put his frustration to rest on June 17 after being granted a highly-anticipated rematch with his maiden conqueror.
Kovalev started the strongest in that first meeting with Ward, downing the Oakland native with a timely right hand in the second round and applying constant pressure in the early stages of proceedings.
Although, ‘SOG’ was able to withstand the heavy onslaught, rallying back in the later rounds with crafty inside work against his Russian foe and swaying all three judges into awarding him scores of 114-113.
With a victory over the supposed toughest man in the division, Ward has been awarded the honour of sitting atop many organisations’ pound-for-pound lists, replacing Nicaragua’s Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez.
Although, because of the manner of his decision triumph, many other outlets have also chosen to overlook the American for that prestigious number one position, as he continues to split opinion on a wide scale.
Before finally contesting Kovalev in such a high-profile match-up, Ward had already taken all of the hate directed at him in his stride, but the American was met with a barrage of criticism in light of his last result.
Though, similar to his composed nature inside the ropes, Ward has remained undeterred and fully focused, especially in the face of direct attempts of intimidation by Kovalev ahead of their second encounter. Any loss in boxing is painful, but a first can be agony, and Kovalev hasn’t taken his lightly, going on a verbal rampage early during media duties and outlining his obsession for getting his revenge. The build-up to the first bout had a distinct lack of animosity, with both fighters showing respect ahead of their collision. Fast forward to 2017 and there is already a clear contrast in mood, with Kovalev unleashing a tirade of trash talk towards Ward both online and in person.
“The way he looks at me, I just really want to punch him in the head,” the hellbent Russian recently declared regarding his rival.
Such an emotional connection to the cause could ultimately play into Ward’s hands in June, though, with the latter having already seen what Kovalev can conjure up in the ring. “The reality is I’m in the dude’s head,” stated Ward. “When have you seen him act like this?
“I’m in his head. That doesn’t mean everything, but I’m in his head. Like I’ve been saying, I’ve learned more about this guy in the last four months than I have for fighting him for 12 rounds.”
At this stage last year, a win over ‘Krusher’ was unthinkable, but Ward is potentially on the verge of amounting such a feat twice inside eight months.
To dispatch the hard-hitting Russian and fellow pound-for-pound star for a second occasion would undoubtedly see Ward’s stock rise greatly and lay any long-standing doubts over his ring distinction to rest. Despite a host of prestigious career wins at 168lbs and beyond, a second successive conquest over Kovalev would likely be the two-weight world champion’s defining performance, in spite of whatever past accolades have been attained.