IF anyone else took to social media to inform the world they had just stepped on a set of scales and weighed 199lbs, promising you it’s all muscle, baby, you’d scroll right past it. Immediately. Quickly. You’d be within your rights to hit ‘unfollow’. Yet because it was Andre Ward, and because it came with a tantalising postscript – “I’m working” – you not only read it and re-read it, you then started to read into it, dissect it, explore what was actually meant by it.
Andre Ward is different to other boxers; different to other human beings. When he says he is working, and when he makes a point of mentioning his weight – nearly 25 pounds above his old fighting weight, no less – you do, albeit begrudgingly, wonder what he’s cooking and allow yourself to care. You jump to a conclusion or two. You assume, naturally, a retired fighter is about to un-retire.
Furthermore, what separates Ward’s un-retirement tease from those of other attention-seekers is that if he does indeed announce a comeback, the Andre Ward that re-emerges will, we’re led to believe, be markedly different to the one who announced he was leaving back in September. And that makes it interesting. Why? Because Andre Ward weighing anything over 200lbs screams jeopardy and risk and potential disaster. It screams history-making. It screams strategy. It means his opponents might have a chance. (This is a man who moved to light-heavyweight – a division Virgil Hunter, his coach, repeatedly said was anything but natural for him – because nobody wanted to play with him at super-middleweight anymore.)
Irrespective of whether he returns as a light-heavyweight, cruiserweight or heavyweight, or even returns at all, Ward’s teasing serves to remind anyone who forgot that he is as calculated outside the ring as he was inside it. In the mind of a man like Ward, there’s seemingly always something going on: a plot and a plan just waiting to be executed. Which is why you’re allowed to think his retirement, rather than the perfect note on which to end an illustrious career, was perhaps more akin to a power move, a stalling tactic, one he’d renege on when the time and opportunity was right.
We're working on something special ?? pic.twitter.com/y7OmloOoRM
— Andre S.O.G. Ward (@andreward) January 24, 2018
Who knows, maybe that time is now.
If it is, here’s why I don’t mind Andre Ward coming back.
He’s a genius. More than just a good boxer, a world champion boxer, he operates at a genius level, on a genius planet (a planet only Vasyl Lomachenko or Terence Crawford are capable of governing in Ward’s absence). When he does something, it is normally correct, wise, the right thing to do. So if, for instance, he fancies the idea of boxing again, it won’t be a decision made lightly or on a whim. It will, instead, be one that makes sense even if, on the face of it, this doesn’t appear the case. (Returning as a bloated heavyweight and chasing men twice his size, for example, would be deemed a horrible, ill-advised and desperate move were it not a mission conjured in the mind of Andre Ward. In that context, with that hero, the mission is no longer impossible but somehow plausible.)
What’s more, Ward isn’t old, much less washed up. In fact, back in June the 33-year-old looked better than ever en route to a controversial eighth round stoppage of great rival Sergey Kovalev. He outboxed the ferocious Russian for a number of rounds and then, once sick of that, decided to put himself in harm’s way. He stood toe-to-toe with ‘Krusher’ and roughed him up. In doing so, he beat him at his own game. He gave him opportunities, when standing with him, when offering up his body and head, the befuddled Kovalev was unable to take.
The sort of performance produced by the best of the best, it cemented Ward’s position as the premier light-heavyweight in the world, it settled a dispute, and it also, unbeknown to us all at the time, wonderfully pre-empted his retirement announcement on September 21. After all, how could anyone possibly write a better ending?
Alas, benefit of the doubt to one side, here’s why I hate the idea of Andre Ward coming back.
For so long an anomaly, the weirdo, the one who does things his own way (for better or worse), Andre Ward un-retiring is Andre Ward finally complying with boxing’s dark magic and walking its plank in the worst way possible. Rather than a genius, it would colour him typical, average, the same as all the rest. It would remind us once again of boxing’s pull and the inability of its participants, no matter how astute they purport to be, to stick to their guns and do the right thing. It would, in a sense, make me question not only Ward’s decision-making circa-2018 but everything I thought I knew about him.
When Ward initially retired, my gut instinct was that he would remain different, stay retired, enjoy his fortune, embrace living life with his faculties intact, and take satisfaction from knowing he’d quit too soon rather than too late. He had called the shots, seen them coming, just as he’d done throughout his career. He didn’t wait for the shots. Didn’t wait for them to land. Didn’t wait for them to drop him, disfigure him and eventually damage his brain. He called them from day one and seemed so sure of himself that there was never a fear he would go back on his word, suddenly question whether he had made the right decision, or miss the very thing – boxing – he seemed at pains to keep at arm’s length, control, master, not allow to take his body, mind and soul.
In fact, never had I been so certain of the authenticity of a premature boxing retirement in my life. He’s a genius, I thought. A genius among mortals. A genius among boxers. There’s no chance whatsoever Andre Ward, of all people, is going to retire any other way than to retire the way he boxed: cleanly, expertly, perfectly, on his terms.
That this dream is now under threat, that there are now rumours of his return, is simultaneously exciting (who wouldn’t want to watch Andre Ward box again?) and quite sad. It comes with questions: Who? Why? What’s the point? It makes you once again doubt the ability of any boxer to retire and stay retired. (If Andre Ward can’t do it, with all his smarts and sensibilities, who the hell can?)
It’s his choice to make, of course. Admittedly, too, he’d be un-retiring at the perfect time, at the perfect age, and with a perfect record that suggests he is still at the peak of his powers. He’s also entitled to make vast sums of money doing the thing for which he is best known. In that respect, genius or not, he’s no different to any other civilian when the gloves are stowed away and his children need feeding and clothing and hope for gifts bigger and better than the ones they received last Christmas. Moreover, he’s no different to any other civilian when the morning comes, he’s out of work, and daytime television starts throwing up the same s**t he watched last week.
I get it. Staying retired is never as easy as retiring, nor as easy as un-retiring. But, for me, if he does make a return to the ring, there at least needs to be a clear and obvious reason for it; a sensible one, a logical one, one in keeping with his character and career.
“Working on something special,” is the verdict for now.
This comment, as aloof and elusive as the man responsible for it, suggests Ward’s not ready to leave the public eye for good and embrace all that civilian life has to offer – the normality, the school runs, the Sunday dinners – quite yet. Maybe he wants some attention. Maybe he wants respect he feels he has warranted and not received. Maybe – and this is less of a maybe than the others – he wants more money, and realises there’s some out there for him, and that this money, this money with Andre Ward’s name on it, won’t be around forever and nor will he.
In terms of potential fights, then, we have the following:
He could fight WBA and IBF world heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua and get paid an obscene amount of money. (Or he could not do that, avoid a potential loss, and stay retired and undefeated.)
He could fight Tony Bellew in what would be a more realistic kind of heavyweight fight and still get paid a great deal of money. (Or he could not do that, avoid a potential loss, and stay retired and undefeated.)
He could fight the winner of the World Boxing Super Series cruiserweight tournament and get paid very good money but receive little in the way of credit for defeating the victor, whoever that may be. (Or he could not do that, avoid a potential loss, and stay retired and undefeated.)
He could fight the winner of the upcoming WBC world light-heavyweight title fight between Adonis Stevenson and Badou Jack and make some very good money but essentially go over old ground. (Or he could not do that, avoid a potential loss, and stay retired and undefeated.)
He could do one of them, or all of them, or none of them. He could win one of them, or all of them, and look even more of a genius than before, or he could discover his eyes are bigger than his belly, and his belly bigger than it should be, and wind up undoing everything he worked so hard to do in the first place. That, the undoing part, is the worry. That’s the part that shouldn’t be taken for granted or downplayed. Because, in boxing, if you stick around long enough, it all comes undone in the end.
In this instance, Andre Ward returning to the ring and getting it wrong, as most do, wouldn’t just tarnish his impeccable legacy. It would also eradicate everything that made him so special and unique in the first place, which, in turn, would call into question this long-held belief: while there have been and will be greater fighters than Andre Ward, there haven’t been and won’t be many more intelligent.