• Steve Bunce

Top dog Andre Ward looking for X-factor

Steve Bunce November 12, 2013
Andre Ward deserves a higher profile than he currently has, but boxing can be unfair © AP

On Saturday night Andre Ward gets back in the ring. In my opinion he is the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world right now. Ward defends his WBA super middleweight title against unbeaten banger Edwin Rodriguez in California; it is Ward's first fight in 14 months, his first fight since destroying Chad Dawson.

Now, there are plenty of people who will disagree with me - Barry Jones, for one - but here's why I have Ward down as my No. 1. It's quite simple: Floyd Mayweather, brilliant as he is, is past his best. Ward is at the peak of his powers right now - I know he's been out of the ring for over a year with the injured shoulder, but if the same Ward returns on Saturday night, that makes him the No.1 fighter in the world without a doubt.

Ward man-handled Mikkel Kessler. He destroyed Dawson. He beat Carl Froch easily - Froch admitted himself that it was a clear defeat, no matter what the scorecards said. Froch has altered a bit of history now, which makes sense. It is, after all, bad for business to admit that you got a boxing lesson from a guy that you want to fight again in the future! Froch v Ward II could do very nice business, thank you very much.

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That's why I think Andre Ward - the Son of God, as he calls himself - is such a terrific fighter. The problem is that he's too good for his own good.

Ward knows that boxing is cruel, can be unkind and often infuriating. There are fighters like Julio Cesar Chavez Jr with higher profiles, bigger purses and far less talent. Ward is a victim of his brilliance. Chavez, by the way, is at the top of Ward's 'wish' list.

Ward will get the big fights, but it might be time to take a leaf out of Bernard Hopkins' book. When Hopkins fought Oscar de la Hoya and Felix Trinidad - even though he was the champion going into those fights, and was a big name in his own right - he took considerably less money for both fights. It was worth it and each destructive win made Hopkins a bigger star, a more marketable brand.

Ward wants Chavez Jr, son of the man regarded as the greatest fighter to ever come out of Mexico. He's made no secret of it - this is what he had to say after Chavez Jr picked up a controversial 10-round decision against Brian Vera in September: "Whether people like it or not, he got his hand raised tonight. That's a fight [Chavez Jr vs Ward] that has to happen. That's a pay-per-view fight. Chavez Jr can fight. He's got a lot of his father in him."

To make the Chavez fight, Ward has to be sensible around the negotiating table - and when I say sensible, I mean open to taking less money. That sounds like sacrilege, but it will be worth it in the long run. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr is a big attraction but not even remotely close to the fighter that Ward is. Ward needs to be honest and admit that Chavez, whether rightly or wrongly, is the bigger box office draw. He destroys Chavez, gains the X-factor and profile he's currently lacking, and moves on to bigger and better things. Simple boxing economics.

For now, Rodriguez is perfect for Andre Ward. He comes with the backing of a giant American television corporation, and his confidence is sky-high after his fantastic first-round win against Denis Grachev in the final of the Monte-Carlo Super Four Tournament in Monaco, where he allegedly came away with $1 million. He certainly came away with his reputation enhanced.

There were other names on the table for Ward that were easier - there were other names on the table that were harder, too - but in some ways Rodriguez has been forced on Ward. That's the business, the way the two big satellite television companies that back boxing in America operate. They're making all their fighters take fights and there are no easy routes.

Rodriguez is on a good run and he's a terrific fighter, but we're talking here about Andre Ward - he will fight anybody and could end up handing the Dominican his first defeat in devastating fashion. Rodriguez, I'm convinced, will just find himself at a level he's never been at before. If Carl Froch and Mikkel Kessler fell way short against Ward, Rodriguez is not going to do what they couldn't do.

As Barry Jones says: Rodriguez is crude, he's raw, and he'll make Ward look good. Barry, it seems, really does know best.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
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Steve Bunce has been ringside in Las Vegas over 50 times, he has been at five Olympics and has been writing about boxing for over 25 years for a variety of national newspapers in Britain, including four which folded! It is possible that his face and voice have appeared on over 60 channels worldwide in a variety of languages - his first novel The Fixer was published in 2010 to no acclaim; amazingly it has been shortlisted for Sports Book of the Year.