Boxer Ward shows all right moves

By Tim Kawakami
Mercury News Staff Columnist

Andre Ward had to stop. Just had to.

No, apparently not. For 15 ceaseless minutes last week at Kings Gym in
Oakland . . . no wait, 20 ridiculous minutes . . . check that, 32
unthinkable minutes, the 2004 gold medalist kept going, testing both his
stamina and my boxing imagination.

Zero pauses. No water. No breathers. Not for him and not for me, and I know
I could've used a break, though I was only watching and he was the one
preparing for his first Bay Area pro fight Thursday at HP Pavilion.

Just a single, torturous 32-minute marathon round -- 20 minutes with one
fighter, then 12 minutes with another, maybe 600 punches thrown by Ward and
500 punches he had to fend off.

``You don't see that a lot,'' Ward said with a wink after it was over. ``I
stole that from Floyd Mayweather,'' currently considered boxing's best
pound-for-pound fighter.

``I got wind that he sparred 10-, 15-minute rounds. And there I was the next
day sparring 15-minute rounds, 30-minute rounds. I just want to be the
best.''

I've seen bigger-framed fighters who couldn't endure heavy sparring action
two or three minutes at a time; some of the best ones won't spar more than
five consecutive rounds if the pace is too hot.

But Ward, 21, has staying power, with his first year as a pro middleweight
nearing a close and his sights set on a future well beyond his 2004 Athens
gold medal.

What's the biggest difference between Ward now, 4-0 as a pro, and Ward a
year ago? He trains in the same gym with Virgil Hunter, his same
trainer/mentor/godfather from his amateur days. Ward has the same fast hands
and watchful eyes.

The difference, other than Ward's new jackhammer left jab: He seems
supremely at ease and as cool as a two-time champion with a lifetime plan.

When might Ward, an Oakland native, challenge for the middleweight title,
now held by Jermain Taylor, the 2000 U.S. Olympian who recently upset
Bernard Hopkins?

``My godfather and I, we always say three or four years, for some reason,''
Ward said. ``But it's hard to map that plan out. Only the Lord knows when
it's time to step up.

``I think we're ahead of schedule, I really do. But I've got a lot of dues
to pay. I dedicate myself to Lord first. And I dedicate myself to this
sport. I believe I work as hard as anybody can work in the game of boxing.''

Alongside Hunter, Ward has flourished as the leader of an ad-hoc stable of
young fighters, including sparring partner Antonio Johnson, a
super-lightweight also on Thursday's card.

Ward has gotten famous but hasn't been pampered. He has been paid decent
money but still has to win a lot of fights to become wealthy.

Ward has a creditable name, is a clear favorite Thursday against journeyman
Chris Holt and is being lined up for much bigger things. But Ward knows he
can't sleepwalk past anybody.

``I haven't bought -- we're renting,'' Ward said of the Oakland condominium
he moved his family into months ago. ``I do have a nice car. That's a
blessing. I have a Chrysler. But I'm not doing what a lot of people are
expecting me to do.''

He hasn't gone on a wild post-Olympics spending spree like Oscar De La Hoya,
Ward's 1992 gold-medal winning predecessor?

``He was given everything,'' Ward said of De La Hoya. ``I read an article on
him last night, about the endorsements he got, the doors that were opened.
And your first instinct is, `Man, I did what he did, why am I not getting
the same kind of attention?'

``But I thank God, because we don't know what's best for us a lot of times.
I've learned to be content. And I've learned to say, `Lord, don't let me
receive anything that's going to destroy me or stray me from the path that
you have me on. Let me receive what you desire for me to receive when you
feel I'm ready to have it.' ''

Assuming there are no back-steps, Ward is slated to fight on the Antonio
Tarver-Roy Jones card Oct. 1. If Thursday's show draws good ratings for
``The Best Damn Sports Show,'' if he can pull a big crowd into HP Pavilion,
and if he keeps winning, Ward could vault into true headliner status by 2006
(heavyweight Audley Harrison is the headliner Thursday) and possibly title
contention by early 2007.

Which Ward wasn't thinking about at all while at Kings last week when
someone yelled to him: ``Looking for a knockout, Andre!''

Ward shrugged, then looked over at me, through the ropes.

``God, they're putting a lot of pressure on me,'' he said. ``Winning isn't
good enough. They want a knockout. But all I've got to do is win.''

Just win. Then win again. Then win again. And keep working. Because just
when you think he's stopping, Ward will keep on going.


 

CONTACTS:

Rachel Charles
Goossen Tutor Promotions
(818) 817-8001
rachel@goossentutor.com

Gabriel Ruelas
Goossen Tutor Promotions
(818) 817-8001
g.ruelas@comcast.net

Jim Sparaco
HP Pavilion
(408) 999-5792
jsparaco@svse.net