Commentary

Andre Ward: 'The best is yet to come'

Originally Published: December 16, 2011
By Igor Guryashkin | ESPN.com

Showtime's Super Six World Boxing Classic draws to a close Saturday night (9 p.m. ET/PT) at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J., ending the debate about who deserves to be called the world's top super middleweight.

American Andre Ward (24-0, 13 KOs) -- the competition's only undefeated fighter -- will face off against Englishman Carl Froch (28-1, 20 KOs). Ward, who withstood top-shelf opposition, a deep cut in sparring and a postponement of the final, took a moment to sit down with ESPN.com to discuss the Super Six, Carl Froch and his long-term aspirations.

Carl Froch told us a few days ago that in preparing for this fight, he wasn't preparing for anything he hasn't seen before. What are your thoughts on that comment?
Well I think that he's underestimating me in some categories. He's preparing as hard as he can, so I know that he's not completely overlooking me, because he's smarter than that. In the categories of toughness, physical strength, punching power -- I think he'll realize that I'm a lot stronger in those categories than he realizes, so those are the few areas. But also, just my overall style: the inside game, the outside game and in terms of our conditioning, we tend to get stronger as the fight goes on and not fade down the stretch. I just think that overall, he's going to realize that I am a stronger package than he anticipates.

There's a level of respect for you in the media because you're one of the few fighters who is willing to admit that you get hurt in the ring.
I commented on an earlier fight when it was obvious to all in the world that I was hurt. It's just something that fighters don't like to reveal, but I can tell you this: Every fighter gets buzzed. Every fighter gets hit with a shot that they feel. That's just the way it is, whether they admit it or not. Some shots that you don't think are hard are much harder than they appear, so it's just something that fighters don't like to admit, and I can agree with that.

How has the preparation been for this fight? You're usually quite secretive about your preparations with regard to sparring. Also, has the cut had any effect on you?
Well, the cut has had absolutely no part in the camp. If it was a situation of where the cut kept opening up, then unfortunately we would have had no choice but to go back to the doctor and see what he recommended. But I have had fewer problems with it. It's not even been an issue -- that's how well the cut has been doing. We took the proper rest and had the full camp. In terms of our overall preparation, we have had certain things to tailor to Froch's style, but the intensity is still there. It's not like this has been a camp that I have taken off because I felt, "OK, I have this guy." You just can't afford to do that in this sport at this level, so the intensity is there and we've incorporated a lot of explosive type of movement. I had five solid, tall, rangy sparring partners, and those guys weren't just happy to be there; they really brought it every day. The most intense session I remember was when I sparred 16 rounds with five different guys.

A new guy comes in and another out?
Absolutely. One guy would get three rounds, another guy would get four rounds. So we're both prepared.

Both you and Froch are the kind of guys who aren't afraid to mix it up and perhaps incorporate some roughhouse tactics. If you have to, are you prepared to brawl Saturday?
You know, I was telling the media this other day: In the [Andre] Dirrell fight with Froch, what Froch is trying to do -- you know I don't lead with my head. People try to define me and call me dirty based on one fight, with Mikkel Kessler. Those weren't malicious mistakes. I'm an eager fighter sometimes and I'm a young fighter sometimes, so I can get overeager and things happen. But I don't have a malicious bone in my body. So what was happening was that [Froch] was taking one fight and trying categorize me and give me the label of a dirty fighter. But if you're going to judge me on one fight, [then] go look at the Andre Dirrell fight. The commentary from Al Bernstein and Antonio Tarver, they commented and said [Froch] might have to get penalized if he carries on -- the rabbit punches, throwing Dirrell down. So just like he has things that he wants to bring up, I'd like to bring that up. Those rabbit punches that we saw in the Dirrell fight are actually in most of his fights. So I hope there is no controversy, because you don't want that in a big fight like [this]. But I'm also preparing on a physical battle and preparing on getting my hand raised.

Back when the Super Six started, you and Dirrell weren't considered favorites. You came in as young wild cards and over the course of the past two years, you have proved yourself as a top super middleweight. How do you reflect on this change, and where do you see yourself going?
To be honest with you, you're right. Me and Dirrell were the wild cards, and when I went to Germany, which was the first press conference that I went to, and the vibe in the room, what I sensed was that we're just here to make things interesting as the two young guys; and the Europeans -- [Arthur] Abraham, Froch, Kessler -- these are the guys who are going to be standing here when this thing is all over. And you know, I looked at that and sat back and said to myself, "Wow, OK." That's been my fuel throughout this tournament. I'm in the finals right now and some say, "He's the favorite and he's the best." But to continue to be the best, I have to beat Carl Froch. I do have that chip on my shoulder that I first got when I joined the tournament. I'm still not satisfied and I have not let my guard down because some say I am the favorite. I've totally ignored that and I've kept my head down and I've kept working in the finals, and I won't be satisfied until I get my hand raised on Saturday night.

Plenty of fighters say, "I won't look past this fight," but all boxers have dreams and aspirations. Where do you see yourself after this fight?
The reality is that the winner of this fight deserves a rest. But there are a lot of options at 168. I would love a rematch with Mikkel Kessler. I think that is something that would be fitting, and obviously Lucian Bute is out there too. I think that my frame and my body would do well at 175. I don't know whether I would campaign at light heavyweight, but I am definitely happy to go up there and fight the right fighter. You're right, you have to dream.

The one common denominator between you and Froch is Mikkel Kessler. What do you think the real difference was in those two fights, in the way that you both approached it?
I don't know. That's a good question. Both fights were close and could have gone either way. It's tough to say. I just know that I was able to do a little bit more. I had the speed, I had the power, I had multiple different things that Mikkel was not used to seeing. He was used to seeing another European fighter stand up straight and go toe to toe and stay at range. I think my diversity was the key to my victory against Kessler. He was mentally not able to get comfortable in the fight.

Do you see yourself still getting better with each fight?
The gifts that I've been given in being able to fight one gifted fighter after another is definitely a chance to hone my skills like no gym work ever could. I definitely feel that every fight I'm getting better. People have to remember that I am a young champion. I am still a young champion and the best is yet to come.

Igor Guryashkin is a researcher for ESPN The Magazine and a boxing contributor for ESPN.com.