The fact Andre Ward’s retirement leaves a bittersweet taste shouldn’t surprise those of us who could appreciate his skill and yet felt infuriated by his inactivity. His scripted departure message was as deft and well crafted as some of his performances. It was a professional career that began in December 2004 and followed an unbeaten run that stretched back to his teens.
He will tease but he will stay retired.
As a pound for pound entrant and with timelines, podcasts and articles like this one to fill, his retirement urges writers and pundits to contemplate his place among the greats of his era or those that preceded it.
Within his own time, the answer is luminous. He was the best because he beat all of his contemporaries, every one that mattered. Something which places him in rarified company in and of itself.
Of greater sadness than the realisation we will not see him box again, and I believe Ward is assured and stubborn enough to resist the clamour to return over the next few years. are the periods of selective inactivity which followed his Super Six dominance and knockout of Chad Dawson. A contractual dispute with promoter Dan Goosen, which ended in court and defeat, led to long lay offs at the peak of his powers and lost momentum in the quest to become the pay per view star Ward felt his talent and dominance deserved.
His style was not always fan-friendly, but only the most blood thirsty could fail to appreciate his ability to box on the front and back foot, blistering hand speed, combination punching or his surprising strength and mastery of the less salubrious art of inside fighting too. The later facets neutralise opponents and yet remain invisible from the back of the hall or to eyes steeped in beer. His contemporaries knew better. They knew his unbeaten record, his unmarked features didn’t reflect the spitefulness of his punches and the ruggedness of his inside game.
Ward was a fighter. You just couldn’t always see within the shadows of the clinch just how effective he was but the blurring, hurtful combinations from distance certainly were. Primarily, it was the inactivity at key moments and a persona which was true to himself but not conducive to selling pay-per-view cards that failed to position him as a fan favourite. In fact, such was the detail of his contract with Jay-Z’s Roc-Nation that his purse guarantee left no obligation to promote his own fights. And so, very often, he didn’t.
Bernard Hopkins saw him as a kindred spirit; methodical, dedicated and eternally professional. Carl Froch would comment, following 12 bruising rounds with him at the culmination of the Super Six tournament, that he couldn’t lay a glove on him. Which doesn’t quite tell the story of their fight but it is testimony to his ability that Froch, a proud boxing gladiator, would concede so.
He was cute, economic and precise with his punches. Possessor of a good chin, as far as it was ever tested, and the sum of these parts can only lead any observer to conclude Ward would have been a difficult night for any fighter from Middleweight to Light Heavyweight, whether from the 1950s or 1990s. He may well have beaten plenty of them too.
The sadness, for such an essentially decent person is, nine times out of ten, the other guy would have been the house fighter. The attraction.
Perhaps Ward’s greatest gift to the sport can be in the nature of his departure; one fight too early, instead of one fight too late, and the example it could provide for those he leaves behind. As a soon to be 37-year-old Miguel Cotto seeks one more crescendo to his own decorated career, and fighters like David Haye search for pay days and Roy Jones Jnr. for something deeper and entirely unresolved, it is good to see a fighter walk away before the physical slide Ward suggests has already begun, is evident outside the closed doors of the gym and with a hungry young opponent in front of him.
Ward knew there were many more millions to be made if he stayed active, despite the absence of a natural next opponent. However, as a devoted family man with more humble tastes than those of the recently departed Floyd Mayweather, to name but one, perhaps knowing when you have enough, as well as when you have HAD enough, is the greatest insight of all.
Because, as Lennox Lewis once said, when he declined the Vitaly Klitschko rematch and opted to retire, and I paraphrase, “there will always be another challenger, there will always be another one.”