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Boxing champion Andre Ward isn't a knockout with fans

Ward is unbeaten and on Saturday he looks to move closer to unifying the super-middleweight title. But he remains largely anonymous because his style emphasizes speed and accuracy over all-out action.

May 12, 2011|By Lance Pugmire
  • WBC super-middleweight champion Andre Ward at a news conference in Burbank to promote his fight against Arthur Abraham on Saturday night at Home Depot Center.
WBC super-middleweight champion Andre Ward at a news conference in Burbank… (Kevork Djansezian / Bongarts…)

Andre Ward is the last American gold medalist active in boxing, unbeaten as a professional and on Saturday he hopes to move one significant step closer to unifying the super-middleweight title in a bout at the Home Depot Center.

Yet, Ward remains an anonymous figure even to casual sports fans, who in recent years have swarmed to the intense style of mixed martial arts fighting and whose attention to boxing begins and ends with pure action fighter Manny Pacquiao.

"I give it all I have, but boxing is at a point right now where if it's not all blood and guts, or if it's not a war, it's not a good fight," the 27-year-old Ward said. "But look at Sugar Ray Leonard-Roberto Duran II. Sugar Ray just fought his fight so masterfully without a knockout he made Duran quit. If we can get back to appreciating that, and not just the rock 'em, sock 'em fights, that would attract fans."

Ward, the World Boxing Assn. super-middleweight champion, is 23-0 with 13 knockouts, though four of his last six bouts have gone the distance.

His most prominent victory was a display of speed and accuracy in November 2009, when he claimed the WBA belt from Denmark's Mikkel Kessler in the opener of Showtime's "Super Six" tournament to unify the super-middleweight title. Ward stopped Kessler in the 11th round because of a cut.

The "Super Six" tourney used a points system in the opening rounds to determine which fighters reached the semifinals. From now, it's win or go home.

Ward fights in the semifinals Saturday against Germany's 31-year-old Arthur Abraham, who opened the "Super Six" with a knockout — his 26th in 34 fights — of former middleweight champion Jermain Taylor. Abraham later lost to Andre Dirrell and Carl Froch in "Super Six" preliminary bouts.

On June 4, Froch fights Glen Johnson in the other semifinal, in Atlantic City, N.J.

"The public hasn't taken to Ward because his fighting style is not so attractive," said Abraham's manager, Wilfred Sauerland.

Ward, the 2004 Olympic gold medalist, clearly admires fighters whose speed and defense keeps them out of harm's way.

"Salvador Sanchez ['80s featherweight champ] would move a whole round and not throw a punch, and he's considered one of the greatest ever," said Ward, who also admires Bernard Hopkins and unbeaten Floyd Mayweather Jr. "I wasn't taught to get the 'Best Bout' trophy, but I'll take 'Fighter of the Night.' "

Ward's promoter, Dan Goossen, maintains fame and riches will come as long as Ward keeps winning. "Winning is the great elixir to get people to have interest and watch you," Goosen said.

Lorenzo Fertitta, chairman of mixed martial arts organization Ultimate Fighting Championship and a longtime boxing follower, said it's not MMA that is slowing the appreciation of Ward's pursuit of mastering the sweet science.

"Yes, this generation of [fans aged] 15 to 25 are not growing up with boxing because they want more action in their fights. But if [Ward] is going to compare himself with Sugar Ray Leonard – Leonard was a finisher," Fertitta said.

"Fans want to see an aggressive fighter who will finish. [Muhammad] Ali sensed if you were hurt and he'd finish you. Leonard had almost a sixth sense of when to go for the kill."

Goossen admits Ward is "still developing" that instinct. But the promoter thinks Ward is intent to embrace the moment by "turning the tables [on Abraham] and turning on his power in this fight."

"It takes time for people to respect you," Ward said. "I know I'm not all the way there yet, but these are the fights you have to take and win to be a great fighter."

lance.pugmire@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimespugmire

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