In a boxing landscape deprived of recognizable stars, Andre Ward may be one of the last great hopes.
As he prepares to defend his WBA, WBC and Ring Magazine super middleweight titles against Chad Dawson on Saturday night, boxing needs Ward to retain those titles and improve his undefeated record to 26-0.
Though Ward comes in as a heavy favorite, Saturday night should mark one of the best fights of 2012, as both men look to prove themselves to the world.
Just don't expect it to garner much attention outside the boxing community. Frustratingly, albeit understandable, neither Ward nor Dawson box with the particular penchant for the big punch or give the quotable sound bites that many desire.
Instead, they are skilled craftsmen, fixtures on multiple pound-for-pound lists and among the smartest fighters in the world.
It's the type of fight that will captivate the hardcore boxing audience and put the rest of America to sleep before Round 3.
That is why it's so crucial that Ward wins.
Over the past few years, the mainstream world has been captivated by the thought of a seemingly fictional fight between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao.
The reason for that goes beyond their individual skills in the ring. Both men are abundantly skilled, but it's how they mix together in the ring that is truly intriguing.
What Mayweather lacks in spectacular power, Pacquiao makes up for as one of the most powerful punchers in boxing history. While Pacquiao is one of the most reclusive stars in sports, Mayweather basks in the spotlight and revels in the 24/7 news media.
Put the strengths of these two together and you get quite possibly the most famous athlete in the world. Throw them on opposite sides of the ring and you get the ultimate clashing of styles—defense versus offense, flair versus precision.
Until that fight happens, it's simply a figment of the boxing world's imagination. The great white hope that sucks the world in and then never comes.
On the other hand, Ward taking the Dawson fight proves he's unafraid of taking on top challengers. For the mainstream, he has one important factor on his side: an undefeated record.
To say boxing needs Ward to win because the word undefeated makes headlines is too simplistic.
Boxing needs Ward to win, so he can find his own Pacquiao—a man that brings the power and flair for the spectacular to provide his perfect contrast.
Dawson will be the toughest fight of Ward's life, but the fight will essentially be the equivalent of playing a video game when both players pick the same team.
It will be technical, sound and fun to watch, but it will barely survive the cut on SportsCenter.
A win keeps Ward undefeated and the hope alive for a superfight that will actually happen.
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