Andre Ward: Why Is He a Stud in the Ring but a Dud at the Box Office?
Andre Ward is an Olympic gold medalist. He is undefeated in his professional career. He's the reigning super-middleweight champion of the world. In fact, it can be argued that he's only lost a handful of rounds in the last several years.
So where is everybody when he fights?
There are very few fighters who can pack a house. For every Canelo Alvarez, there are dozens of Winky Wrights; guys who struggle to build a following while leaving half-full venues wherever they fight.
Few are as talented as Ward, who masterfully combines speed, precision and intelligence with the inexhaustible will to win. He's well spoken, completely refrains from bad-mouthing other fighters and he stays out of the headlines. You won't find him in trouble with the law anytime soon.
What you will find are a whole bunch of empty seats when he fights.
The problem is that Ward might be too good. You won't see him in a give-and-take war; he's too skilled and smart for that. He hasn't really been in a competitive fight despite what two judges from his bout with Carl Froch believed. He simply wins fights. Easily.
He also has the misfortune of being a jack-of-all-trades type of fighter. He is brilliant, but he doesn't quite have that wow factor. He doesn't have Floyd Mayweather's ridiculous hand and foot speed.
He doesn't possess Adonis "Pimptastic" Stevenson's home run "oh my god i think he just broke that guy's face" power.
He doesn't do this on the way to the ring either.
He's also yet to find an opponent who is a star in the U.S. Carl Froch is huge in England, but his fame hasn't followed him over the pond like Ricky Hatton's did. Their championship fight drew a very modest crowd, despite showcasing two of the better fighters in the world.
It's tough to sell a product when no one knows what you're selling.
His other issue was marketing. He fought on Showtime exclusively during the Super Six tournament. Showtime just isn't as big as HBO, although they're catching up. It didn't help matters that the tournament Ward dominated lasted longer than most of Larry King's marriages.
It appeared that Ward may have turned a corner when he destroyed Chad Dawson last September. He showed some solid pop in dropping Dawson multiple times before finishing him. Plus, the attendance for the fight was solid and it did well in the ratings for HBO.
Unfortunately, he's been on the shelf since then due to a shoulder injury suffered in camp before his proposed bout with the since-retired Kelly Pavlik.
Will the layoff kill the momentum he built by thrashing Dawson? It might, but Ward is helping himself. He's been doing an outstanding job as HBO's expert commentator. It also helps that he is getting called out by every fighter within two weight classes.
Ward has been criticized for being boring in the past, and although he's much more interesting to watch than someone like Bernard Hopkins, he doesn't exactly evoke memories of Arturo Gatti.
That's no knock on Ward's skill. He's directly behind Mayweather on the pound-for-pound list, and he's completely cleaned out his division. If he can continue to perform the way he did against Dawson, more people will take notice of his fights.
While it's hard to envision Ward ever selling out a huge arena, his numbers should improve as he racks up more wins. Perhaps it will take another dominant performance over Carl Froch, or maybe he'll have to fight Adonis Stevenson and take the power puncher to school.
Either way, Ward will never be Oscar De La Hoya. But he doesn't have to be. He's got plenty of hardcore fans who admire and respect his skill level and work ethic.
Will Andre Ward ever be an elite attraction?
At the end of the day, he's still one of the best in the world, and he's well on his way towards a Hall of Fame career.
There are worse ways to earn a living.
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