In facing power-punching super middleweight Edison“Pantera” Miranda this Saturday, Oakland’s Andre Ward is taking what many perceive to be a serious step-up in competition in a career that has been marked by a distinctly cautious and measured approach.
Ward, a 2004 Olympic Gold Medalist, struggled early on in his professional campaign, getting rocked by fighters like Kenny Kost and Darnell Boone—opponents generally regarded as tough but very limited. In other words, well within the abilities of a pedigreed prospect who was expected to ascend to the elite level sooner rather than later.
That ascent, as it turned out, would be much slower than anyone could have anticipated when he returned from Athens with the gold medal in the light heavyweight (81 kg) tournament.
Since those early struggles, Ward has been moved with great care by his handlers.
To date the biggest win on his ledger is probably his eighth round stoppage of fellow Olympian Jerson Ravelo, which was broadcast on Showtime in June of 2008, nearly four years after his professional debut. To be sure, his next opponent is no toothless tiger lacking in big fight experience.
Miranda was once the most celebrated prospect in the middleweight division, a thrilling knockout artist from Columbia who seemed to be on a collision course with then champion Jermain Taylor.
He had crushed longtime contender Howard Eastman in seven rounds, and his only loss was a decision to IBF titleholder Arthur Abraham in a fight that took place in Germany (Abraham’s jaw was broken early in the fight).
He seemed to be on the rise yet again when he was humbled by another rising prospect, current middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik, who dominated him en route to a seventh round TKO.
Since the Pavlik loss, the momentum on the Miranda Express seems to have slowed considerably. He was KO’d emphatically in a rematch with Abraham, this time at the 168 pound limit, and speculation around boxing seems to be that he has gone about as high as he is capable of climbing.
Nobody doubts the crushing power in Miranda’s fists. The sight of former “Contender” contestant David Banks dangling limply over the middle rope courtesy of a single short right cross remains one of the most dazzling images in the history of ESPN2’s Friday Night Fights.
But people are starting to view Miranda as more of a gate-keeper than a bona fide contender these days, good enough to beat some pretty good opposition, but coming up short against the elite fighters in the division.
Don’t mistake the almost 3-1 odds in favor of Ward as a sign of complete confidence in his abilities, however. There is still a lingering sense of doubt surrounding Andre based mostly on his less-than-spectacular level of competition thus far.
As Ward has been maneuvered through the early stages of his development, it has become clear that he is not a stand-in-the-pocket type of boxer, and needs to really work to establish a comfortable distance. Fortunately, he has the tools to do this, with very fast hands, a good straight, accurate jab, and better than average footwork as his main weapons.
Although its tempting to cast Miranda as a one-dimensional slugger, his wins over Eastman and enigmatic super-middleweight contender Allan Green suggest that he has the guile to set up his opponents for that sledgehammer right hand, rather than wading in recklessly and throwing haymakers.
The mere threat of Miranda’s bombs in the early going may be enough to prompt Ward to make mistakes—and you can bet that Edison is certainly counting on this. Even though Miranda has been stopped convincingly on two separate occasions, it is still anyone’s guess as to who takes a better punch.
Still, it has been said that speed kills in boxing, and this will be Ward’s chief advantage on fight night. I expect Ward to work behind the jab, staying on his toes and waiting patiently for the opportunity to follow up with two and three punch combinations. That opportunity should come later on in the fight, probably after the sixth round, as Miranda tires and begins to leave bigger and bigger openings in between his wide shots.
On the other hand, as Pavlik pointed out after his victory, Miranda is most effective when he is allowed to come forward with impunity. It won’t be enough for Andre to just stick-and-move his way to a decision. Ward will need to find a way to keep Miranda on his heels without exposing himself enough that he gets caught with that one fight-altering blast.
It is this synthesis of abilities, consistently moving a dangerous opponent backwards while simultaneously staying out of harm’s way, that is the essence of an elite boxer, a label that has so far remained elusive for Ward.
Despite this, I feel that he has found the right opponent at the right time to make that leap, and that this will be the night for Andre Ward to finally catapult himself into the spotlight by scoring a late stoppage, most likely inside of 10 rounds.