After pound-for-pound king Andre Ward stopped light heavyweight rival Sergey Kovalev last Saturday night, HBO’s Max Kellerman asked him “What’s next?” Ward immediately teased a potential move to cruiserweight or heavyweight.
That Ward would be considering a move up makes sense. There is little left for him to prove at 175 pounds. The division contains a lot of exciting fighters, but none have the fearsome swagger of Kovalev, and Ward just cut Kovalev down to size.
There is some logic to a matchup with Adonis Stevenson. Stevenson, after all, is still the true champion at light heavyweight. He earned that distinction when he knocked out Chad Dawson in 2013. But Stevenson has been avoiding Kovalev ever since. When Ward moved to light heavyweight from super middleweight, he ignored Stevenson and the lineal crown and went after the fight that everybody knew mattered: Kovalev.
And if you want to get really old school, Ward won the light heavyweight crown when he stopped Dawson in 2012. It’s true Dawson had come down to face him at 168 pounds. But in the old days, anything above 160 was light heavyweight.
Winning major fights at 200 pounds or above would seriously burnish Ward’s all-time, pound-for-pound legacy. Whether or not it is realistic is another matter.
Other all-time greats from light heavyweight have moved up and captured glory at heavyweight. Michael Spinks won the heavyweight championship when he defeated an aging Larry Holmes by controversial decision. Former light heavyweight Ezzard Charles captured the vacant heavyweight championship after Joe Louis retired. Gene Tunney moved up from light heavyweight to defeat the ferocious Jack Dempsey.
But those were different eras and different conditions. Charles competed in an era of notably small heavyweights–his great rival Joe Walcott was barely 200 pounds. Rocky Marciano, the greatest heavyweight of his era, was only about 185 pounds. The other top heavyweight contender of Charles’ era was Archie Moore, another light heavyweight.
Tunney beat Dempsey, who was only a bit over 190 pounds. Dempsey had crushed the gigantic Jess Willard to capture the crown, but by the time he faced Tunney he had been inactive for three years.
Spinks was destroyed in 91 seconds by Mike Tyson, the only prime heavyweight great he faced. That unfortunate defeat has eclipsed Spinks’ brilliant career at light heavyweight in the memories of most fans.
Ward is fighting in an era when the best heavyweights–men like Anthony Joshua, Luis Ortiz, Joseph Parker and Deontay Wilder all stand 6’4″ or taller and carry 50 pounds, or much more, than the light heavyweight limit.
I’m not saying it would be impossible. I can picture Ward boxing circles around any of those men, at least for a period of time. But to do it for 12 rounds, without getting caught by a single knockout punch, that would be an entirely different matter.