In 2009, the Showtime network launched their “super six, super middleweight tournament.” This remains one of the great promotional moves of the past decade. In a boxing universe where alphabet-soup madness and competing claims perpetually muddy the title picture in most weight classes, the super six created a format where champions were forced to face each other.
Andre Ward was undefeated and an Olympic gold medalist when the tournament began, but few viewed him as the favorite. His best professional win had been a drubbing of Edison Miranda, a tough, but limited, contender. The rest of the field featured such stars as reigning WBA champion Mikkel Kessler, who had lost only to the great Joe Calzaghe. Undefeated WBC champion Carl Froch was an entrant, as were former middleweight champions Arthur Abraham, who had yet to lose as a professional, and Jermain Taylor, the man who beat Bernard Hopkins.
But by 2011, Ward was the last man standing and the uncontested king of the super middleweight division. He not only remained undefeated in the tournament, he won each bout with ease, handling Kessler, Abraham and Froch, while also beating rugged contenders Sakio Bika and Allan Green during the same stretch. He emerged from the tournament as the WBA, WBC and lineal titles. Within 18 months of the tournament concluding, Froch had claimed the IBF belt by smashing Lucian Bute and Abraham had lifted the WBO title from Robert Stieglitz.
So there was no question at all about whether or not Ward was the greatest 168-pound fighter in the world.
His reputation was further gilded, and his pound-for-pound status solidified, in September 2012, when he stopped lineal light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson in 10 rounds. In hindsight, it’s possible to claim Dawson was drained for that bout, as he had agreed to make it at 168. But it should be remembered that Dawson had offered that weight and had fought there early in his career. I also interviewed Dawson shortly before that fight, when he claimed that the cut was going very well.
The win made Ward the obvious top dog between middleweight and cruiser. It propelled him to at, or near, the top of most pound-for-pound lists.
Ward has been woefully inactive since then, fighting just twice. This weekend, he faces a hungry, talented puncher in Sullivan Barrera. It’s hard not to wonder if he’ll show signs of ring rust.
But for fans who remember him from 2009 to 2012, it’s also hard to imagine that at just 32, Andre Ward could be anything other than great.