COMMENTARY | Life would be so much easier for Andre Ward if he were Eastern European.
Ward, an Olympic gold medalist and undisputed top dog at super middleweight, is rapidly falling out of favor with a fan base that insists on fighters actually fighting.
Few could reasonably criticize Ward's rise to glory as an underdog in the Super Six super middleweight tournament who joined the elite of the sport with decisive victories over the likes of Carl Froch and Mikkel Kessler. But in the 21 months since his tournament victory, Ward has only fought once and, now, even his greatest fans are growing restless.
Proposed opponent Kelly Pavlik's decision to retire and a legitimate shoulder injury are partially to blame for Ward's inactivity. Also to blame is a rapidly thinning super middleweight division combined with stepped-up matchmaking quality control for top fighters signed to American network deals.
Not too long ago it was reported that HBO, the premium cable channel with exclusive rights to broadcast Ward's bouts, had rejected former WBA 168-pound titlist, Dimitri Sartison as a possible opponent for Ward. And, yeah, HBO made the right decision. Sartison, from Kazakhstan by way of Germany, is a solid fighter, but not someone who should be matched in a main stage, elite-level title bout.
Sartison, however, has already been given the big fight Euro seal of approval on several occasions. Most notably, when he was offered up as a human sacrifice to Mikkel Kessler in Denmark, 2008 for the vacant WBA title. He has since had three more main-stage world-title fights.
If Andre Ward hailed from Berlin and not Oakland and fought on RTL instead of HBO, this would be a non-issue. He would be facing Sartison or whomever his team wanted. An arena would be packed. Money would be raked in. Everybody would be quiet about this "proper matchmaking" silliness.
But this isn't just about Ward and Sartison.
Across the board, even as Europe becomes a greater force in the world of boxing, their champions seem to be held to a lower standard than their U.S. counterparts.
-- Nathan Cleverly, six fights into his WBO light heavyweight title reign, will be facing his first legitimate top 10 light heavyweight this Saturday when he meets Sergey Kovalev.
-- Gennady Golovkin, who is a genuinely talented fighter, earned his WBA middleweight title with wins over journeymen and no-hopers. His recently improved level of opposition has come along with a recently-signed HBO contract.
-- Arthur Abraham, Felix Sturm, Dmitry Pirog, Vyacheslav Senchenko, Zaurbek Baysangurov, Jan Zaveck, Zsolt Erdei were all recent world champions who feasted on ridiculously low levels of opposition for extended periods of time.
-- Robert Stieglitz's 1-1 record against Arthur Abraham is the only real highlight on a rather mundane career record. The current and now two-time WBO super middleweight champ has been under no apparent pressure to fight top super middleweights.
-- Even undisputed heavyweight champ Wladimir Klitschko, a true champ in every sense of the word, has been allowed way too many soft touches for a fighter at his level. Most recently, Klitschko beat up a completely hapless Francesco Pianeta in an embarrassing main-stage mismatch.
For every Carl Froch, who actually pursues big fights and worthy challenges, there are many, many more Euro-pugs who, upon winning a title, are content to play the system and fight the mysteriously high-ranked no-hope challengers that seem to pop up out of nowhere. And, for some reason, the boxing media and fans never really call them on their game.
Say what you will about the American fight scene at the moment, but Klitschko-Pianeta would never see the HBO or Showtime green light in the States. And, similarly, Ward-Sartison will also never see a green light. This is the type of quality control that needs to start happening in Europe to go along with the sport's growth over the last several years. A packed arena and glitzy TV production shouldn't overshadow the importance of actual competition in the ring.
This is not a pro-America, anti-Europe thing. All fighters on some level can be accused of wanting to pursue the lowest risk for the most money. Team Ward wanting a time-filler gimme against Sartison shouldn't come as such a shocker.
And, by no means, is this an article calling for American fighters to be allowed more soft touches. The last thing we need is more one-sided "world" title bouts.
However, this is an acknowledgment that American and European fighters, to a great degree, are playing by two different sets of rules. For the most part, Euro-based champions are not bound to the same level of quality control as their U.S.-based colleagues. The European elite can take a breather (or several breathers) while the American elite are under the constant pressure that every fight must be competitively justifiable to the networks and/or the PPV-buying public.
The deck is stacked against American fighters these days. The money is no longer overwhelmingly on this side of the ocean, and that means that European fighters and promoters are able to call more of the shots than ever before.
If this is good or bad for boxing depends on whether actual competitive bouts get made with the same regularity--- and the jury is still out on that question.
But American fighters like Andre Ward, who do have a legitimate problem in finding world-class competition at the moment, are working at a distinct disadvantage. Under current terms and conditions, the choice seems to be either to scrap their contracts and fight overseas or simply accept long layoffs with the understanding that the fights their networks will approve just can't be made.
In the meantime, fans and media should ditch the double standard of crucifying one fighter for campaigning for a soft touch while completely overlooking so many other fighters who shamelessly continue to mock the concept of fair play in world title competition. A mismatch is a mismatch, no matter where it happens.
Paul Magno was a licensed official in the state of Michoacan, Mexico and a close follower of the sport for more than thirty years. His work can also be found on Fox Sports and as Editor-in-Chief of The Boxing Tribune. In the past, Paul has done work for Inside Fights, The Queensberry Rules and Eastside Boxing. For breaking news, additional analysis, and assorted crazy commentary, follow him on Facebook, @TheBoxingTribune or on Twitter, @BoxingBTBC.Source: Fightnews
- Sports & Recreation
- Andre Ward
- Dimitri Sartison
- Mikkel Kessler
- super middleweight