COMMENTARY | Andre Ward may have to face the fact that he's likely too good for his own good at this point. The WBC and WBA world super middleweight champ and winner of the Super Six World Boxing Classic tournament fought his way from relative obscurity in 2009 to his current status as the undisputed best 168 lb. fighter in the world.
In the three years from his main stage debut to right now, Ward can't be criticized for taking any shortcuts to the top. Decisive victories over Mikkel Kessler, Allan Green, Sakio Bika, Arthur Abraham, Carl Froch, and Chad Dawson have taken the 2004 Olympic gold medalist from contender to pound-for-pound star.
Unfortunately for Ward, the big fights have all been fought, the other division elite have been pushed aside. Now, the only big fights remaining at super middleweight involve a return to old opponents and familiar ground. There isn't a single star among his new batch of contenders and no big fights on the horizon for the 28-year-old Oakland, California native.
Ward is scheduled to face Kelly Pavlik in February and that is good enough for the time being. Pavlik is a fighter with a big name and enough of a reputation left over from his days as consensus middleweight champ. Competitively, he isn't likely to come close to scoring the upset, but even a diminished Pavlik is an honest, earnest competitor who should put up a solid effort.
Similar to the Chad Dawson bout, a Pavlik clash is a time-filler. It's divisional busy work against a "name" fighter moonlighting in a division outside of his own ideal weight class. Nobody will complain because Pavlik, like Dawson, is big enough to draw the interest of the casual fan and the match-up is good enough to get a green light from a premium cable channel.
But after February, there are no more Pavliks or Dawsons around. It'll be famine or leftover, re-heated feast. Despite his obvious ability and well-earned reputation, Ward is not yet a big enough draw to sell a fight on his own.
The biggest money-makers for Ward would be rematches with Froch and Kessler, most likely on the losers' home turf. And those would depend on a willingness to fight Ward again-- something that both Froch and Kessler claim to have, but something their management probably doesn't.
"I don't think either one of them wants to fight me," Ward told ESPN UK. "I think they should stop misleading the fans and be honest. Neither [Eddie] Hearn [Froch's manager] or Sauerland [Kessler's promoters] have made us an offer to fight here in the States, or anywhere else in the world."
In terms of business, a rematch with Ward makes little sense for either European talent. Both fighters have found their way to world titles once again and both do big business fighting at home against lesser opposition. Competitive pride and drive to avenge a loss are the only reasons for either to even consider the American. In the grand scheme of things, though, it makes infinitely more sense for Kessler and Froch to not face Ward again.
Ward will have to soon face the reality that, with other world titles floating around and plenty of money to be made far away from his Bay Area base, none of the division's best will necessarily be beating down his door for a shot. Even a move up to light heavyweight would only provide his career a brief bump before likely falling into the same abyss he now faces at super middleweight.
So, the division's best fighter will have to take what he can get, fight who he can fight, and keep working on his own marketability among casual fans.
In boxing, talent is no guarantee of stardom and accomplishment doesn't necessarily lead to TV ratings or sold out arenas.
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.