COMMENTARY | The January 26 bout between Andre Ward and Kelly Pavlik, in a lot of ways, serves as a microcosm for the mixed-up star-making protocol in today's world of big time prizefighting. The contest features two fighters -- one with superstar talent and no discernible mainstream fan base, the other with more modest abilities and a fan base well above his current level of accomplishment.
In a sport ruled by shady individuals and pampered superstars who insist on hand-picked challenges, little attention is actually given to those who do it right.
Andre Ward, 28, is one of those modern stars doing it right, and he has the résumé to prove it. As winner of the Super Six World Boxing Classic, he had to beat Carl Froch, Arthur Abraham, Allan Green, and Mikkel Kessler to take the tournament win. Add Sakio Bika and, most recently, Chad Dawson, to the list of conquered foes and it's clear that boxing has something special in Ward.
Oddly, though, despite clear and decisive victories over world class opposition, the Olympic gold medalist from Oakland has found plenty of detractors since he started climbing to the top of the super middleweight division. Critics have hit him for excessive holding at times and for a penchant to bang heads and elbows on the inside.
Most detrimental to his star factor, however, has been his mild-mannered, good-guy image and absolute lack of social media-bending bluster. By all accounts, Ward is a dedicated family man and devout Christian with nary a bad word to speak of anyone.
Thirty or forty years ago, a respectful, clean-cut Olympian who does his speaking in the ring would've been the absolute prototype of a mainstream boxing star. But things have changed. Boxing has changed. Nowadays, face-first brawlers get praised as "real" fighters while those who have actually taken the time to learn the finer points of the game are labeled as boring. And, without some sort of police-defying, TMZ-attracting scandal to get them press, fighters these days typically get ignored by the mainstream media, regardless of what they can do in the ring.
This is not to say that Ward doesn't have his fans, but the attention he gets is far less than the attention he deserves- - and there's no indication that the million or so viewers who tune in to watch him fight on HBO aren't the same million or so who tune in to watch every fight.
Whatever the case, Ward's accomplishments have simply not translated into broad, crossover appeal.
And then there's Kelly Pavlik.
The one-time undisputed middleweight champ was on the fast track to stardom when injury and a tidal wave of personal demons pushed him to the side of the road. A very basic "one-two" fighter, the native of Youngstown, Ohio, fought hard and fought with heart as one of boxing's brightest upcoming stars. Even when dealing with a mixed-up head and less-than-stellar training habits, Pavlik still managed to perform solidly, not going down without a fight or without putting on a show.
Outside the ring, Pavlik's drinking and partying made minor headlines and eventually led to him leaving his hometown and his long-time crew for California and 2011 Trainer of the Year, Robert Garcia.
Now competing at the super middleweight limit, the 30-year-old Pavlik has spent 2012 in slow motion, scoring three so-so wins over journeyman-level opposition. So weak has been his recent opposition that he has almost been transformed into a journeyman-by-association. If Pavlik is still a viable world class entity, his team has been slow to acknowledge that fact and reluctant to test it.
On paper, Ward-Pavlik makes as much sense as any other time-buying super middleweight schedule-filler out there. Pavlik still has enough street cred and marketability to justify a shot at the division's top spot and Ward could've done a lot worse when choosing an optional defense in a division he has already conquered.
If all goes according to plan, nothing will really change. A victorious Ward will stay on his path to all-time great status at super middleweight while struggling to generate a level of stardom befitting his ability. Pavlik will go back to titillating the masses with undercard battles against journeymen and occasional brushes with the law.
Over the years, boxing has turned itself into a niche sport by hiding all of its big fights away on premium cable and pay per view. Now, it can't even make a star out of a guy like Ward, who by all logic, should be the sport's next big thing.
Like it or not, things have changed in boxing. In the star-making process of today, talent and skill are less important than bluster and drama. As such, even in defeat, Pavlik has greater long-term star potential than Ward.
It's possible that Ward might win his way to stardom and convert his critics, but don't count on it. Bernard Hopkins, who has done everything and accomplished far more than most, is still chasing real stardom at the age of 47.
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 The Boxing Tribune. In the past, Paul has done work for Inside Fights, The Queensberry Rules and Eastside Boxing.
Ernest Gabion, Ward-Pavlik, Arreola-Stiverne Double at Galen Center, Boxingscene
- Sports & Recreation
- Kelly Pavlik
- Andre Ward