Andre Ward is arguing that he does have a fan base, and just the fact this man with his transcendent boxing ability has to discuss whether he has a fan base tells one unequivocally that he does not.
Floyd Mayweather Jr. doesn't have to talk about whether he has a fan base. Mayweather attracts more reporters to his bouts these days than many boxers attract fans to theirs.
Ward is a boxing savant, and the scary thing is, three months before his 30th birthday, he's getting better. He had surgery earlier this year to repair a torn rotator cuff, and with it healed, he can get back to throwing the 98 mph fastball again, instead of messing around with off-speed junk. He's about to become a whole lot more entertaining.
He fights for the first time since Sept. 8, 2012, the pinnacle of his professional career, when he knocked out Chad Dawson in 10 one-sided rounds. On Saturday in Ontario, Calif., Ward (26-0, 14 KOs) will defend his WBA super middleweight belt against Edwin Rodriguez in the main event of an HBO card.
Rodriguez (24-0, 16 KOs) is a very talented, determined fighter, but he's no match for Ward. Ward, even despite his lengthy layoff, will lay waste to Rodriguez. Ward is too fast, too smart and simply too good for him.
The truth is, there is nobody Ward could possibly fight who is remotely close to as gifted as he is.
Yet, Ward is returning to the ring after losing a bid in the summer to get out of his promotional contract with Dan Goossen. Ward released a statement before the arbitration in which he alleged that Goossen was harming his career.
"Goossen had various opportunities to meet with HBO, and to interact with my manager," Ward's statement read, in part. "He refused and otherwise did not respond to my team regarding these important business dealings concerning my career."
His manager, James Prince, also released a statement at the same time. In it, Prince said, "It is absolutely crazy to me that this man would stand in the way of Andre's boxing career and his next title defense ..."
Think about the last part of Prince's statement for a second: "This man would stand in the way of Andre's boxing career."
Goossen is a promoter without much of a stable. He's got heavyweight Cris Arreola, who's hanging around hoping for one more shot at the title. Other than that, he has a collection of guys who aren't ever going to grace the cover of Ring Magazine, let alone Sports Illustrated.
Ward is the one guy Goossen has who has superstar potential, and superstars generate big money. Ward is the sun, the moon and the stars for Goossen. It makes little sense to believe that Goossen would refuse to talk to anyone about Ward, because if he did, he should get out of the business. Ward is essentially all he has.
"OK, maybe he doesn't do as much [media] as a guy like Mayweather does, but the big thing is consistency of getting in the ring," Goossen said. "We had him right where we wanted him with that great performance against Dawson, then he's gone for 14 months. That hurts, trying to keep the fans interested because it's like he disappeared.
"A kid like [Gennady] Golovkin is a small example. This is a kid from Kazakhstan. He's getting some notoriety because he's fought four times on HBO this year. People see him and then they want to see more. If Andre stays healthy, it will be the same thing for him."
But even if we agree that Goossen hasn't promoted Ward as well as he should have, why is that?
Ward lost his arbitration to Goossen, and so the sides have been playing nice during this promotion. But Ward's case against Goossen ignores the single most significant reason for his failure to become a big draw in the boxing world: Andre Ward.
What we know of Ward is largely good: He's a good husband and father, a Christian, a guy who seems like the modern-day Ward Cleaver.
He answers questions thoughtfully, and he's polite and accommodating when he's made available.
That, though, is the biggest issue: His availability, or his lack thereof. Ward is arguably boxing's most inaccessible star.
One of Mayweather's trademark sayings is "Hard work, dedication," which references his effort in the gym. Mayweather's hard work and dedication extend to his promotional duties.
Particularly when he has a fight coming up, no one works harder than Mayweather. He is extraordinarily accessible, and he has something to say whenever a camera is stuck in his face.
Prior to his Sept. 14 fight with Canelo Alvarez, there was a daily procession of reporters and television cameras to Mayweather's Las Vegas gym. Day after day following a grueling workout, he'd stand and answer questions, frequently the same ones, gaining valuable exposure.
It took great effort, but it's a large part of the reason he was able to sell so many pay-per-views.
Ward apparently has no one in his employ who has come up with a marketing plan; if he does, that person has done a lousy job.
In boxing, effort counts, not only in the ring but out of it. Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao, Oscar De La Hoya, Sugar Ray Leonard and Muhammad Ali were brilliant talents who became crossover stars because they worked relentlessly to build their brands.
Guys like Roy Jones Jr. and Lennox Lewis were stars because of their immense boxing talents, but they weren't of the same magnitude as Ali, Leonard, De La Hoya, Mayweather and Pacquiao because they didn't have that same desire to market themselves and create opportunities.
Once Ward's fight is over, he goes into media hibernation, unseen except for his appearances as an HBO boxing analyst.
He needs badly to get himself in front of the media and not just for a couple of weeks before a fight.
Andre Ward is a man well worth talking to. He should be a massive star at this stage, more than nine years after winning a gold medal and two years after winning the Super Six World Boxing Classic.
That he's fighting a largely unknown opponent in a small venue far from the limelight, though, is a testament to a career managed poorly outside the ring.
Talent is important, and Ward has oodles of that. But it takes more than talent to be a mega-star, and on that point, Ward's outlook is not nearly as rosy.