Ward shows flashes of Sugar Ray Leonard

Kevin Iole
Yahoo! Sports

You can follow Kevin Iole on Twitter at @KevinI

In a year or so, when Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao have retired for good, when the Super Six World Boxing Classic is history, when the boxing world is craving another superstar, Andre Ward will be sitting atop the pound-for-pound rankings, looking unbeatable, and people are going to scratch their heads and ask themselves, "How in the heck did this easy-going, soft-spoken guy get here?"

Ward has always been a kind of an under-the-radar guy. He earned perhaps the most low-profile boxing gold medal in U.S. history when he won the light heavyweight division in 2004 in Athens.

Oscar De La Hoya became a national icon for capturing gold in 1992. David Reid won a world title in just his 10th professional bout after winning gold in Atlanta in 1996. Ward, however, has been known as much for his faith and his congenial nature as he is for his boxing prowess. His nickname is not the typical boxing moniker. It's S.O.G., which is short for Son of God.

But sometime next year, when Ward is clearly, decisively, the top dog in boxing, his fight with Allan Green may be viewed as a turning point in his career.

Ward will meet the power-punching Green in the final bout of the super middleweight tournament's Group Stage II on Saturday at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif., in a card televised live on Showtime.

Green is 29-1 with 20 knockouts and a reputation as a ferocious puncher. He's the pit bull of the division – an angry, ornery guy with a bite bigger than his very loud bark.

Ward, who is 21-0 with 13 knockouts and holds the World Boxing Association belt, has a reputation as a pretty boy coming into the fight.

"For some reason," Ward said placidly, "I live like a lamb before my fights."

He won't leave with a reputation as a pretty boy, however, if his brazen pre-fight words are any indicator. If Green wants a fight, he's going to get one from Ward.

"If he [Green] has a chip on his shoulder, then that makes two of us," Ward said. "I've been away from my family for a long time. I'm a bit irritable. He's desperate to win, but I want to keep my title. I don't know if it's now or if it's later, but I know eventually I'm going to get respect for the dog that's in me and for the bite down that I have.

"It's about going out there and taking care of my business. I expect him to have a chip on his shoulder because I definitely have one on mine. It's just go time. At some point, the talking just stops and it's about just showing up. If Allan Green beats me, I'll take my hat off to him. I don't make excuses. And I expect the same from him if I beat him. What I'm prepared for is a dog fight. I'm prepared for anything he's got."

Ward's trainer, Virgil Hunter, said Green's incessant trash talk will come back to haunt him after he sees that Ward is more than the polite, soft-spoken young man he is at most public appearances.

Ward hasn't had to show his gnarly side because he's been so much more gifted than everyone he's fought. But if Green can push him, he'll be surprised by what he finds, Hunter insisted.

"This is the first time he's going to find out how violent Andre really is," Hunter said. "Everything we do, we do with speed. If he stays where he is in the speed zone, he's going to get chewed up. We are going to find out who has the dynamite in the fists."

One of the reasons that Sugar Ray Leonard, a gold medal winner in Montreal 28 years before Ward, was such a beloved figure was that beneath the glitz and glamour, he was a hard-nosed, scrappy fighter.

When Leonard was faced with a fight – one in which he couldn't win by dancing around his opponent and utilizing his speed and quickness – he got down into the trenches and he fought.

Ward has shown many of those similar traits, albeit in small bursts. Most of the time, he has overwhelmed his outclassed opponents and, as he calls it, the dog in him has barely been noticed.

But when the competition level has increased, he hasn't just beaten guys like Edison Miranda and Mikkel Kessler – he's dominated them.

If he gets into the trenches and dominates a legitimate tough guy like Green on national television, it's going to be a major step in his development as a fighter and in the public's appreciation of his myriad talents.

He's an even-keel guy and isn't one to unduly bring attention upon himself, but expect him to gain that attention by his performance against Green.

"To quote John Wooden, I don't let the praises of the people, or the criticism, get to me because it's a weakness to get caught up in either one," Ward said. "I appreciate the praises of the people. I honor that, I thank them for that. And those people who have a lot of negative things to say about me – even my opponent, his coach, his team – that's fine.

"I'm locked in on what I have to do. Fight in and fight out. I've sacrificed a lot for this moment. I've sacrificed my wife, my kids, and they've sacrificed a lot, too. &hellip' I don't think people realize what's inside of me and what kind of focus I have."

Perhaps not.

But after his fight with Green, a lot more people are going to recognize Ward's immense talent.

And a year – maybe 18 months – from now, when Ward is widely acclaimed as the best fighter in the world, just remember where you heard it first.

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