Ward's Super chance at breakthrough

Kevin Iole
Yahoo! Sports

I would imagine it's a problem fighting Andre Ward. He's such a nice guy, you want to hug him rather than punch him in the nose.

He's polite to a fault, he smiles easily and he's never got a bad word to say about anyone.

He's fought mostly a collection of boxing's misfits in his first 20 professional bouts, all of which he won, but to hear him speak of each man, you'd think he'd faced Robinson, Hagler and Monzon.

He doesn't snarl. He doesn't seem intimidating. He thanks you for taking the time to speak with him and he looks about as much of a threat to do you harm as does a 12-week-old Golden Retriever.

Even when he's in the ring, as he glides gracefully across the canvas, flicking out his punches, he doesn't seem dangerous.

Walk down the steps after spending 12 rounds – or less – inside of a boxing ring with him and it will be a different story, however.

"People are often surprised when they fight me," said Ward, who will meet Mikkel Kessler Saturday at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif., in an opening-round match in Showtime's "Super 6" super middleweight tournament. "You see one thing and get in the ring and see something different. (Edison) Miranda told me in the locker room after the fight that he thought I would be a lot easier than I was. I've heard that a lot during my career, even going back to the amateurs.

"I have no idea what it is about my style, but they would hear I was the No. 1 guy and see me fight and say 'That's Ward?' We do it in such a way that it looks easy until they get in the ring with me."

It speaks to the struggles boxing has had in the early part of the 21st century that Ward isn't a star at this stage. He's still relatively anonymous despite his brilliant pro start and his 2004 Olympic gold medal.

If he were born 25 years earlier, he'd already have been on the cover of cereal boxes and would be a household name.

As it is, he came in fifth out of the six men in the field in an online poll in which boxing fans were asked to pick who would win the Super 6. That he finished so low in the voting isn't because voters were down on his talent; it's simply that they don't know who he is.

On Saturday, though, things will change. Kessler was chosen the prefight favorite, but once Ward dismantles him, the landscape will change dramatically.

It's hard to blame Kessler for being so confident. The Dane is 42-1 with 30 knockouts and was only beaten by the great Joe Calzaghe. He's held a world championship for a little more than six years, or about 25 percent of the time that Ward has been alive.

Ward, though, is at a similar stage in his career that Floyd Mayweather Jr. was at in 1998. Mayweather was barely two years out of the Olympics then and was preparing to challenge Genaro Hernandez for the World Boxing Council super featherweight title.

While it was easy for most observers to see Mayweather's skills, at the time he was perceived to be too green, and not nearly ready, for a savvy veteran like Hernandez, who was regarded widely as one of boxing's elite champions. Hernandez only had one loss in 39 pro fights entering that bout and it came at lightweight against Oscar De La Hoya. As a super featherweight, he was the most dominant man on the planet.

Mayweather was only 21, but he so thoroughly thrashed Hernandez that night that Hernandez retired and never fought again.

Ward may not dominate Kessler in the same way on Saturday, but he's ready to emerge on the big stage. Just because he's not widely known doesn't necessarily mean he's not that good. The 19th century English writer Sir Henry Taylor once said, "The world knows nothing of its greatest men."

The world may know nothing of Ward from a boxing standpoint at this stage, but it will know plenty of him after Saturday.

Ward is lightning fast with sneaky power. Perhaps what makes him so dangerous, however, is his intelligence in the ring. He knows how to maneuver his opponents and walk them into shots and take them out of their game plan.

Ward calls boxing a thinking man's game. He's clearly able to think his way through a bout to take advantage of his physical skills.

He's not a one-punch knockout artist, but his punches are so fast and come from so many angles, it's hard for opponents to defend against. Vanquished opponents invariably say he's got surprisingly hard punches.

"He's a great young fighter," Kessler said. "He reminds me a lot of myself when I was his age. I won my first world title at 24, but I'm more experienced in a lot of different ways. I can see that he is hungry, has good speed and good technique. He's a good fighter."

Fighting in front of an adoring home crowd on Saturday will be Ward's introduction to the boxing world at large.

Get to know him.

This kid is good.

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