For a long while Andre Ward’s been a Ford pickup guy, living a life of a man driving his truck to work in the pre-dawn light, staying late, keeping it humble. Ward still drives a Ford pickup and grinds it, but there’s another car in his garage — a Porsche Panamera – which reflects another side of the man who’s months from turning thirty.
On November 16th, four years after dominating Mikkel Kessler and winning the WBA super-middleweight title, Ward (26-0, 14 KOs), who drove his truck to that fight in Oakland when titles and German cars were hopes and dreams, faces Edwin Rodriguez (24-0, 16 KOs) on HBO at Citizens Business Bank Arena, in Ontario, Calif.
“A lot’s happened in those four years,” Ward said to FightNews. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m blessed, grateful and fortunate, but it’s been a lot of hard work in the gym; injuries; a major shoulder injury that’s kept me out for over a year; new challenges like broadcasting, which I love; and trying to grow and learn as a man with a wife and a family. You always want to get smarter and learn.”
One thing hasn’t changed and won’t: Staying fit between camps, however much time passes between them, max effort in camps and a professional approach.
The fighter kept it simple with talking about the upcoming fight. “Rodriguez is to be respected, we’ve studied him, we have no time for an opponent’s chatter and we’ll be ready.”
The fast, shiny car; looking impeccable while working as a ringside commentator on HBO, which he started doing earlier this year; endorsement deals; and working to get his ring attire just right are part of his evolution – while being himself.
“I’m never going to be somebody else,” said the 29-year old San Francisco native, who said loudly and with a smile that he still has a few months left of being in his 20s. “I’m learning about all kinds of things and learning about myself, and I feel more like an adult than a young man, but I’m still me. The fans won’t buy it if it’s not authentic.”
While he’s long talked about being financially responsible, Ward said getting the Porsche Panamera, that starts at $76,825, wasn’t him being silly.
“You have to enjoy life,” he said, quickly adding, “But I am always cognizant of life after boxing. I’m still earning, I’m still working and I’m still saving. I’m not trying to enjoy myself too much.”
Ward also has a major deal with Nike’s Jordan brand. While visiting the Nike headquarters, he has learned more about apparel design and the business processes, which has helped to refine his look.
“I have my own style, which I’d say is clean, sharp, pretty low-key, and it’s been amazing to work with the Jordan people to learn more about clothes, shoes and the business side,” he detailed. “I want to look good in a way that reflects who I am. People say when you look good you feel good and they’re right.”
On a day when Apple talked of its new iPad Air, Ward sat some 20 miles east of where the company introduced its latest devices and lit up when he talked about another Air-based concept: Air Ward shoes.
Ward loves shoes.
Like some musicians dream of being on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, Ward is among the athletes who hunger for having their own model of footwear.
“They’ve made boxing shoes for me, but it’s not my own shoe, from scratch,” he said. “My dream, my desire is to have my own boxing shoe from scratch. To have my own boxing shoe would be unbelievable. There are a lot of things you want to accomplish in the sport and that’s a big one. It’s something I’m pushing for and they’re trying to make it happen.”
Preparing for the showdown with Rodriguez has included getting the ring attire prepared, plus a little surprise.
“I was going to wear a touch of snakeskin on my trunks, but when I got together with the Jordan team, they said we can’t do that because Jordan has a phobia for snakes,” Ward explained.
The width and breadth of thinking and planning that goes into athletic shoes and apparel has surprised the fighter.
“They have teams for every little thing,” he said. “It’s heavy, but I love it.”
And he won’t deny liking free shoes for himself and his family, up to four children now. But as fast as Ward related that he didn’t pay for his youngest son’s flashy Nikes, he added, “They were not for free: A lot of my blood, sweat and tears went into them!”
A whole lot’s gone into getting fit and staying motivated after major surgery in early January to repair his right shoulder, the champion admitted.
“The process of getting back to the ring has been like no other,” he said. “I’ve had setbacks in almost ten years as a professional, but nothing like this. This was a major injury and it was grueling not just physically, but mentally.”
Longtime trainer Virgil Hunter said the rehab and determination came almost entirely from his fighter.
“He did that all on his own,” said the trainer. “He took the initiative on his own. I just supported him and I was there for him when he needed me.”
Some of the time away was filled by broadcasting on HBO, which fueled his desire to get in the ring.
“I was fortunate to broadcast ringside, with guys fighting in and around my weight, so I could keep a close eye on ‘em, but that made me miss it more,” said Ward, who wants to fight at least twice in 2014. “The fans, every time I’d see them in person at the fights or through social media, it’s great that they’re interested, and they were always asking when I’d be back. Those things made me want it more and more and more.
“It was a long, long grind.”
Both Ward and his promoter – Dan Goossen – agree that negotiations for this fight have ground along for a long time, as well.
“His side was asking for ridiculous things,” said Ward, who tried earlier this year to break his contract with Goossen, who’s promoted him throughout his nine-year pro career.
Goossen played the diplomat, relative to the matter with Ward and the negotiations to make this fight.
“The negotiations for Rodriguez were tough, but that’s what negotiations are,” he said. “They’re going to fight for what they want and we’re going to do the same. It got done and now we can look forward to a good fight.
“Rodriguez is tough, he’s hungry,” Goossen described. “He has the look of someone who’s going to come out and let his hands go, so Andre’s going to have to be sharp from the first second of the first round.”
Ward was sharply displeased by Rodriguez’s call for pre-fight drug testing , which the challenger initially made at the kickoff press conference.
“I’m glad you asked about that,” said Ward, the 2004 Olympic gold medalist at light heavyweight, who addressed the matter at some length and with no small measure of intensity, calling it a publicity stunt at least a dozen times. “These things were never brought up during negotiations, when he was asking for a gazillion dollars, and then he gets in front of the media at the press conference, and it’s simple: It’s a publicity stunt. It’s a publicity stunt!
Had the matter been addressed in contract negotiations, they probably would have agreed on testing, Ward said.
Don’t think, though, that his refusal to go along with Rodriguez’s request and a low-key approach to the matter reflects a nonchalant attitude about drugs and testing.
“You don’t see me doing a million interviews trying to justify myself because I know where I stand,” he said. “I don’t broadcast this stuff and publicize this stuff. When you know how you live and what you do and don’t do, you can sleep good at night.”
No question, performance-enhancing drugs are a serious concern to Ward.
“I understand the craze,” he said. “You don’t want to think this stuff is going on in boxing and there hasn’t really been a history of this in boxing, but I’ve had to wake up in the last year.”
“Hopefully random blood and urine testing will start with my next fight and continue until I retire,” he said.
Ward believes there are no drug-related concerns for either fighter.
“In my heart, I thought he was clean,” said Ward, who’s anxious to sit down and talk with Dr. Margaret Goodman, a longtime ringside physician who leads the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association, a leading drug-testing organization, and learn more. “When he was pressed at the press conference, he said he thought I’m clean.”
So why not agree, and make a statement about a serious commitment to testing?
“It’s a principled stance that I’m taking,” Ward said.
“Simple; we are not going to do things on your terms. He needs to understand that he is the challenger.”
Ward understands what that means when it comes to fighting.
“I was in his position in 2009, a hungry challenger, when I fought Kessler,” said Ward.
“The difference is that Kessler took me lightly,” he said. “I know my opponent. I do my research on guys. They think they’re catching me at the right time. Edwin Rodriguez never looked our way and he thinks this is the right time to get me, but he’s wrong. I feel completely different and better, like I have a new arsenal. I have a lot of power in both hands.”
There should be lots of opportunities to unleash that power it in 2014 at 168 pounds or at 175, a move that’s bound to happen at some point.
“I wanted to move up a year or so ago and Virgil talked me out of it,” Ward said. “Virgil told me, ‘Not yet; when you start walking around at 190, in shape, or 185, in shape, we’ll talk about it,’ but moving up is something on my radar.”
Physical realities will have more of an effect on that decision than the financial prospects, Ward said.
“The boxing game is always moving; light heavyweight is tough right now, there are a lot of good fighters and match-ups at 175, but we’ll see,” he outlined. “Of course I want lucrative fights, everyone does, but I’m not going to punish my body and weaken myself or lose my speed, power and stamina for a fight at a particular weight. I’ll stay smart and keep working”
Kazak middleweight Gennady Golovkin, the WBA and IBO middleweight champion has impressed fans with vicious knockouts and said he’d fight anyone at 160 or 168, though Ward doubts the man dubbed Triple G is ready for S.O.G.
“Ask Triple G if he wants it,” he said.
Golovkin is the latest in a series of threats, and there will be more, Ward thinks.
“People say there’s nobody to fight. I don’t believe it,” he said. There’s always going to be this monster out there, this boogeyman. Golovkin can fight. I look at his strengths and acknowledge them – and I watch him and think, ‘He can be had right there. He can be had.’”
Whether Ward and Golovkin have at it or not, a great thing about boxing is that intriguing match-ups always come along, Goossen said.
“Whatever weight you’re talking about, there’s always a new guy out there who rises to a certain level and people say, ‘That’s the fight I want to see,’” Goossen predicted.
As those challenges inevitably present themselves in the coming years, how much longer will Ward keep taking them on? He’s spoken of having an amount in mind to amass in savings and walking away from boxing when he gets there.
“I don’t know when I’m going to retire,” he admitted. “I am cognizant of the fact that I’ve been in the boxing ring for twenty years.”
When fans and media members see fights, what they don’t see and don’t necessarily appreciate is the physical toll that goes into preparing for them, he added.
“We all take punches, in here,” he said, relaxed against the ring ropes in King’s Gym. “Nobody sees this gym work. I’m sparring three different sparring partners, going twelve rounds. You don’t know how many punches you take in there.
“Who knows what grade of concussion it is when you get buzzed and you bite down and pull through – in here. When we go to war in here, nobody sees it. That’s where the damage is done. Going in here sparring three times a week, 10 rounds, 12 rounds, sometimes 15 rounds and people don’t see that.
“People will see a performance and some people don’t like it and say all these things. The thing is, nobody gets to see the preparation, and that’s the tough part.
“A lot of time, the media wants to push these guys as warriors and they are. All fighters are warriors. You can be a warrior, a fearless guy, but there’s life after boxing,” stated Ward.
So what will Ward do with his life after boxing?
Hard to say, said the man who has expressed a passion for broadcasting and serious interest in being a pastor, having his own ministry.
“You gotta know what’s for you and what’s not for you,” concluded Ward.