Team Ward: Coming to Make a Statement

By Caryn A. Tate on June 9, 2017
Team Ward: Coming to Make a Statement
“This is a statement fight,” said Andre Ward. “It’s that simple.” (Alexis Cuarezma/Getty)

“I think everybody has to remember that we’re not just commodities. We’re human. We’ve got families. I think humanizing us will go a long way…”

(See the write-up of Caryn A. Tate’s conversation with Andre Ward and Virgil Hunter here: http://www.boxing.com/andre_ward_something_thats_in_me.html )

On Wednesday, Andre “S.O.G.” Ward (31-0, 15 KOs) and members of his team joined a conference call with the media ahead of next week’s rematch with challenger Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev (30-1-1, 26 KOs).

Ward was joined on the call by his head trainer and godfather Virgil Hunter; Michael Yormark, the President & Chief of Branding & Strategy for Roc Nation Sports (Ward’s promoter); and Josh Dubin, Ward’s attorney and co-manager.

The first question posed to Andre was about “some different views and uncertainty about where things stand with you and VADA.” Ward was quick to respond, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I just saw VADA yesterday. I’ve been enrolled. It was actually my idea to get enrolled and get both of the fighters enrolled. I think I’ve been tested maybe 5 times in this camp.”

A question about trainer Virgil Hunter’s recent travel (with his fighters Tony Yoka, who fought in Paris on June 2, as well as Andrzej Fonfara who fought the next day in Montreal) and whether there were any concerns about it affecting training Ward. Hunter responded, “It doesn’t affect training at all. He’s a professional. He’s been through this for 24 years of his life. So you have to understand when he went to the Olympics he wasn’t with me at all for 3 months. He knows what to do—he’s my least worry for leaving town. It’s part of the sport and part of the game. When you have a professional like Andre, you don’t worry about those things.” Later, about the impact of travel on him personally, Virgil added, “Weariness doesn’t come with the travel. But when I know I’m gonna travel I always prepare ahead of time. Since I’ve done it so much I find that if I’m sleepy, I’ll sleep; and if I’m up, I’m up. It doesn’t matter what time it is or what day it is. I try not to be on a schedule like I am at home, so that works for me.”

Ward was asked about the recent video he did for the Warriors basketball team and getting to see the fans’ response to it at a recent game. “I’m thankful and appreciative, just to be around as long as I have. I’ve seen fighters come and go, sometimes long illustrious careers, many others don’t. Sometimes guys are hot for a couple years and take a bad loss and you don’t hear from them. So just to be able to compete through the ups and downs of this sport as long as I have is a blessing.

“The things like that with the Warriors, the accolades, that’s just kind of the icing on top. I’m just thankful. Very appreciative. The Bay Area fans have always done for me, and what they do for their athletes whether they’re homegrown or transplants—they just appreciate the people that go out there and represent them well. And they always return the favor.”

When asked about the low points in his life before reaching the pinnacle of the sport, Ward responded, “You definitely have moments where you’ve gotta stop and assess where you are, but that’s why I’m so thankful to have my faith in God. I really had to buckle down and tap into that, and really understand that these things happen in life. It’s not anything abnormal. It’s how you get through it. And also having great people around me that I can call and vent to, or get advice from…my team, my godfather, my pastor, my wife, James, Josh—all the people in my life. They rallied around me and we got through it together. Getting on the other side of it, I’m happy I went through it because it truly made me a stronger person, a better businessman, and now I’ve got something to say to the younger generation and can talk beyond just what’s going on inside the ring.”

One media member inquired about how much Ward was able to sit back and enjoy the win after his last fight, due to the rematch supposedly being worked upon almost immediately afterwards. “I live in a different world,” Ward said. “I live in real life. And real life is my family, and boxing is a major part of my life but it’s not my whole life. So once I do my job and I’m done inside the ring—of course, I’m abreast of what’s being said, of who’s saying what, but it doesn’t overtake my life or run my life. So I enjoy my life and I enjoy my victory just like I enjoy any other victory.

“People have to understand that anytime it’s a close decision you’re gonna have opinions either way. And I never disputed the fact that it was a close decision, but those out there who said it was home cooking—they’ve got to remember that I’m not from Las Vegas, Nevada, and furthermore, you can’t just highlight that side of it. You’ve got to also highlight the people who felt like I deserved the victory and it was a tremendous comeback. You’ve got to remember, it doesn’t take a close decision to get criticism. I’ve shut guys out for 12 rounds and got criticism. So you become immune to it after a certain period of time.”

“Of course there’s adjustments that need to be made,” Ward said in response to a question about how he is looking at the rematch going in. “We’ve been doing this a long time. Virg is doing his job, and my job is to listen and go out there and try to implement it. And that’s what we’ve been doing throughout training camp. But at the end of the day, I just have to be me. And being myself is gonna be enough.”

Virgil Hunter responded to the same question in a similar fashion. “Well, the opponent definitely won’t see the same fighter in this fight, for a number of reasons—no need to disclose. But we always go in with several plans, so that’s always been there. And of course I’m not gonna ask him to do anything that I know he can’t do, or hasn’t’ worked on or practiced. We’re fortunate enough to be able to adjust and also adapt. So taking those same ingredients into the fight, I believe what we worked on for Plan A is gonna be more than enough.”

The question was posed to Hunter about whether preparation for this fight was any different since it’s a rematch, and the first of Ward’s professional career. “In the amateurs, when you’re at the top level and you go into national tournaments, you tend to see some opponents more than once and more than twice, which has occurred in the amateurs. So in a sense he has had rematches. As far as this rematch is concerned, all I can say is, ‘Oh, boy.’”

“There wasn’t any fear or trepidation going into the first match,” Hunter said in response to a question about such emotions and whether he was concerned about the team being over-confident. “You can’t have that. You’re aware of what the opponent brings, we’re aware you have a bigger opponent, a stronger opponent, an opponent that can punch. We’re aware of all of that. But we’ve been through that before.

“When he fought in the Olympics at light heavyweight, people don’t know or they never acknowledge the fact that he was only 170 pounds. So he was giving up weight, height, and size there. So he’s accustomed to it. And because of his physical strength, stamina, and IQ, he’s able to overcome all these so-called advantages that the other fighter might have. We respect our opponent—we respect Kovalev on what he has done and what he’s capable of doing. It’s a healthy respect, but it’s not a respect that’s gonna stop him from getting smashed June 17.”

A reporter asked if Team Ward was planning anything different to “take the jab or the right hand away from Kovalev, more than in the first bout.” Virgil responded, “We took the right hand away after the second round—I think if anybody watches that fight, they’ll see that that’s a fact. No, there’s nothing different that we’re gonna do other than we’re prepared and whatever comes our way, if we need to adapt to certain things we’ll adapt, and if not, we’ll keep rolling.”

Ward was asked about this being the first time we’ve seen Kovalev’s feathers being ruffled. “I don’t know, to be honest with you,” Andre said. “I don’t know if the man is putting on a game. I think he and his side, they out-think themselves. I think they’re trying to get in our heads, and trying to do so much that they’re confusing themselves. A lot of what they do and say don’t make a lot of sense. To be honest with you, it’s a non-factor and a non-issue in our camp. It’s not something we talk about. You know, here and there something will be brought up, but—we’ve been doing this so long, where the threats, putting out stories that aren’t true—it just doesn’t move you. You’ve got to learn to fight to stay locked in, and not get too caught up in the highs and lows, and I’ve always said, whether he’s ruffled or not, we have a date. And that date is about 10 days away, and it’ll all get settled June 17. And that’s what matters the most.”

“It’s gonna be the whole gambit,” Ward said about what sorts of “tricks” he may plan to use in this bout. “It’s not any one thing I can put my finger on. I think it’s simple. I don’t have anything to prove in this fight. This is a statement fight. It’s that simple. I’m coming to make a statement.”

A question was posed about how much of a factor age is as he gets older. Andre said, “Anytime you get over 30, you start to become more mindful that you’re punching your clock. I think at the end of the day, the gauge is just desire. When I look at the desire I had in my early 20s, mid 20s, in terms of the way that I put out, the duration of training, my coach is having to pull me back and fighting with me to take days off—when I compare the 20s to the 30s it’s still the same. If anything’s different, I have to give more attention to my body after I abuse it and break it down—massage therapy, cold baths, those kinds of things. That’s pretty much what’s changed. But the desire is still there—I’m not getting hit with punches that I normally wouldn’t get hit with. The guys in sparring aren’t having their way. So these are the signs you look at as you get into your early to mid 30s, and if you’re lucky enough, beyond that, to see if it’s a situation where it’s time to walk away. And those types of things aren’t happening.”

Andre was asked to “assess Kovalev’s power.” He said, “Honestly, I’m not really in the business of assessing guys’ power. Like I said before, I think he’s a good fighter. It’s not what it’s cracked up to be. But I give him his respect. He’s a champion. I think once you become a champion and defend your belt, you’re a champion for life. So he’s a champion caliber fighter. We give him that respect. But in terms of rating power and all that kind of stuff, I’m really not in the business of that.”

Later, “S.O.G.” was asked how much of a motivation it was that Team Kovalev thought the Russian won 8 or 9 rounds. “It’s definitely something we’re gonna deal with on June 17,” he said. “It can be a motivating factor but it’s not everything. That’s their narrative. We understand why they’re saying what they’re saying. If you look at the history of this team, and the history of this fighter, anytime it doesn’t go their way, they respond like this. And furthermore, what they’re trying to do is get ahead of the story. In case it happens to be close again, ‘Give us the nod this time. If it’s close, we deserve the nod.’ Because they’ve talked and talked about it, and my job is to not worry about what they’re saying but to make the fight to where there is no doubt, and there’s no arguments or disputes. That’s what I need to focus on.”

The reporter asked how they assessed the first fight upon watching it again. “Just like I thought it went the first time,” Ward said. “I thought I won the fight by at least two rounds. But at the end of the day, there’s close rounds you can call swing rounds. When you look at the scorecards, I think the judges did a tremendous job because they were of one accord. When you have three different judges who aren’t communicating throughout the course of a fight, who do this professionally—yeah, they had some rounds here and there that were different but they had the same conclusion. Whether it’s my fight or any other fight, I think you’ve got to tip your hat to them.”

“I had Andre winning by two rounds,” Hunter said, “and I’ve challenged anyone—anyone—to sit with me and watch the fight, and show me where Sergey Kovalev won the fight. So far no takers. Because I understand when you have a personal fighter that you like, you’re only gonna see what they do, you’re not gonna look at what’s going on with the other person. I understand that. But as Andre said, if you look at not only the scorecards and the consistency, but if you look at other peoples’ opinions…there’s actually a list of people, top people, and if you look at that you’ll see that it was even in their opinions. But so far the tendency is only to highlight what people felt about what Sergey Kovalev did.

“I concur with Andre. How can three judges who don’t have a phone, are not texting each other, ‘What did you have?’ ‘OK, I’m gonna put mine that way.’ These are top judges, and they called the fight the same. Sky Sports had us winning by two. Are we going to put their opinion down?

“In this particular fight, you had people coming out of their lanes. You have announcers that all of a sudden they’re better than the judges. You have writers who are judges all of a sudden. They never signed up or sat ringside to judge a fight in their life, but all of a sudden they’re experts. So we understand. And like Andre said, it’s our job to force you to look at the beating that’s gonna come and have to accept it. And that’s just the way it’s gonna be.”

Ward was asked to comment on the “Cold War” like politics of this fight (Ward, the American gold medalist, versus Kovalev, the Russian bad guy). “I try to stay out of politics, whether it’s concerning our government or it’s concerning boxing,” Ward said. “But that doesn’t mean I’m not honored to represent my country, which I’ve been fortunate enough to do since I’ve been a little boy, at the junior Olympic level all the way up to the Olympics, and had a lot of international competitions as a professional. It’s an honor and a privilege to live here in the United States and to represent my country, and I’ve always tried to do that, no matter who I’m fighting. That’s my focus. I know there are parallels for the players involved, and the promoters are definitely gonna talk about it, and it’s interesting, but I pretty much stay out of that.”

The reporter then asked if the thought of losing has ever crossed Ward’s mind, and if it’s difficult to keep feeling like he’s invincible. “No, it’s not difficult to feel like that. I think for myself and for many individuals who have achieved any kind of true success, if you talk to them and listen to them—and there’s obviously exceptions—but a lot of the ones that I talk to and listen to or study, it rarely seems like it’s enough. They can win 100 times, but they want that 101st time. Or they can have a great performance, but they’ll tell you all the negative things they saw in the performance. It’s that perfectionist in you, that thing in you that just wants to be excellent.

“And beyond that, I didn’t give myself this ability and this talent that I have, and I didn’t give myself this drive that I have. It’s God-given and I’m thankful for it and I recognize that. When you understand where your strength comes from, and who it comes from, there’s no room for boasting.”

When asked about the promotion and the quality of the fight, as well as the first bout, Ward said, “I think the first fight was a great fight. I think there was a lot of drama in the first fight—more drama than I wanted. I think it was a tremendous fight. And I believe round 2 is gonna be a tremendous fight. You’ve got to realize, it’s not a video game, it’s real life—so you’ve got to live it out, fight it out, play it out, and let it be what it’s gonna be.

“As the guy that’s in there, you can’t come in there and dictate what type of event it’s gonna be and how many people are gonna love it and how many are not gonna love it. You’ve just gotta go in there and do what you have to do, and then when you step back you hope it’s something everybody appreciated and something they felt it was worth paying for.”

Later, the champion was asked if he thought the fans were looking for a more aggressive style rather than a “technician style.” Andre said, “I think it depends on who you talk to. I think everybody has to be careful when they say ‘the fans’ because they don’t speak for all the fans. It amazes me that you’ll have one person speak for all boxing fans all over the world. I don’t know about them, but personally, I’m in the streets meeting these people, talking to these people from state to state and even going to the UK. I don’t always get the same response that I might read or hear about. So I think everybody has to be careful when they speak for the fans.

“I think that’s been a narrative over the last I don’t know how many years, where if it’s not blood and guts, toe-to-toe, then we don’t want to see it. That’s kind of the narrative that’s being pushed out there. But then I also see when those kind of blood and guts fighters finally hit a wall and they can no longer compete and fight at that same level, I also see them get forgotten about just as quickly as they were talked about. And I also know that when I look at my history and I look at the sport of boxing, the greats that I saw—the ones that helped mold my style, the ones that helped me get to the place that I am today, the guys who were on top for 7, 8, 10 years—they could do it all. They could bang with you when it was to their advantage. They could outbox you when it was to their advantage. They could do it all.

“So I think it’s a matter of who’s saying what, and it’s a matter of educating boxing fans. Because the true education is very simple—if you love boxing, yes, you may have a certain style that you favor, but you respect all fighters because they get in there and they risk their life. And furthermore, if you love boxing, you love it all. I appreciate the boxer. I appreciate the boxer-puncher. I appreciate the brawler who maybe doesn’t have the skill to box. I appreciate it all.

“So I think it’s pigeon-holing the sport, and I think it’s really selfish to just act as if one style is the only style that all fans across the world want to see and that everybody else is not worth watching. I think that’s inaccurate and I don’t think that’s the way the sport should be represented.”

The last question for Ward was about his role towards the younger generation of fighters, and what he tells young fighters like Shakur Stevenson or Claressa Shields who come to him for advice or management. Andre said, “I think with someone like Shakur or Claressa, and many many others—they’re already extremely smart. And I was pretty smart. But it’s amazing how you can have intelligence but yet sometimes you’re missing key things. You only know things if you go through it. Outside of my family, I didn’t really have a lot of ex-fighters I could pick up the phone and call. So I just try to be available. I try to just make the time when I need to make the time. And they’ll let you know what they want to talk about. If I have the answer, I’m gonna definitely give them everything I can give them. And if I don’t, I try to help them find it.

“At the end of the day, I’m for the fighter. I’m pro-fighter. And sometimes when you talk like that, people get a funny look on their face. I think everybody has to remember that we’re not just commodities. We’re human. We’ve got families. I think humanizing us will go a long way, because at the end of the day, these careers are gonna stop, these cheers are gonna stop at some point, and what are you left with? What is your family left with? Those are the things I try to focus on.

“The training piece—we talk about that kind of stuff, but it’s also more life. It’s about being stable, and making the right decisions now, so down the road you’re happy that you did what you had to do.

“It’s an honor and a privilege to be someone that any of those fighters would want to pick up the phone and call. I don’t look at it like a burden—it’s an honor and a privilege. I love it! I love it because—I remember…I was a student of the game, so there were certain guys I’d just kind of lock eyes on and say, ‘Man, I like this guy for this reason,’ or ‘I like how he did this.’ But I didn’t have the access to pick up the phone. So I enjoy it because I’m giving them maybe a little bit more than what I had, but also know that knowledge and information is valuable. If I can help you avoid a pothole along the way, that’s what it’s about. Because I’ve seen the end. I’ve been to the International Boxing Hall of Fame. And it’s a tremendous place, and I had a tremendous time there, and I want to go back. But you also see the realities of our sport. And it can scare you straight.

“One thing that was told to me that I try to pass on to them is that no matter how much your name is in the lights, no matter how hot you are right now, no matter how much people are talking about you—line your ducks up and put them in a row, because one day it’s gonna stop. Who knows when that time is, but you want to be able to walk away from this sport with your brains intact, whatever you’re able to make, have that intact, and be able to walk away with your legacy and your dignity, and if you can do that—I think that’s a victory and that’s a career well-spent.”

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  1. Don from Prov 10:43am, 06/09/2017

    Very good article Caryn Tate—

    (though of course a boxing piece sets off politc-babble) I enjoy your work.

  2. Koolz 08:04am, 06/09/2017

    USS Liberty
    isn’t even mentioned in the NY Times which is hilarious!  They paint a red target on themselves.
    Let’s kill American Soldiers so we can blame it on Egypt. 
    Just another Zionist Move on the Grand Chess Board and the expansion of Israel.

  3. Alt Knight 06:15am, 06/09/2017

    non-prophet…And “history” has recorded plenty that is pure bullsheeit. And your point is exactly what? The “Russian bad guy isn’t about to leave it to the judges scorecards this time around.  @ Hey Koolz…Notice how not one politician mentioned the 50th anniversary of the attack on the USS Liberty yesterday?

  4. Koolz 06:08am, 06/09/2017

    nonprophet
    you are on the wrong web page this a page for intelligent people who know the world and boxing.

    if you want to troll go to boxingscene.com that place
    loves you guys.
    It’s full of Black American Racists that Hate Golovkin, some Mexicans too.
    They would welcome you with open arms.

    History was rewritten already by the Jesuits what you believe to be history.

  5. Koolz 06:01am, 06/09/2017

    I am not sure how you can even think Ward won.  He didn’t win seven rounds he didn’t even win the first five plus the knock down(that woudln’t even be a draw).  This whole Cold War mind set by Jews is getting on the point of Madness.  ‘
    First it effects the Sports with made up Doping charges.  That effects the Olympics of all things!
    Then it bleeds into all the sports from tennis to boxing.
    Now it’s just gotten silly.  and you never Cry Wolf!

    Ward and Hunter belong to team where the owner is part of the old Cult of Aleistar Crowley.  Sort of amazing when I think about it.
    Do What Thou Wilt indeed…

  6. nonprophet 06:00am, 06/09/2017

    Sorry Alt-fucks, history records the American as winner of the first bout. 
    You want to revise it in your mind?  Be my guest.

  7. Alt Knight 05:47am, 06/09/2017

    I’ve watched many fights over the years and there is only one that I can’t really decide on a clear cut winner, and that is the Norton-Holmes classic. That fight could have very well been ruled a draw.

  8. Alt Knight 05:27am, 06/09/2017

    “The Russian bad guy?” Really. Kind of interesting how ISIS attacked the Iranian parliament the other day. In 2000, there were 8 countries that did not have Rothschild owned or controlled banks. Cuba, Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, N. Korea, Iran, Syria, and Sudan. Now there are only 4 left, Cuba, North Korea, Iran and Syria. Coincidence? Doubtful. The so-called, “Cold War” was nothing more than propaganda to feed the uninformed masses,  and this current anti-Russia falsehoods are as well. “In this particular fight, you had people coming out their lanes.” Since when did judging a boxing match become that difficult of a task? It certainly isn’t as difficult as judging a sport like gymnastics or diving in the Olympics. Those athletes are so good, that sometimes it is very hard to decide a clear cut winner. Very rarely have I seen a boxing match that was close enough to call a draw or where you could make a case for either fighter claiming a victory. It happens about as often as Halley’s Comet. Sorry American patriotards, but the “Russian bad guy” won the initial encounter.

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