Photos: Will Hart
By Kieran Mulvaney
Drought still grips much of California, but here in the more northerly segment of the state, El Nino-induced rainfall has brought life back to what had for years been brown and battered grass and plant life. As the Sun shone down brightly at Wednesday’s press conference and Friday’s weigh-in, both of which were held outdoors amid the sweet aroma of some of the Golden State’s more popular herbs, it was possible to see the widespread regrowth as a good omen for Oakland’s own Andre Ward, who on Saturday attempts to resuscitate a career that of late has appeared ready to shrivel up and die.
It has been repeated time after time, possibly to Ward’s great annoyance, but in the four and a half years since defeating Carl Froch to win the Super Six tournament and establish himself as the world’s best super middleweight, he has fought just threetimes. One outing, in 2012, was an impressively dominant victory over then-light-heavyweight champion Chad Dawson, although Dawson’s subsequent crushing loss to Adonis Stevenson and embarrassing defeat to Tommy Karpency have taken the shine off that win somewhat.
Ward’s only other appearances since then have been routine victories over uninspiring opponents; Edwin Rodriguez and Paul Smith are perfectly fine prizefighters, but they are not the kind of names to set the pulse racing, nor are they foes of a level to challenge a man who, at the time of his win over Chad Dawson, was widely considered the second-best boxer in the world.
Ward’s absence from the ring has been largely self-inflicted, and it has allowed others – Sergey Kovalev, Gennady Golovkin, Roman Gonzalez, Terence Crawford – to close in on or surpass him in the public perception as the most likely to top the pound-for-pound list. Of those names, one in particular must rankle. Kovalev will be ringside for Ward’s battle with Sullivan Barrera at the Oracle Arena in Saturday night, and while Barrera is the immediate foe, Kovalev is the ultimate goal. Kovalev is the reason Ward has moved from super-middleweight to light-heavyweight, and a showdown with the Russian looms for late fall.
But Ward is fully aware that he has business to take care of before that can happen.
“I’m focused on winning this fight,” he said after the weigh-in on Friday. “There’s no Kovalev fight if I don’t win this fight.” But then, he added later, “if I don’t defeat Sullivan Barrera, I don’t deserve a title shot.”
That’s probably harsh. Barrera – an undefeated volume puncher with knockout power – is no pushover. Unlike Ward, he’s been plying his trade at light-heavyweight for years, and looked the bigger, more solid man – despite weighing in four-tenths of a pound lighter – than the former 168 lb. champ. But, win or lose, the story entering and leaving Saturday’s fight will be about the hometown hero: whether a once-promising career has withered on the vine through lack of attention and care, or whether it is finally about to erupt into bloom the way it had for so long promised to do.
Weights from Oakland
Andre Ward 174.8 lbs
Sullivan Barrera 174.4 lbs
Joseph Diaz Jr: 125.8 lbs.
Jayson Velez: 125.6 lbs.