Photo: Will Hart
By Kieran Mulvaney
The last time Andre Ward was a day or two away from fighting in front of his hometown Oakland crowd, he seemed at turns tense and drawn, as if he were slightly struggling to make the light heavyweight limit, or was perhaps uncertain as to how he would perform in the ring after having fought just twice in the previous three and a half years.
A little over four months later, he has seemed more relaxed, his cheeks a tad fuller, his body strong and ripped as he weighed in right on the division limit of 175 pounds. Perhaps his better mood – if indeed it is more than the product of an observer’s imagination – is the result of his having had the experience of going 12 rounds with Sullivan Barrera in March, of having shaken off the ring rust and poor timing that was evident until he settled into his groove and ultimately dominated a previously undefeated opponent.
Or perhaps it is a function of knowing that, in Alexander Brand, he faces what on paper is the most minor of tests on Saturday, that there is nothing in the 39-year-old Colombian’s resume that suggests he poses any kind of threat to one of the best pound-for-pound boxers on the planet. Nor is that dispelled by seeing the two together: Brand, several inches shorter, appears to be at a considerable physical disadvantage, as well as facing shortcomings in skill and experience.
Ward has been talking a good game and saying the right things, about how “I need to take care of business” and how he cannot afford to look ahead and past his most immediate opponent. But most of the other inhabitants of Planet Boxing have been doing just that; Brand’s role here is not to act as spoiler but to provide enough rounds to help Ward refine his timing so he can be in the best possible form entering his November 19 clash with Sergey Kovalev.
Kovalev, who recently overcame his own final hurdle – admittedly, with somewhat more difficulty than anticipated – in the form of Isaac Chilemba, will be ringside on Saturday night; assuming all goes to plan and Ward emerges victorious, there seems a reasonable likelihood that the Russian will enter the ring postfight and the two men will face each other on camera for the first time. It won’t be the last; and, with all due respect to Brand, it is Kovalev whose clash with Ward will be the one that truly excites.
Weights from Oakland:
Andre Ward 175 lbs.
Alexander Brand 173.2 lbs.