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Ward easy choice for Fighter of the Year

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default Ward easy choice for Fighter of the Year

Post by chujingchen on Tue Jan 10, 2012 3:27 am

In 2001, a reporter was walking through a casino in Las Vegas when he happened upon a boxing trainer and a young boxer with a world of potential.

Folks walked by as the trainer introduced his fighter to the reporter, oblivious to the trio. A decade later, the traisuper bowl jerseyner and boxer would be among the most recognizable faces in the world, but on this day in the MGM Grand, no one paid them much attention.

Now, when trainer Freddie Roach and Manny Pacquiao walk through casinos, they’re surrounded by photographers, videographers, reporters from around the world, burly security guards and hundreds of frenzied fans.
If Andre Ward and his trainer, Virgil Hunter, made the same walk through the casino today, they’d only garner slightly more attention than Pacquiao and Roach did in 2001.

But Ward, whose dominance during Showtime’s Super Six World Boxing Classic made him the easy choice as the 2011 Yahoo! Sports Fighter of the Year, had probably better get used to having a lot of people tailing him and gawking at him.

Ward, who holds the World Boxing Association and World Boxing Council super middleweight belts, is on the verge of becoming one of the fight game’s biggest superstars.

Despite winning an Olympic gold medal in 2004, he’s just beginning to enter the public consciousness. His boxing ability far exceeds his drawing power, just as Pacquiao’s did in 2001.

Ward is on the verge of reaching the same level as a boxer that Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Pacquiao have hit and it wouldn’t be a shock if in 2012, Ward became recognized as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.

[Related: Ann Wolfe is Y! Sports’ boxing trainer of the year]

He is, as he said at a Los Angeles news conference a few days after winning the Super Six on Dec. 17, “a young puppy in the game. I’m 27 years old. I feel like I’m approaching my prime. A lot of the youthfulness is leaving my boxing style and I’m settling down more. As I do that, I think we’re going to put together a string of great, great fights.”

Those great fights will be a key in the maturation and development of Ward as a star. It’s easy to look at Mayweather and Pacquiao now and conclude that, as a drawing card, Ward is a failure. Mayweather and Pacquiao are worldwide celebrities. Mayweather is a brilliant marketer who created the “Money Mayweather” persona that has made him an A-list celebrity not only in the U.S., but around the world.

Pacquiao’s success and his devotion to his native Philippines has led to a cult-like following. When Pacquiao made his grand arrival at the MGM on Nov. 8 before his Nov. 12 fight with Juan Manuel Marquez, a short Filipina woman struggled to catch a glimpse of him as he waded through a heavy crowd to make his way to a makeshift ring in the middle of the lobby.

Someone behind her shouted Pacquiao’s name and Pacquiao peered through the phalanx of security guards and cameramen who were surrounding him and beamed at the crowd. The woman’s jaw dropped, she put her hands to her mouth and leaned her head on the shoulder of the man who was standing next to her, snapping photographs. “I saw him!” she exclaimed. “I saw him!”

That kind of devotion takes a long time to build. It took Pacquiao and Mayweather years. There was a time when Mayweather was praised for his many talents but was derided as a poor draw who couldn’t sell tickets.

Boxing is a star-driven sport and it takes sustained success to earn stardom. And while winning an Olympic gold medal was once an automatic ticket to superstardom in the U.S. – just ask 1976 gold medalist Sugar Ray Leonard – such is no longer the case.

Ward has had to prove himself in the professional ranks, which he’s done.

His promoter, Dan Goossen, has spent a lifetime in boxing and knows as well as anyone the long process it takes to become a star. And while Ward’s not there yet in terms of being a celebrity and an automatic sellout, he’s completed the first phase of the journey, which is the success in the ring.

“I’ve promoted many, many, many great fighters, from my early stages with Michael Nunn, the Ruelas boys, Gabriel and Rafael Ruelas, Terry Norris, Mike Tyson, Bernard Hopkins, David Tua,” Goossen said. “The list goes on and on and on. James Toney, who was one of the greatest. No man I have gone into the ring with, as I have with Andre Ward, and had such confidence of him achieving his goal as each fight progresses.”

In 2011, Ward routed Arthur Abraham in the Super Six semifinals, then easily handled Carl Froch in the finals despite competing with a broken left hand.

He’s extremely fast, exceptionally smart defensive and is an accurate, if not devastating, puncher. In 2012, he’s likely to meet fighters such as middleweight champion Sergio Martinez, who is ranked third in the Yahoo! Sports ratings, and unbeaten Lucian Bute.

Those are the kinds of fights that will command attention and help propel Ward to stardom.

He may end 2012 regarded as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. Mayweather is soon to be 35 and Pacquiao is 33. They both rely tremendously on their speed and one figures that as the clock ticks, they will become more vulnerable. It happens to the greatest. It happened to Sugar Ray Robinson. It happened to Muhammad Ali. It happened to Leonard and Tommy Hearns and Marvelous Marvin Hagler.
pro bowl jersey
And someday, it’s going to happen to Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao.

Soon, somebody will come along and be the guy in boxing, the man who attracts the crowds and fills the arenas and commands the headlines.

Don’t bet against Andre Ward, the 2011 Yahoo! Sports Fighter of the Year, being that man.

Honorable mention – Bernard Hopkins, Brian Viloria, Brandon Rios, Nonito Donaire, Wladimir Klitschko, Vitali Klitschko and Timothy Bradley.

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