Andre Ward may be the best boxer you’ve never heard of.
The last American Olympic champion – he won gold in 2004 – Ward has been near untouchable as a professional, winning two world championships at super-middleweight.
He has since migrated to light-heavyweight and this weekend meets undefeated Cuban Sullivan Barrera in an intriguing match-up that will be broadcast on SuperSport 5 from 2.30am on Sunday.
Ward’s relative anonymity is based on two factors: he has fought just five times in the past five years, chiefly on the basis of promotional wrangles and injuries, and he is a quiet, introspective figure who refuses to wallow in smack talk.
Even so, many boxing insiders rank him among the pound-for-pound top three based on past performances against top names like Chad Dawson and Carl Froch. He didn’t beat them with power, but silky skills that are comparable to Floyd Mayweather in his prime.
Now 32, Ward hasn’t lost a fight since he was a 12-year-old amateur.
The American will be closely watched this weekend, both to see how he measures up against the tough Cuban and to get a line on his form with a fight against division king Sergey Kovalev said to be lined up for November.
Barrera hasn’t fought any big names, but he has two things going for him: he is Cuban, which suggests his fighting genes are solid, and he is trained by Abel Sanchez, perhaps the best coach in the business today.
The former world champion is unbeaten in 17 outings and knows that this is his opportunity to make a major name for himself. In some ways, it’s a win-win fight for him: a good performance against Ward, even in a losing cause, won’t hard his reputation. A win, of course, will skyrocket his status.
But few are expecting anything less than a typical Ward display at the new weight, where his speed and timing ought to prove critical against a rugged opponent who will have his moments, but not enough to make them count.