Andre Ward turned in another dominant performance Saturday night – and most likely punched his ticket to the biggest fight of his career.
Ward, the former unified super middleweight champion, earned a dominant unanimous decision victory over Colombian power-puncher Alexander Brand in front of a hometown crowd of 8,653 at the Oracle Arena in Oakland.
Judges Steve Morrow, David Sutherland and Michael Tate all scored the bout 120-108 in Ward’s favor.
SFBay scored the bout a virtual shutout for Ward – 119-109.
The bout – which was Ward’s second as a full-fledged light heavyweight – was his final tune-up en route to a highly-anticipated title fight with unified 175 lb. kingpin Sergey Kovalev, with whom Ward will face on Nov. 19 in a HBO Pay-Per-View telecast that will most likely emanate from Las Vegas.
Feared Russian knockout artist Kovalev (30-0-1, 26 KOs) kept up his end of the bargain on his July 11 homecoming with a successful title defense against top contender Isaac Chilemba.
Ward (30-0, 15 KOs) felt he gave a good performance throughout all 12 rounds and said that while Brand (25-2, 19 KOs) may not resemble Kovalev in terms of his fighting style, it was still a good experience fighting someone as awkward as Brand:
“I had to exercise some patience tonight because I wanted to get him out of there very, very bad. But at the same time, you got to be smart because he’s literally closing his eyes and swinging for the fences and hoping he lands something.”
Despite losing every round on the judges’ scorecards, the relatively unknown Brand proved his durability against the fighting pride of Oakland, landing his share of wild, looping shots – including two notable winging right hooks in the second round.
But Ward took command of the fight from the third round, walking Brand down and constantly tagging him with left hooks and left-right combinations.
Ward also unexpectedly turned southpaw towards the end of the fifth round – a tactic he hadn’t utilized since his amateur days as well as early on in his professional career.
But it proved effective as he knocked Brand backwards several times with pinpoint straight left hands.
He said that while it wasn’t something he worked on in preparation for the fight, he switched stances because his wife Tiffiney and longtime trainer Virgil Hunter had been pushing him to turn southpaw in recent fights:
“It’s something that’s natural – I’m naturally left-handed. Virgil turned me around when I was a kid, so I feel very comfortable from that stance. I have a very strong left hand and that’s something that I got to keep doing because it’s very effective.”
It clearly didn’t matter which stance he fought from as Ward – a 2004 Olympic gold medalist and the last American man to win a gold medal in boxing – displayed his offensive accuracy and knocked sweat off Brand’s head.
He landed 190 of 490 total punches thrown (39 percent) according to Compubox, compared to only 16 percent landed by Brand (45 of 285).
Having handled business with Brand, Ward now sets his sights on his November date with destiny against Kovalev, who was showered with large choruses of boos from the Oakland faithful as he sat ringside.
Both men are regarded as two of boxing’s pound-for-pound elite, but it is believed that a victory this fall would most likely garner the victor the distinct recognition as the sport’s true number one fighter in the world.
Ward seemed likely to sit atop the P4P throne following his conquest of the Super Six World Boxing Classic and sensational dominations of Chad Dawson and Edwin Rodriguez.
But inactivity due to numerous injuries as well as promotional and legal disputes with his late former promoter Dan Goossen resulted in Ward being stripped of his super middleweight titles and dropped from the P4P rankings.
Ward has been on a mission to regain his elite status since signing with current promoter Roc Nation Sports last January, racking up recent wins over Paul Smith Jr. and Sullivan Barrera – the latter whom Ward beat in his light heavyweight debut earlier in March.
Ward told SFBay that while his accomplishments at super middleweight are enough to define his legacy, he is ready to seize the opportunity against Kovalev in what will be a career-defining fight:
“There’s no reason why I shouldn’t be able to get that task handled, and that takes nothing away from Sergey Kovalev because he’s everything that people say that he is. But this is Sugar Ray Leonard-Tommy Hearns all over again where it’s 50-50. ‘Who’s going to rise to the occasion?’ That’s what my father (Frank Ward) used to say and I plan on doing that. It’s going to take a lot of work. I’m willing to go through whatever I got to go through to get where I’m trying to get.”
Saturday night marked Ward’s eighth time competing in front of his hometown, resulting in another successful turnout at Oracle.
Ward’s star power has also brought out a few of his famous friends like Stephen Curry and Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors and Creed co-star Michael B. Jordan to his two previous bouts in Oakland.
Ward told SFBay that the thrill of competing in front of his hometown and representing a diverse sports community like the Bay Area is truly a blessing:
“Driving to this arena when I fight here and walking in the building, I couldn’t explain to you what goes through my head. I’m trying to keep myself calm because it’s such a surreal moment, like this is really happening. This is what I dreamed about, this is what I always wanted. To live it out and to see the people come out and the news and websites and all these different people, it’s amazing, man!”
Even when asked if he would compete more in Vegas and New York after the Kovalev fight, Ward said he will never abandon Oracle:
“My team knows how I feel about my hometown and my home area. I will never abandon Oracle, ever – and I’ll never apologize for fighting here either.”