SAN DIEGO, August 6, 2016 – With most sports fans glued to the Olympics in Rio, it’s ironic the last American male boxer to win an Olympic gold medal has a bout Saturday.
The 2004 gold medalist Andre Ward (29-0, 15 KOs) will fight in front of his hardcore hometown Oakland fans at Oracle Arena against Alexander Brand of Colombia (25-1, 19 KOs). HBO will broadcast the fight for the rest of us boxing heads and fight freaks at 10:35 p.m. ET/PT.
It will be Ward’s second fight at light heavyweight. He weighed in Friday right at the limit of 175 pounds. Brand weighed in at 173.2 pounds.
See video of the weigh-in here.
You might hear the words “tune up” mentioned so often with this fight that you assume Ward is a concert violinist, not a world class boxer. No one is pretending this 12 round fight is anything but a glorified workout for Ward in preparation for his eagerly anticipated showdown with Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev of Russia.
The fight is scheduled for November 19 in Las Vegas. Ward and Kovalev are on virtually all top five pound for pound lists, and whoever wins in November will likely be considered the world’s best pound for pound boxer by the end of 2016.
But let’s not get too far ahead of things. Ward has to win his fight against Brand. While he is heavily favored, Brand has a puncher’s chance as any opponent does. It’s easy to brush off guys like Brand who claim they are going to “shock the world,” but just ask Tyson Fury, or light heavyweight Joe Smith Jr. of Long Island, New York. Smith dispatched the heavily favored Andzrej Fonfara a few weeks back.
“It’s the oldest trick in the book to put the cart before the horse,” Ward said. “But I have to take care of business and I don’t want to just get by when I do it.” Ward says it’s great to be busy, active, and get the rounds, saying getting rounds in the bank is key for him.
“Sergey Kovalev is not on my mind at all. I’ve got a job to do. I haven’t even talked about Kovalev. We can talk about Kovalev on August 7th, that’s what I told my team. I didn’t watch his last fight, he’s not my next opponent but I know what happened and what people are saying about it.
“I know enough about Brand. He’s got everything to gain and nothing to lose. He swings for the fences with every punch. He’s a dangerous guy to fight,” said Ward. “You’ve got to be able to get it done, short or tall, explosive or wild. Brand is wild, so it’s going to take a few rounds to break him down and tame him before we start doing what we want to do. As a championship-caliber fighter, you’ve got to be able to deal with everything, every style and size.”
Hear more from Andre Ward in a “One on One” interview with HBO’s Kieran Mulvaney.
Brand had a long amateur career, and fought many Olympic medalists. This is how he chooses to see Ward, saying it’s no different to him. Brand echoed Ward’s words, in his own way. “In Colombia, they’re trying to put the saddle on the horse before they can ride it. I don’t know if it’s disrespectful to me or not, but he has to go through me to get to anyone else.
Brand added, “It doesn’t really matter that the fight is in Ward’s hometown, it’s going to be a fight. Wherever it is, whether it’s in his backyard or anywhere else, I’m coming to fight and that’s the most important thing.
“Whatever Ward brings, I’m going to have something for him,” said Brand. “Ward still has 12 rounds to fight before he can think about Kovalev.”
Brand talks with HBO’s Kieran Mulvaney about the fight in this “One on One” interview.
But he is the longest of longshots. Brand is seven years older than Ward at age 39; he only started boxing professionally in 2009 at the same age Ward is now, 32. Unlike many South American boxers, he has fought in the United States, in Las Vegas and in Florida. His only loss was in 2012 to top ten ranked super middleweight Badou Jack.
Because of a lengthy contract dispute coupled with injuries, this will be Ward’s fourth fight in three years. It would be the fifth, but Ward had to postpone a fight originally scheduled with Brand on the undercard of the Miguel Cotto versus Canelo Alvarez fight last November due to a knee injury.
Ward has shown little ring rust despite the long layoff. He won a unanimous decision over Cuban Sullivan Barrera, who simply did not show enough offense to give himself a chance in the bout.
“I don’t know how much stock you can put into the last couple of years,” said Ward of his lack of activity in the ring. “A lot of people are talking about it, but people have to weigh in the amount of time I have been doing this, which is all my life. You look at Floyd Mayweather, he took a couple of hiatuses and it may have given him two or three more years. It was a mental break and it was a physical break. Taking those couple years where maybe you’re not fighting as frequently, it’s not always a bad thing, especially late in your career.”
Ward is well aware of the Olympic Games underway, and he’ll be observing with interest after Saturday. He had a bit of advice for the boxers competing in Rio. “I came up a little different in my Olympic days. Virgil Hunter is the type of coach who will get you away from everybody and turn your phone off. We didn’t have Snapchat in 2004, we didn’t have Instagram in 2004. We had a room that we all had to huddle around with desktop computers where we all had to get news about what was going on.
“But now, in 2016, I see the USA team Snapchatting and Instagramming. Part of you wants to tell them to shut it down and do it like I did it, but that may not be the right thing. Understand why you’re there, understand you’re not going to get this moment again. You don’t typically repeat when you go for the Olympics. Understand why you’re there, take it seriously and everything else will fall in place.”
Ward vs. Brand, HBO Boxing, Saturday, August 6, 10:35 p.m. ET/7:45 p.m. PT on HBO.
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, Fellow PRSA, is an award-winning boxing journalist covering the Sweet Science for Communities and for boxing fans worldwide. Read more Ringside Seat in Communities Digital News. She is owner of the Falcon Valley Group based in San Diego, California. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego. Gayle can be reached via Google +
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