April 5, 2011
LOS ANGELES, (AP) -- Although the Super Six World Boxing Classic has become a ramshackle, sputtering vehicle in its final laps, Andre Ward is still determined to ride it to the finish line.
Ward recently announced he'll face Arthur Abraham at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., on May 14 in the semifinals of a well-intentioned super middleweight tournament beset by injuries that led to the withdrawal of half the original field.
The turmoil hasn't slowed down Ward (23-0, 13 KOs): The Oakland native and Olympic gold medalist dominated his last three fights, emerged on the international boxing scene and became the favorite to win it all. England's Carl Froch meets Glen Johnson in the other semifinal in June, with the final expected late this year.
"Since this tournament started, my skin has got a lot thicker," Ward said. "I've just got to keep doing me. Just keep fighting, keep winning, and keep putting on spectacular performances for the fans."
Ward and Abraham appeared together at a promotional news conference in an Italian restaurant in Sherman Oaks, although Abraham (32-2, 26 KOs) attended by video link from Berlin, declining to interrupt his training with a flight to Los Angeles. Ward didn't let it shake him, grinningly posing with a life-size cardboard cutout of Abraham.
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Abraham was an unbeaten pre-tournament favorite, but the Armenian-born German's career took major hits with a disqualification loss to Andre Dirrell and a stunningly one-sided decision loss to Froch last year.
For all of its flaws and changes, Ward still believes the Super Six will propel him into greater fame and paydays. He expects a win over Abraham to set up a decisive fight with WBC champion Froch, and he's hoping to fight IBF champion Lucian Bute for the undisputed 168-pound title after the Super Six is settled.
Froch already has called out Ward, a thought that evokes a smirk from Ward.
"I'm going to give him what he's been asking for," Ward said.
Although Ward was criticized early in his pro career for his slow pace up the ladder following his gold medal triumph in the Athens Olympics, he believes everything was building to 2011. The only American gold medalist in the past three Olympics won the WBA's 168-pound belt with his stunning victory over Denmark's Mikkel Kessler to open the tournament in November 2009.
"This tournament sped me up," Ward said. "I knew I had to win right away. I couldn't build it up slowly anymore."
Ward is the only fighter who has emerged from the Super Six concept with his career enhanced and unscathed.
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Froch lost to Kessler, who eventually cited injuries in withdrawing from the competition. Dirrell and Jermain Taylor also withdrew, essentially reducing it to a four-man tournament now with the addition of the tough veteran Johnson.
"No matter how the Super Six has progressed, I think it's a tremendous concept for boxing," said Dan Goossen, Ward's promoter. "I think everyone learned how tough it is to make great fights amongst the world's best fighters. It sometimes takes years and years to put together a fight that people want to see. It's taken some time, but it's been worth it."
Although Ward has career aspirations that include an eventual fight at heavyweight, he's hoping the Super Six title propels him into a fight with Bute, the best 168-pounder not in the Super Six field.
And even if everything works out as he plans, Ward won't forget the struggle that got him into position for a shot at this title.
"I have two more fights before I'm the best super middleweight in the world," Ward said. "And I plan on winning both of them."