This one feels different.
Maybe it’s because he’s built his entire persona around being a God fearing man—a foreign character trait in the seedy world of professional prizefighting. Or maybe it’s because recent advancements in medical science has just now revealed the true carnage chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) can have on a person’s repeated exposure to head trauma. But the surprise retirement of reigning 33-year-old “pound-for-pound” king Andre “S.O.G.” Ward feels permanent.
It’s quite the gut-punch for professional boxing. Coming off of the hyper cash grab that was Mayweather/McGregor (which proved once again that boxing ain’t dead) and the excellent yet aggregating (and some may call corrupt) Canelo/GGG bout, the last thing boxing needed was one of its brightest stars walking away, leaving several rounds and millions of dollars on the table. But none of that mattered to Ward.
“I want to be clear — I am leaving because my body can no longer put up with the rigors of the sport and therefore my desire to fight is no longer there,” the two-time world champion said in a statement. “If I cannot give my family, my team, and the fans everything that I have, then I should no longer be fighting.”
Rational thought from a 33-year-old man who still has all of his faculties. Except S.O.G. — which stands for “Son of God”, by the way — concludes his career “only” 32-0, without a signature win against a marquee opponent. Arthur Abraham? Chad Dawson? Carl Froch? Sergey Kovalev? That’s not exactly Apollo Creed, Clubber Lang and Ivan Drago (even if Kovalev and Drago do share a couple of highly distinct characteristics).
One could easily chalk this up to the “Roy Jones Effect”— a great fighter comes along during a time in which his division is void of legitimate superstars. And 16 KO’s in 32 fights (against less than stellar competition) won’t bring ’em in off the street, either. Floyd Mayweahter has a higher knockout percentage than Andre Ward.
This isn’t a slight, however. While Ward’s personality and boxing style hardly elevated his bouts to “must see” status, what S.O.G. lacks in showmanship he more than made up for in technical skill. He is one of the great fighters of this generation. It’s unfortunate for fight fans though that the career of a pugilist of this caliber was largely marred by contract disputes, cut short and ultimately (from a fan perspective) left unfulfilled.
Many of us wanted more. The paradox lies within the inherent danger of the sport—who are we to judge this man if he doesn’t wish to unnecessarily have his brain turned to Manwich?
It’s worth noting that Andre Ward dubbed himself a “free agent” after his contract with HBO Sports expired in August. He then released a video on his website indicating he had conquered everything he could in boxing and had nothing left to prove. The statement above suggests it was the physical toll which caused him to hang up his gloves. Add it up and it sounds like a man who could be searching for proper justification to walk away (another Oakland cat has been in the news for not being able to live with his decisions, too).
Boxers are notorious for coming out of retirement if the price is right, so you might be able to discount all this by about 30% or so. Maybe more. But this one feels different.
And that kinda sucks.