There is, of course, another way to phrase that: The individual roundly designated as the No. 2 fighter in the world … is all by himself.
In the sports world, to find an elite athlete sans entourage is really something. But for a prizefighter, it’s highly unusual, if not downright strange.
But then again, no, Ward is not your average athlete or person. So when the Oakland-native came to visit our offices for a round of interviews with us and The Shadow League, flanked by a rep from HBO who apparently didn’t stay for long, the absence of a phalanx of handlers seemed fitting. He was dressed neatly in a black suit, white shirt and black tie — all business.
“The culture in boxing is such that if itās not something negative or crazy, journalists donāt want to cover it,” he said of his demeanor. “Thatās cool, but Iāve got to be me. And if people take notice of that, great.”
Ward spoke just a day before he was due to join the HBO crew to cover a double-header at Boardwalk Hall, which featured the return of the supremely talented Cuban boxer Guillermo Rigondeaux. He headed back to California where, presumably, he went to prepare for the final stages of attempting to break from his longtime promoter, Dan Goossen.
āThe legal process that I’m going through right now should have no bearing on my getting back in the ring as soon as possible,ā Ward wrote in an email to the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday morning.
In our interview, you’ll notice hints of Ward’s displeasure with his current deal, which runs through 2015. He faces an uphill battle, but was in high spirits. The interview lasted a little over 45 minutes.
B.E. Sports Biz: Youāre doing a lot of television for HBO Boxing and not to be a suck up, but you’re quite good at it. What kind of training went into that?
Andre Ward: For me, I think a lot of my training came from watching. Iām a visual learner. I knew this was something that I wanted to do. I donāt just watch boxing broadcasts, I watched football, basketball, baseball, you name it. I looked for things like mannerisms, body language, the energy they display; but also in the midst of all of that; understanding that I have to be myself. That was like my education. Then from there it was just getting the reps. I got some smaller opportunities with some small networks. Ironically enough, before I got the gig with HBO I did an internship to learn the business from the production side with Comcast in San Francisco. I had a couple of auditions with HBO and they went well. Now itās just about getting more and more polished. I watch guys like Jim Lampley and Max Kellerman and Al Bernstein, who’s been a tremendous help and taken me under his wing mentoring me. Heās probably helped me the most out of everyone.
I really just have the desire to get better at it. I have an advantage over most guys because I am a boxer, but doing television is a completely different animal. Thatās why I need to study and take notes if Iām going to become a great broadcaster, and I do want to become a great broadcaster. I have a stack of notes — I take reps in the mirror like most people [Laughs]. Itās work. Itās not easy. I feel like I have a natural something about me that makes me a really good communicator but I still have a lot of work to do.
Do you see Lampley and those guys you mentioned — Kellerman — as your colleagues?
Itās kind of weird hearing that, but they are when Iām in the broadcast booth. Theyāre my partners. And I learn a great deal from those guys. Lampley has a memory like an elephant. He has no notes. He runs the whole show and he makes it look easy. Kellerman is a younger guy but heās been around and has done a lot of things in television. Itās a cumulative effect on me to help me become what I want to become as a broadcaster. But the best thing is Iām able to make a decent living and Iām not taking any punches. So thatās a bonus.
It sounds like thatās very important to you.
Very important. Because ultimately, the broadcasting is part of my exit strategy. Thatās what Iām in the beginning stages of creating. Because Iāll be 30 in February. Iām coming up on ten years as a professional. Iāve got ten years as an amateur in the bank. Thatās twenty years of boxing — I donāt know how much longer I have. That sounds crazy to people when I say that as a 29-year-old, but I feel like itās my duty to think like this. A lot of guys find themselves on the wrong end of their career, with no plan B and fighting longer than they should because they thought it would never end.
Is it a difficult experience to analyze a fight? You’re a fighter —
Itās hard for me to critique guys and say certain things sometimes. Thatās one thing that Lampley and the folks at HBO told me from day one, that I have to be willing to do that. Thatās something that Iām actively working on. But I also feel like I have an advantage, too. Take the fighter meetings for example. When he walks into that room, I understand the look in his eyes. Theyāre making weight so they probably havenāt eaten much that day, probably havenāt had any fluids. Theyāre getting asked certain questions they maybe donāt want to answer. I understand what theyāre going through so I have a compassion that you can only have if youāve done it.
All in all, itās awkward sometimes but itās getting easier to do. Sometimes I can predict something based on my experience. I feel confident knowing I can do the job not just from an intellectual standpoint, but experientially as well. I know what it feels like to get cut. I know what it feels like to get hit with a good shot and get your bell rung. I know exactly what a swollen eye feels like. So it just helps me bring something to the booth thatās unique and enhances what theyāre already doing.
Was there a moment when you felt the most comfortable? Like a fight where you went, āYou know I killed this broadcast.ā
Iām really hard on myself. That can be good and bad for me. But Iāve had a couple of shows where I said you know what? I think I did good. My wife is always the confirmation.
āBabe, howād it look?ā And sheāll say, āYou did that baby, you did good.ā So if she tells me that then Iām not tripping. But Iām getting more comfortable. Whenever I get back-to-back shows without a big lull, thatās when I feel the best. But Iād say my biggest challenge right now is my on-camera. When they say three, two, one weāre live and youāve got the mic in your hand and you have to answer questions on the fly ā¦ you have to look at whoās addressing you but also keep in mind youāve got to make eye contact with the viewer, thatās what Iām trying to improve upon. I normally feel comfortable calling the fight. But itās when Iām on camera is what I have to work on.