Boxer Andre Ward on Floydmania, His Deal With Brand Jordan and Boxing Exit Strategy

In our exclusive interview with Andre Ward, the 29-year-old answers if he's OK with being No. 2 to Floyd Mayweather Jr

I wanted to ask you something related to what Kevin Durant said in an interview with James Brown from CBS. He’s 25 and you’re 29 so you’re still relatively young guys, but something he said was interesting — he said he’s tired of being No. 2. As someone who’s widely considered the second-best fighter right now, does that bother you?

From a competitive standpoint I want to be No. 1. That’s why I got into the sport. But I’m OK being No. 2 because of who I’m No. 2 to. That’s Floyd Mayweather. It’s different with Kevin and LeBron because they’re similar in age and they’re peers. But I grew up watching Floyd. So the fact that I’m No. 2 to him right now is a big deal. I’m fine with that for now. That’s just me paying homage to him. It’s not like he’s fallen off. He’s getting better. He’s creating more revenue, selling more pay-per-views. He’s still dominating these fighters at 35, 36 years old. I’ve been fortunate to do what I’ve done for the amount of time that I’ve done it but he’s doubled that. So I respect that. I think I would be wrong to demand the No. 1 spot with the resume Floyd Mayweather has.

How do you put what he’s been able to do in perspective?

Well, I think Floyd had a lot of things work in his favor. He started off with Arturo Gatti in his first pay-per-view, so even from the start he had the right opponents. His next fight generated 200,000-300,000 buys, but then came Oscar de la Hoya who is a money-making machine for whatever reason. Floyd also reinvented himself at that time. He said ‘I’m no longer going to be Pretty Boy — nobody’s accepting that.’ He changed his name to Money Mayweather, The Villain. And it worked for him. Then he fought Ricky Hatton … he kind of just built from there. Now he’s the cash cow. So I just think it was the combination of having the right opponents, doing the right things that I wouldn’t be willing to do.

Like what?

I’m not going to get into Floyd’s business from that standpoint. But he’s just willing to do certain things or say things that I’m just not willing to do or say for another buy or to put another person in the seats. I’m just not. I feel like I have my fanbase and as long as I’m promoted the right way my fanbase is going to continue to grow. But I have to stay true to who I am. If I never sell a million pay-per-views but I stayed true to who I was and never sold out, I think that’s a bonus for me. That’s my perspective on it.

Casual fans think it’s either Floyd Mayweather-type numbers for an event or bust. But that’s not true. There’s a lot of guys like me. I’m building a Hall of Fame career. I make a great living. I have great credentials and I’m living my dream. But sometimes it gets lost in the shuffle because it’s Mayweather mania right now. People don’t remember that it took Floyd twenty years to get there. He didn’t start making real money until he was in his thirties. Furthermore, that may not be for everybody. They talk about Bernard Hopkins saying that he never really made it to that point. Well, I disagree. He’s a guy who is living off his interest right now. He’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He’s still beating these young guys — that’s a pretty successful career. It may not be a Mayweather-type career, but that’s pretty darn successful. I know God has a plan for me and along that journey I’m going to try to stay true to myself and my faith. The key is to walk away with no regrets.

What do you remember the most about your Olympic experience in Athens?

It was hot. [Laughs.]

When you think back what do you remember the most about the experience?

The people were welcoming. The food was great. Just overall, I felt comfortable there. We had just gone to war around that time and tensions were high, but it was a place where everyone made you feel welcome. It’s a place I’ve been meaning to go back to because I didn’t really get a chance to experience the country. We were there for a purpose. We all felt good being there.

I ask because the Olympics are coming up and one of the questions I’m curious about is what increased opportunities lay ahead for athletes who win gold as opposed to silver or bronze — you won the gold medal in 2004. Why do you think you weren’t able to capitalize from an endorsement standpoint?

It was different for me because if you look at the class of fighters before the 2000 class — Ricardo Williams, Rocky Juarez from Houston — those guys were both silver medalists and got major signing bonuses in the six- and seven figures coming out of the blocks. And Juarez went on to have a successful career. Williams unfortunately got into some trouble and didn’t really pan out the way they thought. I think that hurt my class. Promoters and sponsors weren’t willing to take risks. I didn’t get what I thought I was going to get. I didn’t get any major endorsement deals. I didn’t really even get a whole lot of attention.

It wasn’t like Ray Leonard in ‘76 when the games were on NBC. He endeared himself to the American people. They knew his story. We fought on a random network at two or three in the morning. Nobody knew about it. So there were a lot of factors. My gold medal went unnoticed. It was hurtful but it also motivated me. Not to prove anybody wrong … but it’s given me that healthy chip on my shoulder to keep grinding, to keep working. Some would say even at this point that I don’t have the notoriety or certain things that I should have. I’m fortunate to have some significant endorsement deals with Jordan Brand, Shoe Palace, Everlast, HBO… so things are happening. I do think sometimes that not getting everything up front may have been a blessing in disguise. Because you always feel like you’re ready for multi-millions right away. But I don’t know if I would have been ready for that back in 2004. I didn’t, and I kind of earned it the hard way. I appreciate it now more than I would have back then.

What did you go through personally having not gotten the attention you probably rightly deserved given what you’ve accomplished?

It was hurtful. I just knew that I was the only guy who won a gold medal. I mean, initially there was a lot of promise from major companies. Not one major endorsement deal. And a lot of things came into play. Boxing had a bad rap. The 2000 class. Nobody really got to see what I accomplished. It was tough. My wife would ask, you know, ‘Baby, what’s going on?’ And to this day, now that I’m a professional I have people saying I don’t get the credit that I deserve. It’s for a reason. I don’t know what that reason is, but it’s allowed me to have a blue-collar mentality even though I was a gold medalist. Even with that I feel like I can’t complain because of what I accomplished and what I’ve made financially. I really feel like the end is going to be bigger than the beginning. It’s going to end the way it’s supposed to end.

I have a big pay-per-view coming up and even getting opportunities like this — this isn’t a boxing website. And these are the interviews I love to do because I’m so much more than just a fighter. I have a mind and a knack for business. I care about being an example for my generation.

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