Andre Ward hardly touched the canvas for his first dozen years as a professional boxer. The Olympic gold medalist and dominant super middleweight had only been knocked down once over his first 30 bouts — all victories — and was hoping to beat Sergey Kovalev in late 2016 to join the likes of Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Rocky Marciano by retiring undefeated.
Most obviously, Ward was risking his long-term health by moving up to light heavyweight to face a fearsome champion known for beating an opponent to death just five years earlier. Furthermore, there were Ward’s lingering knee issues, which had gone largely unreported. Things were bad enough that Ward needed to have the surgically repaired joint drained before stepping into the ring against Kovalev.
‘There was times that I thought it was reckless there,’ Ward told Mail Sport ahead of Tuesday’s release. ‘You know, I talk about this in the book, like: ‘How am I gonna fight the most dangerous man I’ve ever fought?’
Ward’s admission of fear contrasts with his steely, almost invincible persona, which is what makes the memoir such a fascinating read for boxing fans. It’s a chance for a champion, who hadn’t lost since he was a 14-year-old amateur, to be vulnerable on a series of life-changing events: His parents’ drug battles, his own time on the streets, and the experience of being floored by Sergey ‘Krusher’ Kovalev.
Ward (right) is seen with his wife and high school sweetheart, Tiffany, before a 2015 event
Sergey Kovalev lands a left to the head of Andre Ward during the second round in 2016
‘In that moment for me in the Kovalev fight, first, it’s shock,’ Ward said of the second-round knockdown. ‘I couldn’t believe I was down there.’
Ward has a healthy respect for the canvas that borders on eccentric. Before retiring in 2017, he refused to even sit or do pushups on the mat during training for fear of getting too comfortable.
So when Kovalev dropped him, Ward was in new territory. He quickly went through an array of unfamiliar feelings in the brief few seconds before he returned to his feet.
‘You’re embarrassed,’ he said. ‘And then you get angry. That that’s my process. And when I feel those emotions, the next thing I want to do is I want to get that lick back. I gotta get you back. I don’t have time to think about anything else.’
Sergey Kovalev of Russia knocks down Andre Ward during the second round in 2016
Ward celebrates after winning his light heavyweight championship bout vs. Sergey Kovalev
The good news for Ward was that, somehow, he wasn’t hurt.
Typically, when Kovalev knocked someone down, they stayed down. But this was just a flash knockdown, which is why Ward rushed back to his feet in defiance of his late father, Frank.
‘My dad used to train me in our living room when I was eleven or twelve on what to do if I ever got knocked down,’ Ward explained in the book, with co-writer Nick Chiles. ‘Don’t rush up, son. Take a second. Depending on how you fell, you roll over and get on one knee. Then give yourself a second to rise. Don’t just jump up.’ Guys jump up and they’re not ready yet. Pride and embarrassment take over, and they don’t give themselves adequate time to fully get their wits back.’
But Ward was in a rush.
The weeks leading up to the fight were a nervous time for him. Kovalev’s reputation, the process of bulking up to light heavyweight, and his lingering knee issues had been circling around in his head, and Ward was admittedly feeling insecure about himself in the ring.
It was Ward’s father Frank (left), a former amateur heavyweight, who introduced him to boxing
Ward won Olympic gold in 2004 (left) and then went undefeated in his professional career
Ward’s mother Madeline Arvie Taylor is seen with two of her son’s four children
The knockdown, however, changed all of that. It was as if he left his nerves on the canvas, and without them dragging him down, he was finally able to fight his fight.
‘So people like to point to that knockdown… as if it’s a negative thing,’ Ward told Mail Sport. ‘And and they just gotta realize that what I did after I got knocked down and [had] never been done to that Kovalev before.’
Kovalev was 30-0-1 entering his first fight with Ward. He had knocked out 25 opponents, including Roman Simakov, who tragically died three days after their 2011 bout.
Those who had the guts to get back on their feet against Kovalev typically didn’t last very long.
‘They start to be in survival mode, and they don’t want to fight anymore,’ Ward said. ‘And I did the opposite.’
In what he now calls his ‘crowning moment,’ Ward battled back for a tactical — and controversial — unanimous-decision victory, which was later awarded Ring Magazine’s ‘Comeback of the Year’ for 2016.
He would go on to erase any doubt in their 2017 rematch, getting an eighth-round stoppage, although Kovalev blamed the result on low blows.
Regardless, the two victories allowed Ward to step away from boxing with his head held high.
Ward married his high school sweetheart Tiffiney in 2009 and the couple has four children
‘I did something I never had to do in, probably, my amateur and pro career,’ Ward said of the 2016 Kovalev bout. ‘Get out the mud and come from behind. I showed I wasn’t a frontrunner I showed I’m a true champion, and you know I just love that moment. I hated that it had to happen like that, but I’m I’m grateful for my response.’
His life was previously encapsulated in a Showtime documentary, ‘S.O.G.: The Book of Ward,’ but his recent memoir is a deeper dive into his life.
Again, he discusses his tumultuous upbringing with his parents, whom he refuses to blame for their drug battles. In fact, he dedicated the book to Frank and his mother, Madeline Arvie, who overcame her problems and remains a key figure in Ward’s life.
But he also delves into his personal struggles growing up in California — things that his four children were largely unaware of, like his run-ins with the law, and being bailed out of jail by his godfather and trainer, Virgil Hunter, a former probation officer.
‘Yeah, ’cause they didn’t know about everything,’ Ward said. ‘They were a little wide-eyed.’
Ward, an outspoken christian, delves into his faith, his family and some of the things that made him an extraordinary fighter (young boxers should really give pilates a try)
‘I think by people digging into this book, it may kill some images that they had of me,’ Ward said. ‘It may show them a different side.
‘Hopefully it’s a book that inspires you to get up and go do something.
‘You can overcome stereotypes, as a teenage father who wasn’t supposed to make it, came from a broken home, wasn’t supposed to make it. Not a lot of people gave me a chance to go and represent my country and win a gold medal. I did that. So you just see a young man who had a belief, had a faith, and who continued to press and overcome and overcome.
‘And this is what I want people to take from that.’