If a casual fan of boxing happened to find themselves in front of the television on Saturday night and came across the HBO broadcast, then he or she was treated to a performance from the 2nd best “Pound for Pound” fighter on the planet. That fan may not have known just how lucky they were at the start, but if that fan was able to gather enough evidence to comprehend just how special a fighter Andre Ward is then no doubt they contemplated why they were unaware of either the fight or the fighter himself beforehand.
American sports is inescapable, whether you’re watching TV or listening to the radio or surfing the Web, but the market value is equal to or greater than the demographic it appeals to. In this case, the promotion of Andre Ward’s fight probably got by a lot of viewers because of a lack of awareness towards him, even if they were the kind of viewers capable of appreciating his superb skills or the high skill level of any world-class athlete.
Most sports fans are localized, keen to their own selfish needs, which are often times simplified to the need of a cold alcoholic beverage and a vague understanding of the sport being spectated.
If accolades were the only thing to consider then Ward is just as valuable as a LeBron James or Derek Jeter or Cristiano Ronaldo. Some would suggest that boxing’s lack of appeal in America hurts his recognition or ability to market himself, but I’m not sure that’s the case.
Obviously boxing has lost significant luster compared to its heydays as a viable commodity, but Floyd Mayweather Jr. is proof that there is still a social interest that plays on an individual’s basic human emotions, at least enough so that you can capitalize off of it financially. Mayweather may not be the standard, but success can be found with boxing as the backbone of an athlete’s appeal. So why is Andre Ward’s star power so inferior to his status as a world-class fighter?
Ward is not fighting for peanuts by any means and of course he’s a star within the ranks of boxing, but his outside appeal is almost non-existent.
Some would suggest that it’s his lack of bravado, his nice guy appeal and his less than desirable attitude towards infamy. I think that is a cheap suggestion, albeit fair when considering society’s decaying moral values. A fighter like Adrien Broner can use WorldStarHipHip.com as a tool to enable his fame by using a negative course of action. So we punish Andre Ward for not being morally reprehensible. We celebrate Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber for their unruly publicity stunts, but condemn Ward for being an actual role model.
HBO is obviously invested in Ward and they are capable of turning him into something no one else can, but how close is he to his ceiling already? The game plan as of now is to match Ward with Chavez Jr., but there are all sorts of holes in that blueprint, not to mention it didn’t put Martinez in a significantly better position, although a fight with Cotto would be directly related to his victory over Chavez Jr.
That’s one of the biggest flaws with the 168lb-175lb division, there are so few high profiled fights. At least Martinez could hunt big game following his win over Chavez Jr., but there is nothing to reach for should Ward win.
Obviously HBO would love to eventually match Ward with another fighter they’ve backed in Gennady Golovkin, but that would be nothing more than the culmination of a hardcore fan’s fixation with very little mainstream appeal.
We can assume that HBO would love to match Ward with either Adonis Stevenson or Sergey Kovalev, but not until well after the two light heavyweight kingpins meet with one another. Regardless of which light heavyweight survives the other, a fight with Ward is both distant and meaningless to anyone outside the realm of hardcore boxing fans.
I don’t want to be a pessimist, but I have to be a realist and in regards to Ward’s future star power I think it’s bleak and about as strong as it might ever be. For what it’s worth — not much I’m sure — Ward has my respect and the respect of boxing insiders, or at least those with intelligence. But Ward can’t pay for his kid’s college education with mine or anyone else’s respect, he can’t brand himself with the Hulk Hogan blueprint of the 90s and expect to be justly compensated, it just doesn’t fly with anyone else.
Andre Ward has done some incredible things in his career and it is even more remarkable when you consider how long it really took him, the line from Drake’s song “5AM in Toronto” comes to mind. It isn’t Ward’s fault that he demolished any real challenger that stepped in front of him, including and up to his win over Edwin Rodriguez Saturday night.
It’s sad to consider, but in terms of Ward’s commercial legacy, he may join Teofilo Stevenson as one of the greatest fighters no one ever heard of, at least somewhere in the distant future.