Andre Ward is a religious man. His nickname, S.O.G., which stands for Son of God, leaves little doubt. And appropriately so, considering how little doubt has played a role in Andre's life. Doubt does not win 90 amateur fights and two US National Amateur Championships. Doubt does not become the only US Olympic boxer to win a gold medal in nearly two decades. And doubt does not compile a professional record of 18-0 with 12 knockouts without even being seriously challenged. Replacing this doubt is faith. Faith in Andre's religion, his ability and in his mission, to become a world champion again, and the new face of American boxing.
Andre's faith will be tested tonight when he returns to his hometown of Oakland, California, to fight for the first time as a professional, against dangerous former middleweight title contender Edison Miranda.
Born across the bay in San Francisco, Ward lives and trains in Oakland. He has amassed a significant local and national fan following, a fan following Ward hopes will help propel him to the biggest victory of his career.
"I am excited to fight in my backyard," Ward says. "Miranda is a solid fighter. It's going to be a competitive fight, but I will be prepared."
Despite an 18-0 professional record, the knock on Ward is that he has yet to be tested. 12 of his victories have come by knockout and all have been fairly dominant. His last fight, against fellow American Super Middleweight contender Henry Buchanan, was a rare shutout, with all three judges scoring the fight 120-108 for Ward. At age 25, Ward's camp feels he is being brought along the right way. There is no reason to rush the 2004 Olympic gold medalist, in a sport where one fight or one punch can instantly derail a blossoming career. Miranda, however, presents a new and unusual challenge, unusual because of his fight changing power. 28 of Miranda's 32 professional victories have ended in knockouts, a knockout percentage that is unrivaled in the Super Middleweight division.
How powerful is Miranda? Ask David Banks. Banks was circling the ring in the 3rd round of his January 2008 fight against Miranda, televised on ESPN, when a single right hand sent him through the ropes, and abruptly ended his night. It would go on to be named one of the top candidates for Ring Magazine's 2008 Knockout of the Year. Ward vows not to meet a similar fate.
Outside of the ring, Andre is one of the most down to earth guys you could ever meet. A devoted husband and loving father of three, he takes every opportunity to meet with fans or sign an autograph. A trip to one of his son's baseball games can turn into a media event, complete with countless photographs and conversations about the sport he loves. Andre understands that the fans are what make the sport of boxing as great as it is.
Many boxing observers, and fans alike, feel Ward has all the necessary tools to become a world champion. They feel that Andre not only has the physical attributes to keep that perfect record, but the mental makeup as well. Inside the ring there is no questioning his ability. Andre possesses exceptional footwork, superior speed and power in both hands. Although his chin has yet to be tested, he has taken some good shots and kept coming forward. Add in the desire to be world champion, and you have one of the best young fighters in the world.
Andre's golden past has certainly raised his profile with the American public. The majority of his professional fights have been broadcast by HBO, Showtime or Fox, and he recently agreed to boxing t-shirt, clothing and apparel deal with Cleveland, Ohio based Pound 4 Pound Apparel (http://www.pound4poundapparel.com/).
On May 16th, expect Miranda to stay close and try to bully the younger Ward. A fight like this is one where Ward's patience and ring savvy will pay off. In order to stay perfect, Andre Ward will need to avoid Miranda's power in the early rounds, pick his shots and look to counterpunch the aggressive Columbian. It will be an exciting evening at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, where a capacity crown of mostly Ward supporters is expected.
At the end of the night, look for Andre Ward to have his hand raised once again, proving that of all the skills and abilities he possesses, that his faith may indeed be the most difficult to overcome.