Part 1 of a Shadow League Exclusive. Behind the story of an epic fighter.
Purpose has always been a freeing word. The ability to glean what you have been placed on this planet to do is an amazing gift that only few truly experience. Within the hallowed realms of pugilism, Andre Ward stands as one who has been betrothed to his purpose − seeing it as clear as his unblemished professional boxing record.
But as a child growing up in Oakland, California, all he wanted to walk in the footsteps of his parents. In this case, Dad was the focus of Ward’s emulation.
“I had a good childhood. My father raised me as a single Dad and I’ve had my struggles within my family life like most people do. It wasn’t the easiest upbringing, but it wasn’t the worst. And I thank my Dad for taking the responsibility to raise two boys on his own. He owned his own glass company, he was a blue-collar type of man, he went to work everyday and then he came home and he was a father. That was the example that I had and that’s what my father displayed. I know for a fact that what he showed me through the ups and downs and the good times and the bad times is that I’m not going to run out on y’all. I’m going to be here and I’m going to work everyday. That same mentality is what carries me into my sport and even helps me raise my children, because it's not easy. But again, that was the example I had.”
Through this example, Ward was fascinated with his father’s tales of boxing grandeur. As a student at Crestmoor High School in San Bruno, California, the elder Ward competed as a Heavyweight where he went an illustrious 15-0. The tales became legendary within the testosterone filled Ward residence, igniting a flame within young Andre Ward that only personal exploration into the sweet science could quell.
“I can just remember my father telling me these stories and telling me about his rivals at other schools and how he prepared and I was like, ‘Dad I want to do it.’ And this was at 9 years old. And my Dad being the way that he was, kind of a no nonsense type of man, he said, ‘look if we do it we’re going to stick to it.’ And I said, 'All right. I’m ready.' I didn’t know what I was getting myself into and I remember the first day we went to the gym. It was closed. And I can remember my Dad picking me up and letting me gaze into the gym. All I remember is just seeing a boxing ring like, 'Man that’s a real boxing ring.' We came back, I think, the following day. And that’s where the journey started.”
The unconscious pursuit of purpose often leads one to a magi or mentor who has the right words and can see the pursuant achieving his goals through some form of trial by fire. In this case, Ward didn’t have to go far as his wise man was in-house in the form of now famed boxing trainer and Godfather to Ward, Virgil Hunter. At the time the two didn’t realize it, but their paths would be forever intertwined, as the two would, in essence, define each other’s eventual success.
“My Dad didn’t think initially that I had what it took to be a fighter. First couple of sparring sessions didn’t go good. Virgil Hunter told my Dad, 'Just give him some time.' And I’m thankful that he did because we might not be sitting here today. Then I started actually competing and I just took off and in 2001 that’s when I really felt like, at 17 years old, that I belonged because I was in the open division which means you’re fighting anyone from 17-35 years old and I wasn’t seated going into the U.S. championships. I was unknown and all we had was a belief that we belonged. And I was able to beat one guy after another. It was the last guy standing and that’s when I personally knew that I belonged. And from there, we just continued to win and just continued to do what we had set out to do. And I looked up and I’m competing for my country in the 2004 Olympics.”
That fated Olympics would yield a Light Heavyweight gold medal for Ward, an accomplishment not achieved by an American boxer at the time for 8 years. Immediately, Ward went pro taking on Chris Molina at the Staples Center on December 18th 2004. The result: A second round TKO of Molina and the start of a win streak that is now legendary. Along with an unblemished record of no losses, Ward seemed to have found his purpose.
“I love it and its strange because in this era, for whatever reason, in the sport of boxing there’s this new thing where if you have an 0 on your record you must have been done something wrong, you’ve avoided a certain challenge, and that’s not the case. I’ve fought the best in my division and around my division. I’ve fought Chad Dawson last year who was the Light Heavyweight kingpin when he was still at his peak. I haven’t lost in a long time - 16, 17 years or something like that - but I honestly don’t think about the streak. I don’t say, 'Okay, lets get one more to add to the streak.' I’m not trying to preserve a record per se. I’m just trying to keep competing and be the best that I can be. But the fact that I have an 0 to me fighting the guys that we fought, it’s a tremendous thing for me and I’m thankful. I don’t care what the critics say. I want to leave the sport with my 0 in tact.”
Check out part 2 of this exclusive TSL interview.