Andre Ward is the No.2 pound-for-pound fighter in the world.
Typically, a fighter with that kind of ability doesn't have to make fights; the fights come to him. Just ask Floyd Mayweather Jr.
But Ward isn't a typical fighter. He hasn't lost a fight since he was 12 years old, and the “0” on his professional record hasn't looked like it's going anywhere in 26 fights. Since Ward doesn't have the following or recognition (read: money draw) that should come with his ability, Ward is still making fights.
He's also still waiting for his first fight in Las Vegas. His next one could change that.
Ward has agreed to fight former unified middleweight titleholder Kelly Pavlik (42-2, 34 KO) at the Galen Center on USC's campus – the venue's first boxing match.
Pavlik represents a golden opportunity for Ward to announce himself to the mainstream public. Pavlik became a household name after beating Jermain Taylor in 2007, and was the top-ranked American boxer during Mayweather's brief retirement that same year.
Pavlik has fallen on hard times since, dealing with alcoholism and injuries, but has returned to the ring this year and kept busy. This could represent Pavlik's final shot at the spotlight, and Ward isn't taking it lightly.
“I've heard all the talk about Kelly Pavlik, but I know better than that. He's beaten plenty of the big names,” Ward said.
One name Pavlik did not beat happens to be a fighter Ward is often compared to: the legendary Bernard Hopkins. B-Hop, 43 at the time, schooled Pavlik in 2008, winning almost every round of the fight while toying with Pavlik. Pavlik, who has certainly faded in the years since, will now face a prime Ward ready to make a statement.
At first glance, Atlantic City or Oakland seems like a better destination for the big fight. Ward routinely sells out venues in his hometown of Oakland, and both he and Pavlik have earned big crowds in AC. But Ward and his team are looking at the big picture: They want to get to Las Vegas for a true initiation into boxing lore.
“When we do Vegas, we're gonna do it right,” said Rodney Hunt, marketing director for Goossen Tutor promotions.
That's why the Galen Center is the perfect place for the fight.
Neither fighter has connections to SoCal, but Ward has fought almost his entire career in California without really touching the LA market. The plan is to tap into USC's deep and influential alumni to raise Ward's profile. It also helps that the Lakers are off that day, as Metta World Peace – who actually crashed the ring for Ward's last fight in Oakland – and Kobe Bryant have both expressed interest in attending. As Hunt put it, “The only place with brighter lights than Vegas is LA.”
In the sense of publicity, he's right. If all goes according to plan and Ward waxes Pavlik in front of the LA crowd, Vegas will come calling.
They'll just have to hope another fighter will take a chance in the ring.