by Darren Sands Andre Ward is virtually alone.
There is, of course, another way to phrase that: The individual roundly designated as the No. 2 fighter in the world … is all by himself.
In the sports world, to find an elite athlete sans entourage is really something. But for a prizefighter, it’s highly unusual, if not downright strange.
But then again, no, Ward is not your average athlete or person. So when the Oakland-native came to visit our offices for a round of interviews with us and The Shadow League, flanked by a rep from HBO who apparently didn’t stay for long, the absence of a phalanx of handlers seemed fitting. He was dressed neatly in a black suit, white shirt and black tie — all business.
“The culture in boxing is such that if it’s not something negative or crazy, journalists don’t want to cover it,” he said of his demeanor. “That’s cool, but I’ve got to be me. And if people take notice of that, great.”
Ward spoke just a day before he was due to join the HBO crew to cover a double-header at Boardwalk Hall, which featured the return of the supremely talented Cuban boxer Guillermo Rigondeaux. He headed back to California where, presumably, he went to prepare for the final stages of attempting to break from his longtime promoter, Dan Goossen.
“The legal process that I’m going through right now should have no bearing on my getting back in the ring as soon as possible,” Ward wrote in an email to the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday morning.
In our interview, you’ll notice hints of Ward’s displeasure with his current deal, which runs through 2015. He faces an uphill battle, but was in high spirits. The interview lasted a little over 45 minutes.
B.E. Sports Biz: You’re doing a lot of television for HBO Boxing and not to be a suck up, but you’re quite good at it. What kind of training went into that?
Andre Ward: For me, I think a lot of my training came from watching. I’m a visual learner. I knew this was something that I wanted to do. I don’t just watch boxing broadcasts, I watched football, basketball, baseball, you name it. I looked for things like mannerisms, body language, the energy they display; but also in the midst of all of that; understanding that I have to be myself. That was like my education. Then from there it was just getting the reps. I got some smaller opportunities with some small networks. Ironically enough, before I got the gig with HBO I did an internship to learn the business from the production side with Comcast in San Francisco. I had a couple of auditions with HBO and they went well. Now it’s just about getting more and more polished. I watch guys like Jim Lampley and Max Kellerman and Al Bernstein, who’s been a tremendous help and taken me under his wing mentoring me. He’s probably helped me the most out of everyone.
I really just have the desire to get better at it. I have an advantage over most guys because I am a boxer, but doing television is a completely different animal. That’s why I need to study and take notes if I’m going to become a great broadcaster, and I do want to become a great broadcaster. I have a stack of notes — I take reps in the mirror like most people [Laughs]. It’s work. It’s not easy. I feel like I have a natural something about me that makes me a really good communicator but I still have a lot of work to do.
Do you see Lampley and those guys you mentioned — Kellerman — as your colleagues?
It’s kind of weird hearing that, but they are when I’m in the broadcast booth. They’re my partners. And I learn a great deal from those guys. Lampley has a memory like an elephant. He has no notes. He runs the whole show and he makes it look easy. Kellerman is a younger guy but he’s been around and has done a lot of things in television. It’s a cumulative effect on me to help me become what I want to become as a broadcaster. But the best thing is I’m able to make a decent living and I’m not taking any punches. So that’s a bonus.
It sounds like that’s very important to you.
Very important. Because ultimately, the broadcasting is part of my exit strategy. That’s what I’m in the beginning stages of creating. Because I’ll be 30 in February. I’m coming up on ten years as a professional. I’ve got ten years as an amateur in the bank. That’s twenty years of boxing — I don’t know how much longer I have. That sounds crazy to people when I say that as a 29-year-old, but I feel like it’s my duty to think like this. A lot of guys find themselves on the wrong end of their career, with no plan B and fighting longer than they should because they thought it would never end.
Is it a difficult experience to analyze a fight? You’re a fighter –
It’s hard for me to critique guys and say certain things sometimes. That’s one thing that Lampley and the folks at HBO told me from day one, that I have to be willing to do that. That’s something that I’m actively working on. But I also feel like I have an advantage, too. Take the fighter meetings for example. When he walks into that room, I understand the look in his eyes. They’re making weight so they probably haven’t eaten much that day, probably haven’t had any fluids. They’re getting asked certain questions they maybe don’t want to answer. I understand what they’re going through so I have a compassion that you can only have if you’ve done it.
All in all, it’s awkward sometimes but it’s getting easier to do. Sometimes I can predict something based on my experience. I feel confident knowing I can do the job not just from an intellectual standpoint, but experientially as well. I know what it feels like to get cut. I know what it feels like to get hit with a good shot and get your bell rung. I know exactly what a swollen eye feels like. So it just helps me bring something to the booth that’s unique and enhances what they’re already doing.
Was there a moment when you felt the most comfortable? Like a fight where you went, ‘You know I killed this broadcast.’
I’m really hard on myself. That can be good and bad for me. But I’ve had a couple of shows where I said you know what? I think I did good. My wife is always the confirmation.
“Babe, how’d it look?” And she’ll say, “You did that baby, you did good.” So if she tells me that then I’m not tripping. But I’m getting more comfortable. Whenever I get back-to-back shows without a big lull, that’s when I feel the best. But I’d say my biggest challenge right now is my on-camera. When they say three, two, one we’re live and you’ve got the mic in your hand and you have to answer questions on the fly … you have to look at who’s addressing you but also keep in mind you’ve got to make eye contact with the viewer, that’s what I’m trying to improve upon. I normally feel comfortable calling the fight. But it’s when I’m on camera is what I have to work on.
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