By Sarah Gruber
Posted: March 16, 2016
Former unified Super Middleweight champion, Andre “S.O.G” Ward (28-0, 15 KOs) is scheduled to take on Cuban Light Heavyweight Sullivan Barrera (17-0, 12 KOs) on March 26, in a 12-round fight from Oracle Arena in Oakland, California.
Ward, the former 2004 Olympic gold medalist, once cleared out the 168-pound division and thus this fight against Barrera will mark Ward’s much awaited debut as a Light Heavyweight. Ward’s jump into this weight division was done with the sole purpose of eventually facing the IBF, WBA and WBO titleholder Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev (29-0-1, 26 KOs), in a much anticipated matchup planned for the fall of 2016.
Both Kovalev and Ward have struggled to find competitive opposition and the winner could surely find themselves very high on boxing analysts’ pound-for-pound lists.
Ward was once listed in the top five of many credible pound-for-pound lists, but has only fought a shocking three times since the end of 2011, largely due to contract issues with his ex-promoter, the late Dan Goosen.
Ward has since signed with Roc Nation Sports, under which he made his return after 19 months of inactivity with a tune-up fight against Paul Smith. Ward stopped Smith in the ninth round when Smith’s corner threw in the towel to cease any further punishment on their fighter.
Following the fight with Smith, Ward was eager to make his debut as a Light Heavyweight against Alexander Brand on November 21, 2015, as the co-main event of Miguel Cotto vs. Canelo Alvarez’s Middleweight championship bout live on HBO PPV.
Unfortunately, Ward sustained a knee injury was forced to withdraw from the matchup. The fight against Brand was also supposed to mark the first of Ward’s three fights in a brand new deal with HBO, culminating with the Kovalev clash.
The debate still in question is whether this fight against Barerra will count as Ward’s first fight in his HBO deal or his second. It is believed that HBO would like to count Barrera as Ward’s second contact fight, then have him face Kovalev on November 19. Whereas Ward’s team would prefer to face Barrera, then face one more opponent with a corresponding seven-figure payout before facing Kovalev at the end of his contact.
Regardless of the details and specifics with contracts and scheduling between Ward and HBO, a fight with Kovalev seems highly likely to take place before this year ends, as long as both men continue to win.
Having said all of that, one very important variable stands in the way of a Ward and Kovalev matchip; Sullivan Barrera.
Barrera is truly a step up in opposition for Ward being that he is a true light heavy weight with power in both hands and a 71 percent knockout ratio. Barrera is also the biggest fighter Ward has ever faced as a professional and a heavy puncher at that.
Ward has to prove that he can not only fight at 175, but also do it with strong conviction if he wants to prove he is ready for the likes of Kovalev.
Looking at the pedigree of Ward, it seems likely he will win this fight, but his lack of activity makes it hard to know what remains of the once highly-feared champion.
Being a superior technician, Ward should look to out box Barrera, staying effective behind his jab and catching Barrera with blows as he comes in. Ward is known as a very intelligent and highly composed fighter who is not easily shaken or taken off of his game plan.
Ward’s vast boxing intelligence and near flawless technique however are not in question. The real question is can Ward withstand the upgrade of power in advancing to the Light Heavyweight division and defeat the first member of its welcoming party, the dangerous Barrera?
Photo by Tom Hogan/Hoganphotos/Roc Nation Sports