LAS VEGAS -- As night turned to morning and Floyd Mayweather was mercifully wrapping up another long, rambling press conference, he pointed to a notable face in the crowd: Andre Ward. There was no real reason for Mayweather to acknowledge Ward. Mayweather fights for Showtime. Ward for HBO. Mayweather is his own promoter. Ward is represented by Dan Goossen. Yet there was Mayweather, singling out Ward in a packed room, praising a fighter he has no deep connection with.
"Andre Ward is a great champion," Mayweather said. "If I had Andre Ward and Mikey Garcia under my banner, we would be smoking."
Later, Ward, leaning against a wall in an empty corridor, smiled at the memory of the moment. "I appreciate it," Ward said. "I know Floyd has his business hat on, as he should. He's got to take a shot. I just appreciate the fact that he acknowledged me."
For Ward, it was a rare moment of ease in a year that has been rocked by conflict. For the last few months Ward has been embroiled in a bitter dispute with Goossen, his longtime promoter. To the casual fan, it's perplexing. With Goossen, Ward has rapidly developed into one of boxing's most visible fighters. Ward's dominating performance in Showtime's Super Six tournament established him near the top of most pound-for-pound list and earned him a multi-fight deal with HBO that guarantees him millions for every fight. And Ward has routinely drawn strong crowds in Oakland, his hometown.
All things considered, it's fair to ask: What exactly is Ward's beef? Why would a fighter in the prime of his career risk stalling it?
The crux of Ward's issue with Goossen is this: For the last few years, Ward has been co-promoted by Goossen and Antonio Leonard. Goossen, the face of Goossen-Tutor promotions, has been the front man. Leonard has worked behind the scenes. Leonard has been instrumental in building support for Ward in Oakland. For many Ward fights, Leonard moves to the area a six weeks early, pushing Ward at local events, building his brand at the grassroots level.
In 2011, Ward re-signed with Goossen and Leonard. The two promoters split the signing bonus--$550,000--and agreed to continue sharing the promotional profits. However--and this is where things get a little murky--only Goossen's name was on the promotional agreement. According to Leonard, Goossen agreed to add Leonard to the promotional agreement once he was licensed in California. A December, 2010 email exchange between Goossen and Leonard--a copy of which was obtained by SI.com--show Goossen indicating it would be "no problem" adding Leonard to the paperwork once he was licensed.
Last summer, Ward, believing Leonard and his manager, James Prince, were being excluded from discussions about future fights, went to arbitration to break his contract with Goossen. Ward lost. Then, this: Last fall, Leonard received a California license. He asked Goossen to be added to the agreement. Goossen declined. Last November, Leonard claims that Goossen refused to pay him his share of the promotional revenue from Ward's super middleweight title defense against Edwin Rodriguez, revenue that Leonard estimates to be worth nearly $300,000. Then, Leonard alleges, Goossen informed him he would no longer be sharing any of the profit from Ward's fights.
When asked why he didn't insist on being included in the co-promotional agreement in the first place, Leonard cited a longstanding relationship with Goossen.
"I didn't have a problem with Dan," Leonard told SI.com. "I always felt he was a very trustworthy person. I never thought he wasn't. He said as long as I got my promoters license, I would get what I was supposed to get."
Goossen was not immediately available for comment.
None of this has sat well with Ward. To Ward, Goossen's actions were tantamount to a betrayal. Last December, Ward filed a lawsuit to void his contract. That case is still pending. Last month, Ward lost his second try at arbitration. While Goossen has publicly expressed a desire to move on, Ward has steadfastly maintained that Leonard needs to be involved in the process.
"I took Goossen's money," Ward said. "I took Leonard's money. I can't in good conscience walk away from [Leonard]. I can't take his money and know that he is not being compensated or ignored. That's the root of the issue. That's a friend of mine, that's a business partner of mine. For whatever reason, Dan decided to walk away and exclude him. I refuse to do it."
Battling a promoter in court carries risk. This isn't Judge Judy. A lawsuit could take months, years to be resolved. However Ward maintains that he is willing to fight for Goossen while the lawsuit plays out. But he says he has not had one legitimate offer from Goossen since December. Names like Sakio Bika, James DeGale and Anthony Dirrell have been floated but, says Ward, those fights represent a step back. And while there has been a public push for Ward to move up to light heavyweight--specifically for a fight with Sergey Kovalev--Ward says there are still plenty of opponents for him in the super middleweight division.
"I'm not a light heavyweight," Ward said. "That's just what it is. I know there has been a lot of noise about Kovalev, but that's one fight. That's not even a pay per view fight. When I go there, and we beat Kovalev, they are going to say he is just a puncher, that he is one dimensional. Then where do I go? There are options at 168. [Gennady] Golovkin is an option. [Julio Cesar] Chavez is an option. But those guys have been allowed to circumvent fighting the best guy. Golovkin has built his reputation saying he will fight anybody. I'm raising my hand. I'm somebody. Let's do it."
As he watches another year of his prime slip away, Ward resolve has strengthened. He says he has been encouraged by the support from Mayweather and Bernard Hopkins, both of who have battled promoters in the past. He says he is in shape and ready to fight, whenever Goossen calls. He will not back down though, not now, not ever.
"Every time a fighter stands up, it's not a bad thing," Ward said. "I want to be in the ring more than anyone else wants me to be in the ring. This is literally how I feed my family. I'm building up so much hunger [during] these trials and tribulations. I'm not getting fat, I'm not getting upset. My time is going to come. When I get past this, the flood gates are going to open."