In 2011, Andre Ward battered Carl Froch over 12 lopsided rounds, winning a unanimous decision and firmly establishing himself as the No. 1 super middleweight in the world. But as I watched Froch batter Mikkel Kessler last week, a fight witnessed by 18,000 fans in London's O2 Arena and millions more on Sky Sports in the U.K and HBO in the U.S., it occurred to me:
Ward needs Froch more than Froch needs Ward.
Think about it: Froch has options. The win over Kessler evened the series between the two and a third fight -- in either England or Denmark -- would be worth millions. Light heavyweight champion Bernard Hopkins is practically pleading for a fight with Froch, willing to come to the U.K. and fight at a catchweight to get it. Rising super middleweight contender George Groves is a promotional stablemate of Froch and would create an appealing all-England showdown.
Ward? Even he doesn't know who he will fight next. When I reached out to Ward on Monday, he said his rehabilitation from January shoulder surgery was going well. He said he is in the gym 2-3 days per week, hitting the mitts, shadow boxing, doing virtually all aspects of training. He said he will begin sparring in the second week in June and is eyeing a September return.
When I suggested to Ward that he needed the rematch more than Froch did, he called it "laughable."
"It's funny, because I don't see where he is the bigger draw," Ward said. "The British fans, they are very festive, they support their people. But before fighting Kessler, Froch was fighting in front of nine or ten thousand [in Nottingham]. And from a ratings standpoint [on HBO], he did a tremendously poor rating [493,000 viewers for the live broadcast]. My fight with Chad Dawson [last September] did 1.3 million. His team wants him to think he is the cash cow, but if I come to the U.K. it will be the biggest fight Froch has ever been associated with."
And what about going to London? Ward says he isn't opposed to it -- "I get excited thinking about fighting in that atmosphere," Ward said -- but he doesn't feel pressure to do it. In fact, during our interview, it was apparent who Ward is most interested in fighting: Former middleweight champions Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.
"It's something my manager, James Prince, and I have talked about for the last year," Ward said. "Chavez is making an effort to stay at 160 but he is physically bigger than I am. I hear some fans say 'that would be an easy fight for you.' But Chavez, he can fight. The kid has a lot of his father in him. It wouldn't be an easy fight.
When I remarked that Sergio Martinez boxed circles around Chavez for 11 of their 12 rounds last year, and that Ward, a better boxer than Martinez at this stage of his career, would likely do the same, Ward said that he believed his style was better suited for Chavez than Martinez.
"I don't move like Martinez moves," Ward said. "Chavez is going to have opportunities to fight as he wants to fight. I don't move a lot. I am going to be in his face."
Ultimately, it's probably irrelevant. Top Rank isn't going to feed Chavez -- one of the biggest draws in boxing, both at the gate and on pay per view -- to Ward unless Ward, who is promoted by Dan Goossen, signs with them long term. And if he can't fight Chavez, Ward's options are limited. He could fight Gennady Golovkin, the middleweight champion, but that fight has little mainstream appeal. He could move up to light heavyweight, but Ward has not given any indications that he is ready to do that.
There is no question Ward is the top man at 168 pounds, one of the top three fighters in the world, and there is little doubt in my mind that if he fought Froch again, the fight would yield a similar result. But Froch doesn't need to fight Ward, not to make money, not to increase his profile.
Ward, though, may need Froch for both.
-- Chris Mannix