An athlete walking away from competition while at the top of their game is a rare occurrence. Undefeated boxing champion and Olympic gold medalist Andre Ward, however, has made the decision to do just that.
After a long and illustrious boxing career, Ward (33-0), the WBA, IBF, WBO and Ring Light Heavyweight champion, today announced that he's put on his gloves and entered the ring for the final time. He cited the physical strains of the sport and a loss of passion as the primary reasons for ending his time as an active fighter.
Ward, who many consider to be the top pound-for-pound fighter in boxing following the exit of Floyd Mayweather from the sport, explained his decision to retire in a statement on his official website.
"To the sport of boxing – I love you," Ward wrote. "You've been by my side since I was 10-years-old. You've taught me so much. You've humbled me. You've promoted me. I've sacrificed a lot for you, but you’ve given me more than I ever thought possible. You gave me a platform, made me a champion and helped me provide for my family. I am forever grateful to you. You and I will always be synonymous, connected at the hip. Thank you for all the wonderful people I've come in contact with because of you. I've made friends for life. As I walk away from the sport of boxing today, I leave at the top of your glorious mountain, which was always my vision and my dream. I did it. We did it.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you to everyone who has played a part in my journey. You know who you are. I could not have done this without you. I want to be clear – I am leaving because my body can no longer put up with the rigors of the sport and therefore my desire to fight is no longer there. If I cannot give my family, my team, and the fans everything that I have, then I should no longer be fighting. Above all, I give God the Glory, for allowing me to do what I’ve done, for as long as I have."
Ward, 33, made his professional boxing debut in December 2004 after taking gold in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece. At the time he was the first American in an eight-year stretch to claim gold at an Olympic boxing event, setting him up perfectly to make the transition to a professional career.
It didn't take long for Ward's career to take off, either. He started off in the Super Middleweight division, and by 16th fight won his first championship with a 8th-round TKO of Jerson Ravelo in June 2008.
Ward would go on to make successful defenses of his titles against notable foes such as Carl Froch, Chad Dawson and Edwin Rodriguez. Seeking new and different challenges, Ward moved up to Light Heavyweight in the latter years of his career. His grand finale was a two-fight meeting with dangerous Russian Sergey Kovalev, who the boxing world had been clamoring to see Ward fight.
The initial meeting, which took place in November at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, was a hotly contest affair in which Ward had to overcome an early knockdown in order to take a hard-fought unanimous decision on the judges' scorecards.
After the fight Ward, told Rolling Stone that serious thoughts of retirement were beginning to come to the forefront of his mind.
"I've accomplished pretty much everything that I've wanted to accomplish," Ward said. "It's not about the money anymore, it's just because god has blessed me to still have the ability to do it and I still love it. I just really got to take my time right now and make sure that every decision that I make and every fight that I take is the right situation because if it's not, I don't know if it makes sense to continue on.
"Boxing isn't a sport to play with. I've obviously been doing this for a long time and it just has to make sense. I think just collectively getting my team's opinion and spend my time praying and talking to my wife. We'll make the right decision."
Ultimately Ward decided to fight once more, agreeing to a rematch with Kovalev in June. For a fighter often criticized for avoiding significant risk in the ring, Ward managed to end his fight career with a TKO of Kovalev in Round 8, giving him his first stoppage victory in two years. He received a guaranteed purse of $6.5 million for the contest.
Although Ward talked about wanting more fights in the immediate aftermath of the Kovalev rematch, it's obvious he felt differently once the dust settled. It's a somewhat surprising choice considering Ward's age and apparent superiority to all his opposition, but as someone who has been throwing and taking strikes since he was a teenager, complaints of physical trauma adding up are far from surprising.
Moreover, Ward wanted to get out before the sport caught up with him or passed him by. That's a decision that can be respected by HBO Sports Executive Vice President Peter Nelson, whose network promoted and broadcasted several of Ward's fights, and will continue to keep him employed as a commentator and analyst.
"Andre Ward ends his boxing career as he only knew how to live it -- as a champion at the top," Nelson wrote in a statement. "To watch Ward was to marvel at constant mastery of craft in the ring, to say nothing of his being the consummate role model outside it. The Hall of Fame will be lucky to have him.
"We wish Andre and his family much success and happiness as he explores new opportunities, including with our own HBO family as one of the expert analysts on our broadcast team."