Andre Ward is wrestling with the idea of ending his boxing career after earning what he considers to be his most significant victory to date just a little over a month ago.
Last November at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Ward emerged victorious in his anticipated showdown with Sergey Kovalev. He was awarded a unanimous decision win to capture the WBA, IBF and WBO light heavyweight titles, pushing his undefeated professional record to a sensational 31-0.
Kovalev was viewed as arguably the greatest threat to Ward's perfect record. He proved why in the second round of the fight when he landed a thumping right hand that knocked Ward down and put him at an early deficit. The dangerous Russian couldn't close the show, however, and allowed Ward to rally for a narrow and somewhat debatable decision by scores of 114-113, giving Kovalev his first loss in 32 pro fights.
Ward opened up about one of his most challenging fights to date in an interview with Rolling Stone, starting with the jubilation attached to winning such an anticipated affair.
"I'll be honest, I've had a lot of fights in my career but this is probably the proudest I've been of myself based on how the fight went and having to just show the world, show myself, show my team that I can win a different way," Ward says. "I've never had to come from behind and it wasn't against a B-class, C-class fighter. It was against who many said was the best light heavyweight, if not the best fighter in the world. I'm happy about the performance."
After more than 12 years as a pro and a lengthy amateur career that included winning gold at the 2004 Olympic Games in Greece, Ward has essentially seen and done it all in the boxing ring. One thing he isn't familiar with, though, is how to deal with adversity during competition.
Kovalev is touted as one of the biggest hitters at his weight, and Ward felt the full force of his power with the second-round knockdown. He could have wilted, but Ward said the fact he took Kovalev's best shot and found a way to win the fight anyway displayed the strength of his character to the world.
"I didn't need to get knocked down to know the fortitude that I have in me," Ward says. "Being a champion is not just being a frontrunner and being ahead, but it's facing adversity. If something happens and you're behind and you get hit in the mouth early like that, you have two options: You can either pack it in mentally and internally and go into survival mode and quit, or you're going to get up and go to work. We were fortunate enough to get up and go to work."
He's philosophical about the rare times he's gotten knocked down inside a ring.
"These things happen. You're going to face adversity. It's not if, it's when. The question is how you respond, and I'm just really, really pleased with my team, my head coach and myself by the way we responded to adversity in the biggest fight of my life. That's my historical piece and having my piece of history knowing that's true. That's only the second time that I've touched the canvas in a 22-year career, so it's not bad."
As far as the decision goes, Ward said he has no doubt the judges made the correct call. Close fights can still have clear winners, and Ward believes the defined judging criteria in the sport of boxing shows him as the rightful and deserving winner.
"No question I won the fight," Ward says. "If a person thought I lost the fight, god bless you, that's your opinion, we can agree to disagree. No big deal. But anybody crying robbery or attacking the judges or the Nevada State Athletic Commission, they've officially gone too far. That's not the first tight fight or close fight that's taken place in the history of boxing. They happen, especially when the best fight the best. It's just amazing to me that – and I'm not just talking fans, I'm talking boxing media – that it was some kind of robbery or that we didn't deserve to win."
The champ is quick to shut down his naysayers.
"If you feel Kovalev edged it out or whatever the case may be, that's fine. But anybody crying 'robbery,' it just doesn't add up. There's no way you can say he won the fight by three, four, five points. It just didn't happen. We got up from that knockdown and we took over the fight and we took it to another gear. Kovalev didn't match that."
The fight with Kovalev will stand as one of the cornerstone victories of Ward's career. He admits there is some desire to silence the doubters, though, particularly Kovalev himself. His rival is also convinced he should have won, and while that's a natural reaction out of a combat sports athlete following a closely-contested fight, Ward said part of him wants to run it back so he can silence "Krusher" for good.
"You have to entertain (a rematch), and I would love to put my stats on in such a way that there isn't a conversation about who won and who lost," Ward says. "Proving something to people is a tricky thing to get involved in. If we did the rematch it would be more just to silence Kovalev and silence his team and to just put a stamp on the rivalry we had. It would be more of a personal thing to me. But the element of people and media having an opinion, that's never going to change. I accept that 100 percent. It would be more to put a stamp on that and send a message to his team that the first fight really happened and here we are, we did it again."
He is disappointed about one thing, however. And it isn't getting knocked down.
"I'm going to be honest, and this is taking nothing away from Kovalev because in my book he's always going to be a champion, but I expected more from him in the ring. When you hear about the invincible character that the media has portrayed, I expected more. I expected to see 'The Krusher' when it got tough in that fight and I didn't see 'The Krusher,' I didn't see that next gear that he had. I saw a fighter that's used to being the frontrunner, I saw a fighter that's used to having things his way and when it didn't work out like that he couldn't match the intensity. I obviously didn't appreciate the excuses and everything that were made after the fight, so I expected more from him."
Although Ward said he would entertain the idea of a rematch with Kovalev, there's also a bit of a caveat attached to that statement. At 32 and apparently in a place of strong financial security, Ward said he doesn't need to continue a career in boxing. That doesn't mean he won't, but after spending the entirety of his adult life in the sport, Ward said he must have a serious discussion with his coaches, trainers, teammates, friends and family before he decides if it's worth putting his physical and mental wellbeing on the line again by stepping in a boxing ring.
"I really just got to take my time right now because I really don't have to fight anymore," he says. "I've accomplished pretty much everything that I've wanted to accomplish. 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."
One of the best boxers in the world doesn't know what the future holds. Is it time to walk away or is there room for another match or two? That's the question so many greats have faced at this same exact moment that Ward is currently experiencing. He realizes that and is confident he'll make the correct call.
"I've got to make some tough decisions over the next couple of months. 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."