LOS ANGELES — Andre Ward wrote out his retirement speech a few times in the last two years. With his usual fastidious style, the super middleweight champion laid out every reason he felt he had to end his unblemished boxing career in his prime.
Yet every time Ward was pushed to the brink in his long-running dispute with his promoter, friends and colleagues talked him out of retirement. He never spoke or emailed the words he had written.
“I saved them, just to be able to reflect on those raw emotions one day,” Ward told The Associated Press. “But somebody would always call me and say, 'Listen, man. It's not time. You've got a lot left. This is going to pass. Get back. Just hold on until you can get back. This is not going to last forever.' That's what helped me.”
When Ward finally got through the drama, Jay Z was on the other side.
After fighting just twice in the past three-plus years, Ward (27-0, 14 KOs) is ready to get back to work. He has signed with Roc Nation Sports, becoming the centerpiece of the fledgling boxing promotion backed by the hip-hop mogul.
Ward, who turns 31 next month, filled his inactive months with an HBO commentary job and ample family time with his wife and four children. He had several legal setbacks in his attempts to break up with the promoter who had backed him since his gold-medal run at the Athens Olympics, and the unpleasant dispute made him dread going out in Oakland, California, his hometown.
“You can only tell people, 'Just be patient, just hang on, I'm going to have some good news soon,' so many times,” Ward said. “It got to the point where you almost don't want to see the fans, because you don't have anything positive to talk about.”
Ward feels the ordeal educated his oldest sons about perseverance through adversity, even when their friends at school wondered why their dad wasn't fighting anymore.
“Of course, you're going to have that element of people saying your career is over,” Ward said. “That's just part of it. But much more than that, I had people encouraging me, people saying, 'Man, I just want to see you back.' That's what it's all about, and I don't take that lightly. So as I'm coming back, I have those fans in mind.”
Ward made a somewhat surprising choice with Roc Nation Sports, an amalgam of veteran boxing executives and new money trying to seize a prominent place in the sport. Ward has had the same trainer and manager throughout his career, but he sees possibilities in something new.
“Their structure, their vision, just what they're trying to accomplish in the sport, is a little bit different than the norm,” Ward said. “Coming off what I came off the last few years, I wanted to try something different, and they could do it.”
Ward posed for a photo with Jay Z while signing his new contract, and the boxer has been surprised to learn the rapper's level of engagement in this new venture.
“He acts like he doesn't have as much going on as he does, and I'm sure this is probably a skill that he's mastered over the years,” Ward said. “You wouldn't know that he is who he is. He's totally engaged, 100 percent, and that excited me.”
Ward wants to fight two or three times per year. Although he probably will start with a tuneup fight, he has a list of desirable opponents at 168 pounds, including Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. or a rematch with Britain's Carl Froch.
Ward also said he would gladly fight Gennady Golovkin, the much-avoided middleweight champion. But Golovkin would have to move up to 168 pounds, because Ward isn't eager to leave his weight class just yet, even with several tantalizing potential matchups at 175 pounds.
Ward doesn't feel his stardom has diminished. In fact, he believes his inactivity will make people even hungrier to see him. He also thinks a career break has long-term benefits, suggesting Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s extended absences preserved his health to fight deep into his 30s at a world-class level.
“I didn't think I could appreciate the sport any more than I did, or be more hungry than I was,” Ward said. “But when something is taken away from you, it should be a natural response to have a greater appreciation when you're able to get it back, as well as a deeper hunger.”