Following a nearly two-year break from fighting, former super middleweight champion Andre Ward is slowly beginning to regain his dominant form.
After fighting just once from September 2012 to June 2015, the undefeated pride of Oakland will take the ring in his 30th professional fight on Saturday night at Oracle Arena. He will face Alexander Brand of Colombia.
Saturday night’s fight will serve as Ward’s final tuneup for one of boxing’s most highly anticipated matchups in years, a November showdown with Russian light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev, known as the Krusher. The bout will be Ward’s first fight in Las Vegas, and will be for the undisputed WBA, IBF and WBO light heavyweight titles.
“Whether it’s a tune-up fight, a contender or a champion, I treat it the same,” Ward said of Saturday’s fight. “If I’m not successful August 6, there is no fight with Kovalev.”
Not getting past Brand would be an upset of epic proportions. While the 39-year-old fighter holds a career record of 25-1 with 19 KOs, he is largely untested and unknown outside of South America.
“I know enough about Brand,” Ward said. “He’s got everything to gain and nothing to lose. He swings for the fences with every punch. He’s a dangerous guy to fight.”
Ward (29-0, 15 KO) should feel comfortable in Saturday’s prime time HBO-televised bout: He has fought seven of his last 11 fights at Oracle, and still feels amazed every time he gets the chance to fight in his hometown.
“It’s surreal to be in the arena that I have driven past for years,” Ward said. “Driving down 880 and wishing I could headline.”
There was a time, during his long layoff, when Ward was unsure whether he would fight again. Entangled in a long contract dispute with his former promotional company, he debated retirement while fighting for himself in court.
Despite the reasoning for the break, Ward feels as though it could end up benefiting him in the later stages of his career.
“I don’t know how much stock you can put into the last couple of years. A lot of people are talking about it,” Ward said. “But people have to weigh in the amount of time I have been doing this, which is all my life. It was a mental break and it was a physical break.”
While he may feel more well-rested than most at this point in his career, the challenge now is to make sure he is in his best shape possible going into the championship fight with the Krusher. Saturday will be a way for him and his team to gauge where he is now and what needs to be done before November.
“I have plenty of time to get ready for Kovalev. I just try to block it out,” Ward said. “Come August 7, I’ll begin to think about Kovalev and what it will take to beat him.”