“I have been training for this since I was nine years old,” said Andre Ward, all smiles, after he defeated Mikkel Kessler on Saturday night in front of over ten thousand partisan fans at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, California.
The bout was stopped in the eleventh round due to an injury to Kessler caused by an accidental head butt, but the outcome was clear long before that time; Andre Ward was awarded a technical decision victory and the WBA super middleweight belt, previously held by Kessler. With a dominating performance Ward gets two points in a tournament, but more than that he gets a credit he deserves. “I felt like it was my time,” said Ward:” We were not intimidated by Kessler’s record. Everyone felt that we got the bad draw in the first round. We never believed that. We beat the top guy.”
Ever since winning a gold medal in 2004 Olympics and turning professional Andre Ward has been criticized for variety of reasons, such as slow progress, not facing good opposition, style more suited for amateurs, lack of warrior spirit. He was unfavorably compared to Oscar De La Hoya and even his chin has come into question after he was hurt by a journeyman early on in his career. But just like fine vine needs time to ferment, Andre Ward needed time to develop and blossom. On Saturday, at the age of twenty five, Ward has put it all together to turn into a complete fighter and elite one at his weight class; not only did he beat the best super middleweight in the world, he dominated Kessler in every way.
Ward took control of the fight in the first round with a stiff jab, good movement and accurate punching and he never allowed Kessler to get back in it. Advantage in hand speed allowed Ward to dictate the action on the outside; he used his jab to take away one of Kessler’s primary weapons, his jab. That plus Ward’s lateral movement made it difficult for Kessler to land his right hand, who seemed confused as he was taking hard accurate punches from Ward time after time. But most expected Ward to win the outside fight, what was truly amazing is that young American was doing all the damage on the inside; despite a few clinches Ward’s in fighting was very effective, he was bullying his opponent who did not seem to know what to do on the inside. Round after round, the futility of Kessler’s situation was on display; he was loosing the battle on all fronts, offence, and defense, inside or outside. Kessler was reduced to complaining about holding and head butts and occasionally grimacing from pain. He continued to complain after the fight. “He was the better man tonight,” said Kessler, who looked very frustrated:” But I wish the fight could have gone on. I wanted to continue. The cuts were not dangerous. He was going in with his head all the time. He was punching in the clinch. I am not used to this and I got off my rhythm. I don’t know why he never received a warning. After the butt (in the eighth round) I could not see anymore. If I fight Andre Ward again, I cannot go straight forward or stay in the middle. I have to go side-to-side.’’
He was given absolutely no chance by a young challenger who was getting bolder by the minute. Ward started to lounge in with his shots by the middle rounds showing no respect to the champion, but Kessler was so bewildered by then that he could not capitalize on the mistakes of his adversary. “He never hurt me,’’ Ward said. “I was a little surprised that they stopped it when they did. I had just connected with a big right hand and would like to have seen what would have happened if the round had continued.” When the bout was stopped in the eleventh frame judges scored it: 98-92, 98-92, and 97-93 for Andre Ward. Frankly, I was a little surprised that they gave Kessler a few rounds; I had a total shutout for Ward.
“This was my dream come true and right now I’m dreaming,’’ said an ecstatic Ward: “It may take a while for all of this to sink it, but I am enjoying it all. This is a moment I’ll never forget. This win is as much for me as it is for Virgil Hunter. He has an Olympic gold medal with me and now he has a world championship.”
Officials from City of San Francisco, on behalf of the mayor, announced Saturday November 21st Andre Ward Day. But aside from the local recognition Ward got the credit form the boxing world and became a favorite in the Super Six Boxing Classic.
Next up for Ward, who has earned two points in a tournament with a victory, is a bout with a fellow Olympian Jermain Taylor while the leader of the tournament, with three points, Arthur Abraham will face super fast Andre Dirrell. Kessler will face Carl Froch in all European stand off. The times and locations are yet to be announced. Stay tuned for more information.