It was announced on November 27 that Andre Ward would defend his WBC and WBA super-middleweight titles against Kelly Pavlik on January 26 in Los Angeles.
It will be Ward’s first bout since defeating the world’s best light-heavyweight, Chad Dawson, in September.
On paper, former undisputed middleweight titlist Pavlik has a record of 40 wins (34 K.Os) and two losses and is a stern test for Ward. However, Pavlik has done little in the 12 stone division to suggest that he has earned a world title shot.
The 30-year-old Pavlik was soundly beaten by middleweight number one Sergio Martinez back in 2010 and moving up in weight against an opponent who has not been defeated since he was 12 and who is a better operator than Martinez, could be a step too far for ‘The Ghost’.
A 2004 gold medallist at the Athens Olympic Games, Ward has completely cleaned out the super-middleweight division. From 2009 to 2011, the 28-year-old Californian defeated world-class fighters in the Super Six World Boxing Classic such as Arthur Abraham, Carl Froch and Mikkel Kessler.
And it was not the fact that Ward beat these world champions, it was the manner of his victories. Although two judges scored his contest against Froch 115-113 in Ward’s favour, a points verdict of 118-110 from the third judge was the most accurate reflection of what occurred at the Boardwalk Hall last December as Ward connected with 243 punches compared to the Englishman’s 156.
Denmark’s Kessler, who at the time only had one loss to his name courtesy of a points defeat over 12 rounds to Joe Calzaghe back in 2007, was also a legitimate threat to Ward’s ambitions of winning the Super Six World Boxing Classic.
But Ward bullied Kessler from start to finish, outboxing the battle hardened Dane and surprisingly out muscled him up close too before winning via a 11th round technical decision.
Usually, when beating all major threats in a weight division, a boxer will step up in weight. But having stopped Dawson in the 10th round at the Oracle Arena, Ward inadvertently caused a dilemma for himself thanks to his own success.
Dawson is the best l2.7 stone pugilist around and has wins over Tomasz Adamek, Bernard Hopkins and Antonio Tarver to back up that claim.
If Ward did eventually move up to light-heavyweight there are other opponents available for him of course. Former WBC champion Jean Pascal would prove a threat but Froch beat the Canadian back in 2008 and Pascal has also been defeated by Hopkins.
Nathan Cleverly and Tavoris Cloud each hold world titles but are untested against the highest calibre of fighters so moving up to light-heavyweight does little to enhance Ward’s legacy.
So having effectively surpassed the world's top super-middleweights and light-heavyweights in one fell swoop, who else is left for Ward to fight?
Fellow 2004 U.S Olympic medallist Andre Dirrell – who also competed in the Super Six World Boxing Classic but withdrew after his disqualification win over Abraham – is a stellar boxer.
But Dirrell’s inactivity counts against him. He has only four times in the last four years and will have to rebuild his reputation.
So who else does that leave? Lucian Bute perhaps? The fight against the Canadian would have made sense prior to the former IBF titleholder fighting Froch in May as Bute and Ward both held portions of the four major world titles. But Froch’s annihilation of Bute over five rounds dispelled any myth that Bute, who did not fight in the Super Six World Boxing Classic, was the best 12 stone pugilist in the world.
Perhaps the only fight that will cause high levels of interest is if Ward fought against Martinez. The Argentine is rightfully ranked as the best middleweight in the world and could potentially cause Ward problems due to his speed. But moving up to super-middleweight could be an issue as Martinez started his career at welterweight while Ward fought at the Olympics in the light-heavyweight division.
No disrespect to Pavlik, who is an extremely tough customer who possesses explosive knockout power, but Ward should dominate proceedings in January.
While Ward is unquestionably a mercurial talent, every elite fighter needs an equally talented rival who will push them to their limits and that’s something that Ward simply does not have at the moment.
The ‘S.O.G’ (Son Of God) truly is blessed with remarkable in-ring skills but it is just a shame that fans may never get to witness the full depths of his abilities.