What do we seek from our fighters?
The question seems simple enough, but the answer you might get from the average fight fan might not be the most honest one. The words "effort," "heart" and "gentleman" are likely to come up, but an argument can be made that these answers only pay lip service to the real truth. It sounds good to say you will root for any honest, hardworking pug who conducts himself with class, but the honest fact is that some form of buzz has to be present for a guy to cross over into mainstream success.
That buzz can come from exciting performances in the ring. Mike Tyson became perhaps the most famous athlete on the planet for a time because of the other-worldly displays of power he showcased early in his career. Ray Leonard dazzled crowds with flashy footwork and hand speed. Both of these men and many others among boxing biggest stars had styles in the ring that were geared not just to win fights but to look good doing it.
For those who aren't brutal knockout artists or excellent showmen, creating controversy outside the ring seems to work just as well. Floyd Mayweather Jr. is rarely described as the honest, gentlemanly type many fans claim to love, and his boxing style is certainly not geared toward entertaining anyone, but he has still become, by miles and miles, the biggest American boxing star. He has done so by fostering an image (some of it his nature and some is hammed up for television cameras) of the "bad boy" who fans despise but at the same time can't get enough of.
So where does that leave a world-class fighter with a fundamentally sound (or, to put it less nicely, boring) style who also happens to be a fairly normal fella?
Ask Oakland native Andre Ward.
Ward (24-0-0, 13 knockouts) is everything fans should like in a fighter. He's the all-American kid whom Hulk Hogan always talked about. Ward represents athletic excellence, says his prayers, eats his vitamins (I have no evidence of this, but I'm going to assume it anyway) respects his opponents . . .
The problem with Ward is that he just doesn't have anything to hang his hat on in terms of grabbing attention. He doesn't slap his significant other or throw money at strippers outside of the ring, and he doesn't have face-crushing power that can turn fights into a spectacle. A professional fighter who is just really good at what he does without making himself into a caricature is unfortunately boring to many fans.
If Ward manages to beat Britain's Carl Froch (28-1-0, 20 KOs) in Showtime's Super Six tournament final on Saturday, hopefully he will get the respect he deserves. Froch is a tough opponent, but expect Ward to come out on top. While both men have plenty of heart and ring smarts, Ward has an extra dimension -- world-class athleticism.
Fans would do well to enjoy Ward, as great fighters don't come along every day, and he just might be one.