Andre Ward’s protracted absence from boxing is moving toward a conclusion with Friday’s announcement that the super middleweight world champion has signed with Roc Nation Sports, the new boxing promotion firm of rapper Jay Z.
The last U.S. gold-medalist boxer, Ward (27-0, 14 knockouts) has been sidelined since his Nov. 16, 2013, unanimous-decision victory over Edwin Rodriguez in Ontario.
Ward, a 30-year-old from Oakland, was in an extended legal battle to split with his promoter, the late Dan Goossen, before Goossen’s death in September.
Ward declined to reveal how he clinched his split with Goossen’s company, although a settlement is believed to have been struck.
“I’m just happy to be past it, happy to be on to the next chapter of my life,” Ward said. “If you’re going to have a hiatus, it’s good to end it by joining a team like this. It’s a blockbuster deal, the kind of deal, after 10 years of paying your dues, that you want to be your last deal.”
Ward, generally considered among the top three or four best pound-for-pound boxers in the world, said he expects to continue fighting on HBO.
“I would personally like to fight in late March or April, but I’ll have to talk to [trainer] Virgil [Hunter], then get together with the whole team to collectively come to a decision,” Ward said.
Roc Nation Sports is staging its first show Friday night at Madison Square Garden’s theater, with Jay Z and Beyonce scheduled to be at ringside.
Roc Nation executive David Itskowitch said at a meeting with reporters last year that the mainstream appeal of Jay Z will draw more fans to the sport, and with Ward, the company now has its biggest name to promote.
“He’s a successful businessman, and I believe it will transform to boxing,” Ward said. “It was important for me to do something different, something never done before, I want to take the next step.”
Ward said Hunter wants him to “get in a two- or three-fight groove,” sharpening his game, then to “fight the best,” with names like Gennady Golovkin, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Carl Froch the most attractive matchups in Ward’s weight range.