In a fight between two first-time pay-per-view headliners that could use a boost of promotion, Andre Ward’s manager provided a valued kick start.
“I’m going to deal with the elephant in the room: This is Russia versus the U.S.A.,” James Prince told reporters at Thursday’s news conference as former U.S. Olympic champion Ward and Russia’s three-belt light-heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev sat on the dais.
“And the best of Russia can’t beat the best of the United States of America. In nothing!”
Ward, who is from Oakland and sports a 30-0 record with 15 knockouts, declined to ever say that himself.
Promotion is not his strong suit. Winning fights is.
And while the intense former super-middleweight champion has been criticized for subjects such as his demeanor, missing too much time in the ring because of a contractual dispute with late promoter Dan Goossen and failing to appropriately engage in recent bouts, Ward has an opportunity Saturday to endear himself.
Not only to those who fly the red, white and blue at home but to the masses who watch big fights.
“It can force some people to say, ‘I’ve got to give him his just due,’” Ward said of battling the powerful Kovalev, who has a record of 30-0-1 with 26 knockouts.
Ward insists he’s content with that, even as he takes questions about how this pay-per-view will pale in comparison to those involving Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao.
“It took a lot to get to those points,” Ward said of boxing’s biggest names. “Pacquiao has an entire country behind him and he had the opponents who allowed him to build that for years. Same with Floyd. I want to maximize my potential, but I’m not chasing fame. I get enough of it. I’m comfortable with what I have. Even more than the fame, I’m excited the platform has been expanded.”
When Ward was asked if he’s a big enough deal in the national sporting consciousness, he asked, “How big is big? That’s an honest question. I don’t know. Are Floyd and Manny the barometers? Who’s doing pay-per-view numbers now?”
That’s a legitimate question, since Canelo Alvarez drew less than 300,000 buys for his September victory over Liam Smith and Pacquiao drew around 220,000 buys for his unanimous-decision victory over Jessie Vargas on Nov. 5.
“I get singled out, but there’s one or two guys and everybody else,” Ward said. “Pay-per-view, you’ve got to have the right dancing partner. I went out of my way to create this [fight]. I take what I’m given and try to make the best of it. I’m not chasing Floyd’s numbers, but I am making the best of it. It’s perspective.”
Despite the difficulties that Kovalev will present, Ward declared himself prepared for the bout. Since he’s 155-5 counting his amateur record and hasn’t lost since the age of 13, that counts.
“That’s why I train the way I train. I don’t like to lose,” he said.
How does Ward, who Kovalev has called a dirty fight who throws elbows instead of punches, expect the fight to go?
“It’s going deep. I’m not taking nothing. For every action, there’s going to be a reaction, times two,” Ward said. “They can talk tough, but he’s not going to do anything in the ring to jeopardize my safety or try to intimidate.
“He’s a bully. His temperament, the things that he says, his attitude. You don’t have to do one polarizing thing. I listen to the things he says. My intention is to have a clean, fair fight.”