Andre Ward is widely considered the second—at worst, third—best boxer in the world, behind Floyd Mayweather. Ward doesn’t pop bottles, flash jewels, hang out with Justin Bieber or talk all that mess that gets people all hot and bothered before Mayweather takes the ring. By the time Mayweather’s done dishing out justice, you forget what it was all about with $65 added to your cable bill.
That’s the problem Ward has though. He’s got the skills, but he doesn’t stack the bills—not like Money May, nor what he should be getting for his talent. Ward hasn’t fought in Vegas yet, caught up in boxing’s C.R.E.A.M. attitude that makes his ability and expensive prospect for big names unwilling to risk an L.
Ward has dismissed all the challenges thrown his way; the ones people knew he could and the ones people thought he couldn’t. Ward pummeled Mikel Kessler, even though, as Ward told the LA Times, "He had more knockouts than I had fights."
Ward’s next fight is against Edwin Rodriguez, a young kid facing similar odds as Ward when he beat Kessler. Rodriguez earned a shot against Ward by winning the Monaco Million Dollar Super 4, knocking out Denis Grachev in the first round of the final.
Long odds have been a part of Rodriguez’s life for a long time. In 2006, Rodriguez began dating his wife, Stephanie Rapa, and two months later were pregnant with twins. Twenty -three weeks in, an ultrasound revealed his wife was having silent contractions. The couple had to decide what to do with the unborn children, who would likely be born with severe complications, if they survived at all. “We wanted those babies so much,” Stephanie told The Telegram. They opted for an emergency C-section. The children were born the size of soda cans and needed months in the hospital to recover.
Today, they both attend school with minor disabilities. “Edwin always told me that everything would be fine,” Stephanie said. “And it is.”
Rodriguez’s experience brings him unique perspective in boxing, as well as added motivation.
“They’ve fought bigger battles than me,” said Rodriguez. “Edwin, especially. Ever since he was little, everyone counted him out. But he always pulls through. We had to let him keep fighting because he wanted it.”
In 2011, his attitude was put to the test against Aaron Pryor Jr, the son of the legendary boxer by the same name. Rodriguez tore his rotator cuff in the second round, but still finished off the 10 rounds for a victory on ESPN’s Friday Night Fights.
Rodriguez faces the biggest battle of his career trying to take the undefeated Ward’s WBA super middleweight belt. A victory would be a huge upset, even though Ward is coming off a 14-month layoff after a slight tweak in training turned out to be a severely torn rotator cuff. Ward doesn’t expect it to be a problem.
He is, however, wary of what Rodriguez brings in the ring, but the fact that they’re in the ring at all is the only motivation Ward needs. “I can ill-afford to go into a fight at this level and think it's a ‘tune-up,’” said Ward in an ESPN.com chat. “I didn't get to this point picking and choosing which guys I take seriously. He's going to try and take something from me. That's all I need to know.”
That might be enough for Ward, but will it be big enough for fans? Though Ontario has proven to be a good fight town that turns out in big numbers for big fights, it’s not Vegas. And even though there might not be two people more deserving of fame, riches and boxing lore, anything less than a crushing knockout victory isn’t likely to make either fighter must-see TV anytime soon.