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Boxer Andre Ward on rematch with Kovalev, growing up biracial and more

Ward-Kovalev II is scheduled for June 17 in Las Vegas

Andre Ward stood on the sidewalk outside of San Francisco’s exclusive Battery Club while waiting for his driver to arrive when a fan yelled out, “What’s up, champ!” The boxing champion responded with a wave and a smile.

Ward won’t be smiling when he enters the ring for a rematch with Sergey Kovalev at the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas on June 17. After recovering from being knocked down in the second round of the first meeting Nov. 16, Ward won a closely contested and debated unanimous decision, with all three judges scoring the fight 114-113 in his favor. The undisputed WBA, IBF and WBO light heavyweight champion is 31-0 and ranked as pound for pound the best boxer in the world by The Ring magazine. For all of his doubters and haters after Kovalev I, the man nicknamed “Son Of God” plans to change any of those thoughts in Kovalev II.

“Somebody’s will is going to get broken in this one, and I’m not planning on it being mine,” Ward told The Undefeated.

Ward sat down with The Undefeated last month to talk about the state of boxing, Kovalev I and II, his career, life growing up as the son of a white father and black mother, Christianity, his friend and ex-NFL player Marshawn Lynch, and whether he influenced Kevin Durant to go to the Golden State Warriors.

What do you think of the state of pro boxing today, and is it going in the right direction?

Boxing is a pastime. It’s never going anywhere. You know it’s going to go up and down sometimes in terms of popularity and different things like that. I would like to see the sport more in the mainstream where the average sports fan gets an opportunity to see young fighters come up, contenders, maybe champions … like they used to. In the days of Sugar Ray Leonard, he fought with no head gear, in ’76 [at the Olympics] in Montreal. He was a household name when he touched down back in the States because people watched. It was on television. It was shown prime-time.

People got a chance to really see, ‘That’s that guy, man, that’s that fighter, man, he won.’ The headgear is back off, but when I was in the Olympics in ’04, the head gears were on. We can’t really identify with what they’re showing in the Olympics. So, obviously there’s a lot of competition with UFC and everything like that. I would say that just from a pure popularity standpoint, and just trying to further the sport and push it, you need to know the mainstream, continue to try to make great matchups. That’s what sparks people’s interests. Continue to try to get it out. Get it flowing. Follow these fights. HBO’s been doing that a lot lately. Obviously the mainstream television is coming back around. That’s a good thing, too, because we’re doing what we’ve always done. We’re fighting. That hasn’t changed. There’s still quality competition. There’s still great fights to be made. But, the better the competition, the more intrigued people get about the sport.

There were retirement rumors surrounding you after the Kovalev fight. What’s the truth about that?

If you look at my career as a whole, and you look at my track record, you know I’ve always tried to say what I mean and mean what I say. So it was real, but I’m thankful I’ve got a great team. I take my hat off to Jay Z … Michael Yormark, over at Roc Nation [entertainment company]. My attorney Josh Dubin and manager James Prince, we put our heads together. And you know the main goal is to protect my interest, and to protect it for Roc Nation. This is very much a business, and people don’t want to hear that. But it’s very much a business.

And I’ve earned the position that I’m in now. I’ve fought many wars to get to that. And when I say it’s a business, I’m not just talking about money. I’m talking about understanding every aspect of the fight. The promotion. From the merchandise to the site fee to the television rights. Foreign television rights. Sponsorships, obligations for sponsorships. Tickets. Everything. Scaling the tickets. Those are things that have to be worked out before I put my name on a contract.

Light Heavyweight boxer Andre Ward walks to the ring as he gets ready to fight opponent Sergey Kovalev for the WBA/WBO/IBF world light heavyweight championship in a 12-round bout on Nov. 19, 2016, at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

Anthony Geathers for The Undefeated

Now, my opponent. … Unfortunately, I don’t know what he’s doing personally. I can’t speak on it. But he’s missing the [point]. Fighting is what I do. This is what I’ve done my whole life. And he has to remember that. First time around I picked you, you didn’t pick me. And so, making a fight happen at a certain point once the business is handled, that’s academic. That’s going to happen. But he has his promoter in his ear telling him, ‘Put the pressure on Ward. Try to make all these outlandish comments.’ It’s impossible to put pressure on me. You know who’s been holding the sport. I’m not new to this; I’m 12 years, 13 years in the game. We’ve just got to get our business in order first, which we’ve done.

How involved is Jay Z in your fight career?

If you need to get a hold of him, he’ll make himself available. And he’s a major, major part of this deal getting done. You run into snags, and he’ll come help. And he’s got the final say on his side of things. There are definitely some phone calls that needed to be made, but we got through it, and I’m pleased and I’m happy where we are.

What do you want your legacy to be?

As far as in the ring, I want to be known as somebody who always fought the best. That’s a legacy that I’ve built to this point. But beyond the ring, I’m trying to leave this sport better than it was when I got here. I’m trying to further the sport. The days of the ignorant athlete and the athlete who doesn’t really care about the business side of things are over. And I’m pushing for those days to be over because one of the saddest stories in the world to me is an athlete, or entertainer, who dedicates a decade-plus to a career and then because of mismanagement, maybe some dumb investments or some business things, just not really taking care of business or not knowing how to take care of business, they look up and have nothing tangible when their career is over. That’s the saddest thing in the world. And they’re trying to get by on their name at that point.

There are guys like Shakur Stevenson, who I’m a part of his management group, and others that I talk to on a day-to-day basis. And I’m just trying to share my experiences good and bad and just help these young guys understand that we’re going to get to the fighting, we do that, and we’ve done that our whole lives, but understand what you’re dealing with. Understand the business side of it. Understand you’re not going to get what’s fair, you get what you negotiate. The business side of boxing is a high-stakes game of chess, and you’d better learn how to play. Nobody’s going to help you learn how to play, and if you don’t know how to play, find somebody that can help you. And I just want to be that individual who is pushing this sport forward.

Do you see yourself as a trainer or maybe even a boxing analyst when you’re done? (Ward is currently a boxing analyst for Comcast Sports.)

The training part, no. I’ve been in gyms my whole life. I tell [trainer] Virg [Hunter] all the time, ‘I don’t know how you guys do this, man.’ They’re in the gym every day — six, seven, eight hours a day. One fighter after the next comes in. When Virg tries to take his vacation, I’m like, ‘You can’t take your vacation, I’m getting ready to come to camp.’ And when I’m done, next is Amir Khan. … I don’t want that life. But the commentating part, that’s something that I’ve done. It’s something that … when I’m leaving here I’m going to Comcast [in San Francisco]. I’m doing a boxing-MMA segment over there. I love it. It’s a passion. I enjoy, obviously, the on-screen part of it and actually executing, the preparation and the details and trying to find that note that maybe someone else doesn’t have. And then trying to articulate it in such a way where it’s intriguing to people. And then intertwining my experiences. I love it. I got the best seat in the house, and I’m not taking no punches. And you make some good money, too.

Do you reflect on the first fight with Kovalev?

Yeah. Obviously I’m a perfectionist, so I never want to be on the canvas. I don’t subscribe to that. But that’s the proudest I’ve ever been in myself. I fought a guy that was bigger. I fought a guy that people said was the man nobody wanted to fight. I went and knocked on his door and went to his division. And he hit me with his best shot. I smiled at him. And I turned the switch on. I didn’t back away. That actually woke me up. That was the worst mistake he could have made. And I feel like it was a tremendous performance. I have a problem with somebody feeling like, ‘Oh, you lost by a point.’ I disagree. I felt like I won a close decision, and the judges felt the same way. It wasn’t a split decision, it wasn’t a majority decision, it was a unanimous decision.

And it’s funny. Anybody crying robbery, they went too far. You can have your opinion about the fight. That’s cool. I don’t have no problem with that. But all the extra stuff that you can read, some of the things that’s been said, that’s individuals who didn’t think I was going to be standing at the end of that fight. A lot of guys talked about I bit off too much, I got trapped into the fight, I should have stayed at 168 and tried to fight [Gennady] Golovkin. Those were things that were said. And then when you see that kind of performance, those guys aren’t going to go back on their word and say, ‘I was wrong.’ They are going to say something to kind of push the issue. ‘Oh, he got …’ ‘They cheated Kovalev!’ You can’t have an opinion about maybe a point difference that could have went either way. You can’t have a polarizing opinion about a point difference. So you’re telling me you saw that fight a hundred percent right?

What did you learn after watching the fight on video?

I haven’t watched it. I was in there. I know what happened. I drive my wife crazy. I’m going to be honest. Probably, the last fight I watched of myself? Probably Chad Dawson. I just got to this point, I can’t really articulate it, man. I used to watch everything. Anything boxing, I don’t care what level, I was there first. I don’t watch boxing like that no more. I haven’t watched my fights in several years. I think Dawson was 2012. I can’t really explain why I don’t, man.

Light Heavyweight boxers Andre Ward black trunks) and Sergey Kovalev (blue trunks) fights for the WBA/WBO/IBF world light heavyweight championship in a 12-round bout on Nov. 19, 2016, at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

Anthony Geathers for The Undefeated

What I do is I still watch a lot of the old fights on YouTube. I stay on YouTube. A fight will come to my mind, like, man, let me go watch. Hagler and Leonard. I want to see that. … Like, certain fights will come to my mind, especially when I’m in training camp. Then I’ll go watch it. I’ll watch Legendary Nights. I’ll watch certain things like that. But I don’t watch a lot of fights these days, and again I can’t really explain why. But I think in terms of anything different … I give Kovalev credit. He’s a good fighter. But he’s not who they said he was. He got the biggest punch in my face besides a flash knockdown. I didn’t back up at any point in time in that fight. Didn’t wobble. Didn’t get stung.

So why do this fight again?

I’m not doing this fight to prove anybody wrong. I’m not. I’m not interested in that, man. I’m past that. That was years ago that I was trying to prove people wrong. Because the people that feel like I lost get a lot of publicity. But I can’t tell you the amount of people that came and said, ‘Look, dog, don’t let them people fool you. That was one of the greatest comebacks I’ve ever seen. Congratulations, bruh …’ So they get a lot of credit. The negative stuff gets a lot of credit. But I’m secure in terms of the fight and the way I performed. But I want to do it. It makes sense to me to do another one. And he’s been asking for it. So I’ll give him what he’s asking for. I’m going to oblige him.

I know you’ve gone through a lot in your life personally. What brought you to Christianity?

My father. It’s interesting, but we didn’t grow up in the church. But my dad had a strong foundation in the word. And he just introduced it to me and my brother. Told us what, you know, what Christ was about, how you become a Christian and how you believe. And so I give my dad credit for that, and it just kind of built and grew from there. And it’s been a part of my life since I’ve been a kid. I don’t know what I would do without it.

How did you get the nickname S.O.G.?

There is a guy that I knew that kind of said it. And I didn’t have a nickname. Terminator? Destroyer? That wasn’t going to work. He went, ‘You S.O.G, man!’ And I started looking at the Scriptures, and I’m like, it’s good. Galatians 3:26 says, [So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith]. I’m like, ‘Man, that’s it: Son of God.’ And anybody can be a ‘Son of God.’ So I loved it, man. It stuck. And I felt like it fit my personality. It fits what I’m about, so I love it.

Growing up, when did you first realize you were a biracial kid?

I knew early on since I was raised primarily by my dad. So I was more exposed to the white side of my family than I was the other side. I would definitely have times where I would spend time with my other family. But my brother is darker than me. We have different mothers. Then obviously I’m light-skinned, and here’s this white man with these kids. Couldn’t tell you the amount of disputes and fights my dad got in. From somebody giving him that look like, ‘What are you doing with these boys?’ My dad just didn’t play that. A great man. He had a switch with things like that.

So it was a bit of a struggle, man. You know, the whole identity piece and trying to understand who you are. And people looking at you funny and trying to process that. And then you get to a point where you embrace it, man, and you don’t try to hide from it. You realize, ‘I didn’t do anything wrong.’ People have issues with it. That’s their issue. Probably when I got a little older, maybe 18, 19, is when I fully had peace where this is part of who I am. This is me. And I never hid it, but it was just something I was trying to process.

Was it equally as hard to feel accepted by both sides?

My family did a great job. I never felt anything with my immediate family. But, yeah, with society. You know they say, the black side says, ‘You’re not black enough.’ And Caucasian side don’t like you.

What do you recall most when it came to race?

More than anything, it’s just the looks people gave us, just, ‘the look.’ And that look is etched in my brain today. I know that look. Out where I live I’m the minority. And when I get that look, something in me turns because I’ve seen that my whole life. It’s almost like, ‘What are you doing here? How did you get here?’ And it’s almost like, ‘What gives you the right to look at me? You have no right to look at me. Because you’ve got a different color skin? It doesn’t mean you’re a better person.’ It’s that look that’s etched in my brain that probably is the most hurtful thing that I’ve ever experienced.

Has that fueled your boxing career at all?

Little bit. A little bit. You know how it is. Your people holler, ‘Light skin! Light-skin kid, man, he ain’t …’ They look at you like you’re not tough or you not … and I got a thing with bullies, man, people that try to assert themselves over people they think they’re stronger than. Since a kid, I just don’t like it. I never … my dad used to always tell me, man, I better never hear about you. I boxed. Bullying anybody, picking on them … you go to that person’s aid. I always found myself, and my brother found himself, going to people’s aid. ‘We gonna jump this kid.’ ‘No, you not, not while I’m here.’ That kind of stuff.

So when I look at a Kovalev situation, of course I’m getting ready. I’m taking him serious. But I dealt with these guys my whole life. My whole career. ‘Oh, I’m from here.’ It doesn’t matter where you’re from, bro. And I beat this guy. Don’t matter. And I learned through the sport since I was 9 years old to overcome that. First you’re scared of him. First you believe the hype. But I was trained from Virgil, and trained through my dad. Through the mental reps of them talking, to saying, ‘Listen, man, you just gonna have to show them. Get up, eat that and keep …’ That’s why it wasn’t like this shocking moment. I was prepared. People are like, ‘Did you hear what he said?’ Man, it doesn’t matter. Bro, we got to fight. So that mentality has been ingrained in me my whole life, my whole career. It’s always a bully out there talking loud. And very few can back it up. Very rarely. So it’s just part of what I’m used to.

Obviously, our website’s name is The Undefeated. What does it mean to be undefeated?

Just speaking of my career because I still have my own and I’m undefeated, as a professional fighter, it’s kind of surreal. You go to war. You go to battle with land mines everywhere, shots being fired, things happening. It’s like I made it through. I got it. I’m still here. I’m still here talking about it. And it’s funny because people kind of talk down on Floyd [Mayweather] because they say, ‘Oh, he didn’t fight anybody.’ Yes, he did. He got two decades’ worth of fighting the best. And, yeah, it’s been times where he picked and chose, but he earned that position. But he’s got two decades, fought the best. But to come out of that unscathed, so to speak, and to still have your own intact, it’s kind of surreal, man. It’s a blessing.

Is the movie Creed the sequel going to happen?

I keep hearing about Creed 2. I’ve heard they’re not going to do it. I’ve heard they’re filming already. And my boy Ryan Coogler, he’s doing Black Panther right now. So I’m trying to leave him alone, but I would love to be a part of that. They may have a whole new mindset on how they want to approach it. I don’t know. But I would love to be part of it. Probably one of the greatest things, greatest accomplishments that I’ve had. A little cameo in there.

We need Danny “Stunt Man” Wheeler back! Are you bringing back the Stunt Man?

But you got to have the actual fight. I got knocked out of the fight. Fans want to see Danny “Stunt Man” Wheeler come back and challenge the champ. So we’ll see.

What was it like preparing for your role in Creed?

I didn’t think it was going to be that much fun. But I was in Philadelphia for three days. And Ryan, he’s a tremendous dude. Yeah, he’s the director. The writer. This dude is … I think Ryan’s younger than me. I’m 33. I think Ryan’s like [30]. This dude’s commanding a room full of middle-aged individuals from all walks of life, colors, creed. And, he’s doing it, man. He’s directing this film. This Rocky film. Then the next thing you know he’s slipping on the side of me. ‘How you doing, man? You good?’ I’m like, ‘Man, I’m trying to figure this out.’ He checks on me. Then later on that night we had a 12-, 13-, 14-hour day, he calls, ‘How you doing?’ I said, ‘Bro, I’m good. How you doing?’ He like, ‘Man, I’m good. I’m trying to nail this man. I’m trying to get this done.’ So, that part was really, really, really, really dope. Having a trailer, a call time. Being around [Sylvester] Stallone, being around [actor] Michael B. [Jordan]. And dealing with the stunt man and him teaching me how to truly act. Unbelievable, man. Unbelievable. If I get the opportunity to be in another movie, man, I’m going to jump at it.

How would you describe your relationship with Golden State Warriors All-Stars Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant and former NFL star Marshawn Lynch?

Steph, we have some mutual friends, so we always have a good time when we meet. We haven’t spent time at each other’s houses or nothing like that. We’ve got a mutual respect for each other. We always speak. And it’s just amazing to see a guy like him be so down-to-earth. That part is amazing, man. Both of our wives have talked before. Just a great, great guy.

Marshawn is a really, really dope dude. A loyal dude. A loyal friend. He comes to training camp. Marshawn’s a very, very wealthy man. He’ll pull up and somebody will be driving him in a Honda or something. And he just pops out like, ‘What’s up, man? What’s up, big dog?’ I’m like, ‘Where did you come from?’ He just a regular dude. As big as he is, as big as his stature is, he’s fighting to stay normal. He’ll come to camp, and he’ll be in there joking, playing and hitting the bag. He’ll say, ‘Give me my round, man. I want my round.’ He put the body suit on. The one the coach is supposed to wear. He’ll put the headgear on and say, ‘OK, now I’m ready.’ He just a funny dude. He’s down-to-earth. The dude is a superstar, man. But he’s the most normal person. One of the most loyal people you’ll meet.

And KD [Kevin Durant] is the same way. I met KD through Instagram. I was scrolling through my direct messages, I see this long message from KD, man, just basically saying, ‘Dude, look, man, I rock with you. You’re my favorite fighter. I appreciate you in the ring for your time. But I appreciate the type of dude you are. So I make a couple of calls like, ‘Is this him?’ And sure enough, it was him. He said, ‘Here goes my number,’ so we been building ever since. Then obviously he came here, and he’s just a regular dude, man. You know we text. We communicate. We talk to each other. He came to camp and encouraged me before the Kovalev fight. You wouldn’t know he was who he was just talking to him.

You’re a huge Warriors fan who attends home games. Did you influence Durant when he was making his decision to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder to come to the Warriors?

I wanted to stay away, man. I wanted to stay away. I didn’t want to have any type of influence whatsoever. Suggestions, whatsoever. He’s got smart people around him, and we’ve got some of the same people, Roc Nation, working with him and they work with me. KD, I had to let him process that on his own. I had my fingers crossed like, ‘Come on, man. Come on, man.’ I didn’t want to mess with him. I know his phone was [crazy]. Speculation was out there. His phone was blowing up. I know how that kind of stuff is. I just pulled back. Then after it was done, I shot him a text and said, ‘Bro, welcome. Anything you need, let me know. We’ll be happy to have you.’ So I think he appreciated that.

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.