This weekend one of the world’s most gifted fighters returns to the ring, as Andre Ward faces his first test as a light heavyweight in the form of Cuban fighter Sullivan Barrera. The fight is taking place in Ward’s hometown of Oakland, California.
Barrera is a former Cuban amateur, and although he didn’t have the same success in the amateurs as some of the noted Cuban pros did, he did win a gold medal at the World Junior Championships so one can be sure that some pedigree does exist.
If Ward can come through the Barrera test a future showdown with light heavyweight king Sergey Kovalev will surely follow before the end of the year. Ward went on a super middleweight rampage from 2009 to 2011, winning the super six middleweight tournament in the process. Ward’s victories in the tournament began with a twelve-round wipe-out of Mikkel Kessler and culminated with a brilliant display in which he outfoxed the formidable and tough Englishmen Carl Froch over twelve.
However, since September 2012, in a fight in which he knocked out Chad Dawson in ten rounds Ward has been frustratingly inactive, fighting only twice, against less than stellar opposition. The long layoffs, however, have not really been Ward’s fault, and have been mainly a consequence of promotional complications.
The 32-year-old is a fantastic fighter inside the ropes, balancing a brilliant and varied offence with a slick and educated defence. For a true boxing fan Ward’s style is a joy to watch, in fact he may be the most well rounded fighter in boxing, with the possible exception of flyweight sensation Roman Gonzalez.
The most interesting aspect of Ward’s fighting style is the fact that he is left handed. This explains the phenomena that is Ward’s left jab, which is the equivalent of a power punch. In this writer’s opinion it is the best lead left hand in boxing.
Much of the time when Ward attacks with a jab he leaps in with it, and after landing it flush on the opponent’s chin he simply raises his guard and leans forward putting the pressure of the forward motion on his opponent, preventing any possible counter. He may also hold while in this position. This tactic was displayed brilliantly against Edwin Rodriguez, a fight which was won almost exclusively on that stiff left jab.
Once inside, the American will often stay there working the body and head with crisp counters. A lot of his fights are won with a wonderful mixture of crisp back foot boxing and rugged, at times almost crude, inside mauling. Ward is also a master of an up and down attack. Often he’ll lead with a right hand to the body and come upstairs with a crisp, sweeping left hook to the head. He’s also very effective with a jab to the head and a straight or hooking right to the body. Ward’s sublime timing and vision, along with accuracy is what allows him to land much of his offence.
Defensively Ward does some brilliant things. He will parry with his right hand and also block with it depending on the angle of the punch. Ward is one of the few fighters in boxing who can use the parry effectively, he is also perhaps the best fighter in the world at using head movement to avoid punches. These tools, along with his evasive footwork, allow Ward to stay out of trouble.
Sullivan Barrera, although a decent fighter, doesn’t possess quite as impressive an arsenal. In fact for someone who learned his trade in the Cuban amateur system his technique at times can leave a lot to be desired. He seems to be a little slow on his feet and his hands don’t seem to be the fastest either. In fact fellow Cuban Luis Ortiz, who campaigns at heavyweight, seems to have faster hands. Barrera just doesn’t appear to have that natural fluidity that Cuban boxers normally possess.
Another issue this writer has with Barrera is his composure inside the ring. He usually boxes with at least one, if not both, of his hands dangling down at his hips leaving his chin totally exposed. This weakness is particularly blatant when he throws punches as his face is totally open for a counter instead of being protected by the hand that is not punching. Against a good counter puncher like Ward, Barrera simply can’t afford to make these kind of mistakes.
However, despite these weaknesses Barrera is still a decent boxer with some good skills. He too has a very good jab. Although not quite as educated as Ward’s jab, it is still very stiff and solid and well capable of gaining an opponent’s respect. The jab is accompanied by a very good right hand, which he often throws to the head and body. Barrera’s jab and right hand are his best punches, however he does possess a good uppercut as well.
In fairness to Barrera he does also seem to have a decent inside game, although we haven’t really seen that much of it in his career so far. Barrera’s biggest strength may be his work rate, which is exceptionally high for a light heavyweight. Barrera is also the biggest opponent Ward has ever faced and one must assume will possess a considerable advantage in strength. He will also have a two-inch reach advantage over Ward.
Despite the considerable size advantage for Barrera, this writer just doesn’t see how he wins.
On the outside Ward is simply too sharp and versatile and on the inside he’s just too clever and experienced. Physical qualities aside, experience inside the ring is also going to prove decisive in this fight.
Ward’s resume is nothing short of incredible and Barrera’s best win was a fifth round stoppage of a solid, but limited, Karo Murat. Unless the inactivity has affected Ward far more than this writer thinks it has, one simply can’t look past Ward winning by unanimous decision.
Ward on points by a score of 116-112.
Donal O’Doherty, Pundit Arena