Andre Ward, S.O.G. (“Son of God”) was regarded as one of the best pound-for-pound champions in his era as a pro.
Although Ward himself was a massive success in his career. He very much has a misunderstood boxing style which is a combination of many styles into one. Making him one of the best technical fighters there has been in the modern era.
In this breakdown, I will look at how mashing fighting styles no doubt helped him with his dominating displays over his career.
You can watch my video version or continue reading below:
Ward’s background and career.
Ward is now a retired and former world champion boxer from Oakland, California. Ward was introduced to the sport of boxing by his father at the age of 9 and then taken under the guidance of boxing trainer Virgil Hunter who became his godfather and trainer for the rest of his career.
The American had an illustrious Amateur and Professional career winning multiple titles at all levels. And has been reported that he hasn’t lost a fight since being 12 years old.
As an amateur, he was almost unstoppable winning multiple national championships before being picked for the U.S Olympic team and then going on to win Gold at light heavyweight in 2004. Ward to this day, is still the last man to win a gold medal at the Olympics.
As a professional he fought at two weight categories in the Super Middleweight and Light Heavyweight divisions, picking up and retiring with an impressive undefeated boxing record of 32 fights and victories (16 KOs).
In the super middleweight division, Ward competed in a highly competitive super six tournament where he won his first world title and also unified which was a massive statement at the time. The man from Oakland defeated the likes of champions Carl Froch, Mikkel Kessler, Chad Dawson, and Arthur Abraham in this division.
Move up to light heavyweight
Ward then would eventually move up to Light heavyweight after getting through some legal issues and surgery. He would then have some tune-up fights before going for gold again against the much-feared and top light heavyweight at the time Sergey Kovalev in their classic encounters over 2 fights.
The American finally decided to hang up the gloves in 2017 after retaining his world title belts against Sergey Kovalev in his rematch. He is now a boxing pundit on ESPN, with many still calling him out to return one last time. I know I would like to see it!
Andre Ward’s Boxing Style
When it comes to how Ward would fight. Many claim his boxing style is boring, and to a certain degree, I do understand why people think this is the case. But as someone who studies and loves the sweet science of boxing, I have to disagree.
As the great George Foreman said:
“Boxing is like Jazz, the better it is, the less people appreciate it.”George Foreman
Unfortunately for Ward, he was tremendously good, and it was detrimental to him as an entertaining fighter for the casual. But for those that box or love the deeper detail of boxing techniques or tactics he is one the best to learn from.
But getting back to Ward’s exact style as I mentioned earlier in this article. He has perfected a combination of boxing styles over many years. He uses and mixes elements of certain styles depending on the situation in front of him.
In a way, Ward is very much a blend of modern flashy fighters, but with many old-school traditional fighter characteristics. Ward once described his style as “formless” and is no doubt inspired by what Bruce Lee said, “Be shapeless, formless, like water”.
He has been quoted saying he was influenced by the top trio of Roy Jones Jr, Bernard Hopkins, and Floyd Mayweather which I can definitely see in how he fought.
The Stance and approach
Ward very much reminds me of a modern but careful version of Joe Louis. But combined with the occasional Philly shell or flashy movement from one of the previous names I just mentioned.
The reason for this is he would tend to try to keep his head off centre line and would slip/duck to his right rear side while throwing his left jab helping him to avoid return fire. Much like Joe Louis, he would do it while fencing with his jab, before unleashing his huge power shots.
But for Ward, the jab was a tool to use the opportunity to slip up on the inside on some opponents, much like the great Roberto Duran would do as well.
However, as Ward’s opponents would improve in quality over time, they would for the most part be bigger punchers, better at closing the distance and applying pressure.
Ward would then look to use more of a Philly shell stance with defensive waist movement to make him harder to hit in the pocket. Even to use it to create counter-punching opportunities.
But now it is important to go into these individual aspects he used within his style throughout his career.
Footwork to control distance
A lot of fighters only get taught to use their hands first and not their feet and is often a part that gets neglected by many fighters. However, Ward’s footwork was exceptional at controlling his opponent. He would use his feet to move around the ring effectively and determine the distance.
Whether that be to keep at range from a power puncher and not let them be able to get off their shots to frustrate them. Or by being too close for opponents to hit him cleanly or effectively.
But as most know, footwork isn’t everything in boxing and it was in fact his lead hand that he would use alongside this footwork that really made him difficult to hit.
Ward’s masterful Jab
Now when it came to Ward’s left lead hand it was in fact his natural stronger hand. But instead of sticking to the southpaw stance. Virgil Hunter kept him as an orthodox fighter. but this itself definitely gave Ward an advantage by giving him a much more powerful lead hand earning much respect from opponents.
Ward has been quoted in the past in saying how the jab is “a lost art” in terms of how it is used and thrown. He would very much use his lead hand almost like he was fencing with it in three ways:
- Gauge and control distance
- Use Feints to set up shots
- To get on the inside
For defence, he would use the jab as I mentioned as a way to create distance between himself and the opponent. Sometimes sticking it straight out will help you create the time to move out the way or force your opponent into a punch.
Ward would also mix up the jab by attacking the stomach or solar plexus. Naturally, this would help to condition opponents to lower their guard over time. Then of course create opportunities up top.
He would also use the jab to set himself up for other punches. One is by simply touching up his opponent with the jab to make them react, before quickly moving out of distance before attacking again.
Ward would also throw this jab from different angles. As I mentioned earlier he would keep his head usually off centre line to his right, but would also sometimes change the level he would throw the punch.
Check out Ward using the lead hand below
A Pick Him Type Fighter
Ward described himself as a “pick him type fighter” – in other words, he likes to pick you off and break you down with strong, accurate, and effective shots with a lower volume of punches. Once you have your opponent tired or even hurt, that is when you have the opportunity to unleash a strong powerful combination of punches.
Some of the greats such as Floyd and or more recently Canelo Alvarez have always been more calculated when they throw punches and would always rather get much cleaner damaging shots. This in turn can help judges swing around in your favor, even if the opponent has thrown more punches. But more importantly, accurate hard-landed punches will more likely hurt your opponent than hitting gloves/arms.
Now probably one of the harder and more complex parts of Ward’s game was his inside fighting ability. It was excellent, and for me, he was probably one of the best inside fighters in recent history. Most opponents could really not compete with Ward when they were in this situation.
First up, Ward would like to fight on the inside at different points in the fight against specific fighters in his career. Ward came up against big tough fighters such as Carl Froch, Mikkel Kessler, and Sergey Kovalev, who were all very dangerous at mid to long. So to counteract that and cause damage he would get up on the inside and use this as an opportunity to beat up on them when up close and would neutralize the effectiveness of their own punches
Ward would often use the jab to get there as discussed earlier. And then would use intelligent arm control when on the inside to stop his opponents from throwing uppercuts.
He would then use his head to lean on the shoulders of his opponent to apply pressure but also so his chin was protected. This was all while attempting to control and hold at least one arm. Ward would usually try to battle with his stronger left arm to throw uppercuts or hooks at this point. It would give his opponent a false sense of security that he only has one arm available to use, so can’t do anything. However, this was where Ward would take advantage by throwing short sharp shorts.
Another aspect of Ward’s genius here was simple forearm control to get off his shots, much like Mayweather would use on the inside as well.
It’s all truly impressive and I probably need the whole article alone for this. I recommend you watch my video version of this article to see this in action.
Defense and counters
Now another big part of Ward’s game is of course his defense and counter punching. For the most part, the American would float between stances using a
- A long reached arm
- High guard
- Philly shell
It would all be situational for what was in front of him. But just like the great champions, his defense was just very good fundamentals for the most part. He would simply use his footwork, to get out of range by moving back slightly before pivoting off to right in most cases.
In terms of being in the pocket with more aggressive opponents, this is where we would see Ward you elusive waist movement bending down to his right before either moving out the way or using it as an opportunity to clinch and fight on the inside.
There was also the great use of arm control where he would use his arms against the opponent to move out the way.
Now in terms of using the Philly shell, Ward was more inclined to use the shoulder roll movement while also moving with his feet backward before resetting himself. It wasn’t too often you would see ward stand toe to toe in this stance. As he would prefer to use waist movement.
For his counter punching, it was more used with opponents who rushed in because of frustration that would be caught by him. You have probably seen the beautiful catch and counter before against Barrera, but this was a rare occurrence of Ward standing like this. But is still an amazing lesson. (see below)
Now, this wasn’t something Ward would use too often toward the end of his career, but more in his amateur days and younger professional career. However as his left hand was naturally stronger, Ward would on occasion turn southpaw on occasion against some opponents.
He did this in his world title fight vs Kessler and more notably at the end of his career vs Brant. He would stay at the stance for too long. But no doubt he could’ve done more often than if he wished to.
Now throughout his career, he had one notable but convincing win against Chad Dawson, who was a natural Light Heavyweight and former world champion who had dropped down in weight at the time to fight Ward.
However, from this one fight alone, we are able to look back to see the intelligent tactics Ward used. In the fight he would fence with Dawson’s southpaw jab, with his own, however, he would use it to condition the southpaw into a rhythm over time by touching w with him. For example for the first knockdown. He would touch with Dawson before instead quickly changing the route of attack by throwing a right to the body before going up top again.
Now when we think of Andre Ward and body attacks, I’m not going to say he didn’t stray low at times. We all have evidence of that from looking back. But Ward was always a very good body puncher for the most part throughout his whole career.
Whether that be the body jab, left hook to the liver, the right to the body, or short sharp shots on the inside. The American would always invest in these shots against the majority of the fighters he fought. Most notable of course was his last two fights against Sergey Kovalev.
Ward went to the body every time he got the opportunity in the early rounds of both fights. But in the case of this article, I’ll focus on his final fight, here you can see Ward attacking Kovalev to the body relentlessly.
In my opinion, Andre Ward was a true pugilist and once in generational talent who I believe could’ve fought in an era of boxing.
The lesson we can take from all this is that it is possible to apply many different boxing styles into one, but most importantly stick to the fundamentals of boxing.
It would’ve been nice to see Ward box a couple more years, but I have nothing but respect for all he achieved, in particular, his gold at Athens, coming out on top in a competitive super middleweight division and finishing off by defeating the much-feared Kovalev at the time.
Check out my other boxer style analysis features here or why not look at my other analysis on the following boxing stars:
If you are looking for more discipline in your boxing training and life I recommend you check out my article on Andre Ward’s 10 habits to bad avoid in boxing.
Back in 2018 former pound for pound star, two weight world champion and Hall of famer, Andre Ward, really caught my eye on Twitter. It was a tweet thread on 10 habits you should avoid if you want to...
Andre Ward, S.O.G. ("Son of God") is regarded pound for pound as one of the best champions in the last 10 years. Ward himself has a unique boxing style which is a mash up of many styles into one,...