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November 22, 2016

Who Should we Believe in the Ward-GGG Saga?

by Matt O'Brien

An edited version of this article was published on on November 17th, 2016:

As former super middleweight ruler Andre Ward prepares for his upcoming challenge against WBA/WBO/IBF light-heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev, a phoney war between his camp and that of another Eastern bloc pound-for-pound star, Gennady Golovkin, continues to rumble on. The latest round of the back and forth battle-by-media occurred when Triple G’s trainer, Abel Sanchez, recently stated that his star pupil has the beating not only of Ward, but 175lb champions Kovalev and Adonis Stevenson, too.

Sanchez poured more fuel on the fire by again questioning the validity of an offer from Ward’s camp for a proposed fight between the pair, made back in the summer of 2015. Depending which side of the keyboard you sit, this offer was either a transparent attempt by his team to generate publicity off the back of Golovkin’s rising popularity, or else provides irrefutable evidence that GGG’s team “ducked” the American knowing he posed too much of a risk for their star asset.

So, who should we believe? Did GGG’s team “duck” a legitimate offer to face Ward? Or was the offer a dishonest attempt by Ward’s camp to “con” the public by pretending they wanted the fight? While the truth lies somewhere in between these two extremes, after sifting through the countless interviews, reports and articles available on this topic, my own conclusion is that Golovkin’s team ought to be the ones taking the majority of the stick here.

To begin with, it is no coincidence that Abel Sanchez was the voice behind the latest round of sniping in the media. Sanchez’s voice appears often in the history of this spat, and can be traced back to its early routes, in a March 2012 article published on ESPN. Here, Sanchez made the bold prediction that his fighter could go down in history as the second greatest fighter of all time (behind Muhammad Ali and ahead of Sugar Ray Robinson) and stated that they were willing to face anyone from the 154-168lb weight classes, including Andre Ward.

At the time, Golovkin held the WBA middleweight title, but was still relatively unknown outside of hardcore boxing circles. A fully-fledged member of the “Who Needs Him?” club, GGG’s team was desperately trying to establish him as a more recognizable name in the States and entice some big names into the ring with him. In contrast, Ward had just emerged on top of Showtime’s tough and talent-filled Super Six tournament and was widely recognized as one of the top pound-for-pound players in the sport. Sanchez’s claim was therefore a significant one to make, and required some serious action to back it up.

Fast-forward to November 2013: Ward had managed just two ring-appearances since his Super Six triumph, whereas Golovkin had demolished a string of six challengers in the same period and extended his consecutive run of knockouts to 15 straight contests. Ward pressed the issue though, saying that he was willing to fight anyone and criticizing Golovkin’s team for failing to back up their confident boast. “They went on the record and they’ve campaigned for years that [he] will fight anybody… and anybody means anybody. So I said that I have no problem fighting Golovkin and now all of a sudden it’s a campaign to stay at 160.

As we moved into 2015, the fight looked no nearer to being made, but the cold war being fought in the media rumbled on. That June Golovkin gave an uncharacteristically angry interview in Russian, blasting Ward for trying to generate publicity by using his name. He ended with some harsh words aimed directly at the American: “As a man, you are dead to me”.

In July 2015, a few weeks after Ward defeated Englishman Paul Smith, ESPN’s Dan Rafael reported team GGG’s re-assertion that they were willing to fight any of the big names “from junior middleweight to super middleweight”. Notably, the article quoted K2 managing director and Golovkin promoter, Tom Loeffler, who said that, “GGG would fight Ward on a 50-50 basis, the best 160-pounder versus the best 168-pounder [at] 164 [and] a 50-50 split on all proceeds”.

In September that year, a clearly frustrated Ward gave an interview to FightHubTV and insisted on referring to Golovkin as “Little G”, lambasting the fighter and his camp for turning down an official offer to fight. He also complained that a double standard seemed to apply in terms of how their negotiating strategies were portrayed by the media:

“Now, if the shoe was on the other foot, if I said ‘I’m going to 75, and I’m not gonna touch Kovalev, I’ll fight this guy and that guy, but if I fight Kovalev he’s gotta come to 170 or 172’ – can you imagine what the headlines would read? And if my trainer and my promoters were talking like they talk, but there was no action – can you imagine what the headlines would read?”

On October 8th, Loeffler gave an interview to explaining why the official offer was rejected, saying it was received after their unification fight with David Limieux had been signed and therefore too late. He also claimed their primary aim was to unify the 160lb division, but admitted they would move up to 168lbs for “mega events” against Julio Cesar Chavez Jnr. or Carl Froch. As for Ward, Triple G’s “stardom” had now surpassed the American, he argued, and therefore a 50/50 split between the pair would no longer make sense.

The following day Michael Yormak of Roc Nation, representing Ward, responded by pointing out that GGG’s team turned the offer down “in 36 minutes”. They had not known the Limieux fight had already been signed, he claimed, and countered that since the proposal stipulated that both fighters would have one interim bout before meeting in 2016, essentially it made no difference to the deal. If they were serious at all about the fight, he argued, GGG’s camp would have engaged in some form of preliminary negotiations, or at least considered it for longer.

Tensions between the camps continued to simmer in the months that followed. Abel Sanchez accused the Ward team of being “all talk”; Ward responded by telling Sky Sports that GGG’s people were more concerned with posturing in the media than actually negotiating, and didn’t want to know about the fight “once we made them an official offer”. How seriously we should take that offer is of course the subject of much dispute, though none of the arguments from GGG’s side, I think, stand up to serious scrutiny.

Firstly, the offer being sent after the Limieux fight was signed is not evidence that it was made in bad faith. In fact, it seems reasonable to take Ward’s team at face value when they say this would not have been a stumbling block, and that the proposed time frame (each fighting an interim bout before meeting in the first half 2016) could have been made to work, since this format is the same deal that Ward’s camp later made – and stuck to – with Sergey Kovalev’s people.

It’s also argued that Ward’s camp were deliberately treating GGG’s team like the “B-side” – presumably in the knowledge that this would scupper the bout while feigning the appearance of making a serious offer. This argument is also a strange one. Negotiations, after all, have to start somewhere. If Ward’s team were willing to fire the opening salvo, it can hardly be held against them if the other side were not willing to fire back, especially considering the offer met Loeffler’s earlier claim that they’d accept a 50/50 split.

As to the weight issue, while Ward had not boxed below 168 since November 2013, in June 2015 he had weighed just 171 ¾lbs. For the kind of money and exposure the event would produce, it’s fair to assume he would’ve been willing and capable of stripping a few extra pounds. Sanchez also did the credibility of his team’s position no favours here by claiming in June that they never actually made a catchweight demand, despite footage being readily available on YouTube of him personally saying they’d only do the fight at 164, while other members of the team were already on record stating they’d only go to 168lbs for Froch and Chavez.

A little context, I think, is also in order when assessing the merit of Ward’s offer. After all, he has proven on numerous occasions his willingness to step up to a serious challenge: the Super Six tournament was a minefield of dangerous opposition, and Chad Dawson was also one of the most accomplished fighters in boxing at the time they fought. Now, of course, Ward is stepping up to test himself against arguably the most formidable challenge available, Sergey Kovalev. It seems rather absurd to question the legitimacy of his desire to fight Golovkin when he has since agreed to a contest that is even more daunting.

So, does this mean that I’m a GGG “hater”? That I think Triple G “ducked” a Ward fight because he’s “scared” of him? Not at all.

I’ve no doubt that Golovkin the fighter would step in the ring with anyone. His team, however, have to be more careful in their management, and they simply preferred to hold out for a lower-risk, financially more rewarding fight against Cotto or Canelo. This is hardly a crime, but even granting that it was a sensible business move on their part, it still runs contrary to their prior eagerness to “fight the best from 154-168”. Whatever you think of Golovkin the fighter, there is a serious mismatch here between his team’s words and their deeds; whereas judging Ward by his upcoming test next weekend, the reverse is true.

As for Sanchez’s recent claim that Golovkin can beat “anyone at 175lbs”? Right now, it’s no more meaningful than his 2012 claim that Triple G can go down in history as the second greatest fighter of all time: bold words requiring a whole lot more action to back them up.

Full list of original links & sources:

March 2012: Sanchez tells ESPN GGG will face anyone from 154-168:

December 2012: Ward out with shoulder surgery:

November 2013: Ward says ready for anyone, including GGG:

November 17th 2013: Ward says he’ll fight anyone, GGG not calling him out:–71787

February 18th 2014: Ward angry at GGG’s team, for saying he would fight anyone from 154-175, but making no attempt to make the fight:

May 7th  2014: Detailed report on Ward’s legal fight with Goosen:

August 23rd 2014: GGG manager on Ward’s legal issues:–81347

August 26th 2014: Ward responds to GGG team about legal issues:–81471

June 16th 2015: GGG blasts Ward:

July 8th 2015: Loeffler tells boxingscene that it would have to be 50/50 and at 164; says Ward team still wants to dictate terms, but can’t:–93258

July 9th 2015: Rafael report on Loeffler’s offer:

July 23rd 2015: Sanchez says they won’t budge on catchweight:–93850

July 26th 2015: Sanchez admits that they would only do the fight at a catchweight:

September 15th 2015: Ward calls Golovkin ‘Little G’:

October 8th 2015: GGGs team say Ward fight unlikely; offer was too late & too small:–96694

October 9th 2015: Ward’s team say GGG team turned them down in 36 mins:–96761

April 13th 2016: GGG trainer Sanchez says Ward is “all talk”:

April 22nd 2016: Ward has cold words for GGG:

June 25th 2016: GGG trainer never asked for 164 weight:–106038

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