Interview: After His Hiatus, Andre Ward Is More Than Ready To Make His Debut In BET’s Boxing Ring

Andre Ward is in the business of making history.

After a long 19 month hiatus, the WBA Super Middleweight champion will make his comeback to the ring in a momentous way. This Saturday (June 20), he will be duking it out with Paul Smith in BET’s first ever televised boxing event in conjunction with Roc Nation Sports.

Before the gloves go on for the big fight, the man known as “God’s Only Son” chops it up with VIBE to give his two cents on his boxing technique, Roc Nation Sports and his TIDAL-aired documentary, Gennady Golovkin and the new spin-off flick from the Rocky franchise, Creed. —Mark Braboy


VIBE: What makes you put so much emphasis on your feet more so than your hands?
Andre Ward: That’s a great question. I got an old school coach who’s more of a teacher than a coach. [Virgil Hunter] comes from the old school and old school teaches your feet first and teach you how to work on your feet, your coordination, your balance before your hands. Nowadays, a lot of trainers teach hands first and get really enamored and impressed by how a guy’s hands is moving. ‘Oh my god, you see how fast he is?’ But if you know what you’re looking at, you’re like, he’s doing that to impress folks. If you look at 90 percent of the net work and focus time that guys do. It looks great but it’s all in place. I’m just fortunate that I have a great teacher who makes the net work uncomfortable. I mean, we can sit there and show off in front of a camera and have everyone oohing and ahhing but am I really getting better? Lee makes sure that my hands are in sync with my feet and it just translates into the ring.

I notice that you create a lot of spacing and distance with your feet and move off that.
Because my feet are my first line of defense and then it’s my hands. So, I’m gonna always get it right, but if my feet are balanced and in the proper stance, then it’s really hard for you to hit me with a clean shot and it’s really easy for me to counter you. You throw, it may hit me but then I can hit you back. You may miss and I can hit you back or I may block your punch and I can hit you back.

How does it feel to be the first live boxing event on BET?
It’s amazing! It’s trailblazing type of stuff. One of the reasons why I signed up with Roc Nation was because of their ability to not just have a vision of doing things, but the actual ability and resources to carry that vision out. You know with the BET experience that we’re getting ready to have, it’s new, it’s trailblazing, different and we’re going to be in 92 million homes. It’s probably safe to say that a good portion of these people maybe aren’t die hard boxing fans and they might not watch this sport if it was just on premium network television, so I’m excited to be exposed in front of a new audience.

What does this mean for the sport of boxing?
I don’t think it’ll hurt at all, despite the negative press out here going, ‘Ah this fight’s on BET,’ like it’s a bad thing! But my thing is, it can’t hurt. I think Roc Nation should get credit for having the guts to try this. BET should get the credit for being willing to step up and try something like this. It just can’t hurt.

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What type of fight are you expecting from Paul Smith and what areas do you feel like you have the upper hand in?
Well, I know I’m coming to win, but I know that he’s going to do his very best. He’s one of those kind of guys, a pedal to the medal kind of fighter. He’s a European champion. Durable. It’s his Super Bowl. And because it’s his Super Bowl, my focus and my training, I made it my Super Bowl. You got two hungry fighters and I won’t have any mental letdowns. A lot of people are talking about the ring rust and the 19 months off and I don’t think it’s going to be a major factor in this fight, but we’ll see.

I noticed in your Sway In The Morning interview during your hiatus that you’ve always kept yourself in shape. You don’t drink and you don’t do drugs.
Yeah that’s key. It would be really difficult if I was a drinker or smoker and just somebody who didn’t work on my craft and then was gone for 19 months and then said okay I gotta get ready for this fight. I probably wouldn’t look that good and I probably wouldn’t look my best for this fight. So once again, Virgil, I take my hat off to him. Great teacher in the midst of everything. He encouraged me throughout that whole hiatus, that 19 months to stay in the gym. Even days I didn’t want to go, I’m like ‘Man, I don’t have a fight, I don’t know when this lawsuit business is gonna be over,’ he just said stay in the gym and keep working your craft and we did! And when the phone rang and we knew we had a fight coming up, we had to start from scratch.

How has Roc Nation sports made you into a better businessman?
Honestly, we just started our relationship but just watching up close and from afar that they’re very consistent, they’re very diligent and almost militant. I don’t think anyone in that Roc Nation office gets eight hours of sleep, I highly doubt it. They’re constantly working and they’re on top of everything and they have a department for everything. I have an individual named Kaitlyn who’s like a liaison. Anything that I need whether it’s small or great, she’s on call 24 hours a day. That kind of stuff is just incredible. When you got that kind of mindset, at the very top starting with Jay Z and his team, Juan and Desiree, and then it trickles down to the employees in the other parts of the company. So I think it’s just about excellence and it shows in everything that they do.

It seems like everything they get involved with turns to gold.
Yeah, they’ve been successful in everything. And that’s why even with things like Tidal, who knows where Tidal’s going to go but people are quick to rush to judgment because he has so much success throughout his life and his career and in everything that he touches. People on the sidelines are waiting for him to fail at something.

What are your overall thoughts on Tidal? Have you tried it for yourself?
I haven’t had an opportunity to dig into it, but that’s just me being in training camp and focusing on this fight but I look forward to [looking into it]. You know I got that free subscription too, man, being associated with Roc Nation. I’m excited to get it in, get my playlist going and dig into it a little bit more but what I seen so far I love it. We have a five or six part documentary called “The Resurrection” [about me preparing] throughout my training camp. If you haven’t seen it, go check it out. It’s on Tidal as a five part series and they’ll do one more the night before the fight which will be this Friday. It just all consists of music, video content, I think it’s very exclusive.

Talk about your documentary on Tidal. What’s it about?
I mean, it’s talking about my past, it’s talking about my present, it’s talking about—like I’m opening up about a few things that I typically hadn’t talked about like my childhood. Stuff that my mom and dad had with substance abuse and how that affected me and my wife is on there. She doesn’t really get in front of the camera a lot but she’s on there to give her view of things because my view is one thing but her view may be something totally different. And it’s just good, it’s just exposes to people of who I am, as far as what the past 19 months have been like, this hiatus, and it just gets the people up to speed and it gets them ready and excited for this Saturday night.

Gennady Golovkin made some comments in response to things you said about him not wanting to fight you. In a nutshell, he told a story about how you and him were at the negotiation table with HBO about a potential fight, but allegedly, you were the one who refused? What are you thoughts on this and Golovkin?
Well I’m gonna keep it real brief because Saturday night, we’re fighting Paul Smith and it’s not about Triple G right now. I don’t know anything about the comment but I’m sure he didn’t come up with that by himself. He doesn’t seem like the kind of guy that will elaborate and talk about those kind of things in detail. Either his promoter or his trainer had pulled him to the side and told him to ‘Say this.’ It’s sad, man. They’re starting to lie now and what they’ve got to realize is it’s not that serious man. Just be honest to people so they know that you want to fight or don’t want to fight and move on. The lying and making stuff up, that small tidbit you just told me doesn’t make any sense at all and if they were informed of that, it’s inaccurate. People who know me know that I’m not going to open my mouth and say something if I don’t mean it. I’m very short and sweet. I’m old school when it comes to it, I say what I mean and mean what I say, and then get off of it. It’s simple as that. But, Saturday night it’s not about Golovkin, it’s not about his team. Them guys… I throw up the white flag when it comes to the internet battle, they can have that. I’m about action. And I’m looking forward getting back Saturday night against Paul Smith.

Got it. Another thing we want to know about is your new show, Creed. Talk about it for a second.
Yeah, it’s a great opportunity with Ryan Coogler, Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stalone and Nev King. I got two scenes in the movie but that’s two scenes that I been had before the movie started. That’s my first time actually acting on the big screen and it was phenomenal. Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan, I mean Ryan Coogler is from the Bay Area. They worked on Fruitvale Station together and Ryan Coogler said, ‘I want you in the scene.’ Michael B Jordan, he’s an accomplished actor. He gave me a lot of encouragement. He called me personally and it was just a phenomenal experience and it can’t wait to see how the final product turns out.

What’s your role in Creed?
I can’t give up too much. I’m a fighter in the movie. I don’t have a leading role or anything like that, but I have a significant enough role and I’m satisfied with my role. I’m thankful for the opportunity. You gotta watch it, man. What’s good about this movie is that there’s a lot of real fighters in the movie which I think authenticates this movie. And Michael B. Jordan did a phenomenal job of not just getting his body in shape to look like a fighter, but actually learning the different nuances and the different… just the lifestyle of a fighter. He came to the Bay Area, he’s been all over the country [including] the U.K. There’s some U.K. fighters in there. Learning what it takes to be a fighter, the mindset of a fighter and I think that’s what’s going to translate in this movie.

The Rocky franchise is one of my favorite franchises of all time. Do you feel like that has shaped your fighting career?
Yeah, I think it had a lot to do with it. I’m one of those type of people that gets motivation from stuff and the Rocky movies are no different. I mean you hear the theme song and I’m the type of kid where back in the day when I would see something like that, I would want to go run five miles or something like that. I drew a lot of inspiration from that movie and they’re classics so, yeah, absolutely.

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