Can Allan Green Close The Class Gap On Andre Ward?
By Matt McGrain: Arguably, Andre Ward (21-0) has been cheated. The ďSuper-SixĒ tournament system that has brought to life some of the biggest fights the 168lb division can deliver is something that every boxing fan should be grateful for, but tournament boxing is never without itís flaws. In team sports, even an injury to a star player doesnít prevent the team digging in and fighting for the right result. In individual sports, especially an individual sport given to seeing its participants suddenly and violently rendered unconscious, this is not the case, as Jermain Taylorís most reasonable decision to opt-out of the tournament after back to back knockout losses has shown. Ward would undoubtedly have relished meeting a fighter in as much mental difficulty as Taylor would have suffered had he decided to box on in what is, after all, a results business, but instead he is met by a newcomer to the tournament - Allan Green (29-1).
Article posted on 18.06.2010
ďI am calm on the inside, but I cannot wait. In training, mentally, I have to go somewhere Iíve never been before..Ē
Green may be something of a late sub, but he is not just here to make up the numbers.
ďLetís just get it on. Period.Ē
Wardís original disappointment over missing out on Taylor aside, he seems to be nothing but focused. ďIím not going to tell you guys how great I am, how great Iím going to be. Iíve got to continue to show youÖitís not about press conferences. Itís not about interviews. Itís about putting in the work, and when itís time to show up, show up. Thatís what I plan on doing.Ē
Ward is absolutely right. For the fighters the talking is over and the fighting is about to begin. This Saturday night at the Oracle Arena in Wardís hometown of Oakland, we get to find out who is best in what just might be a minor classic.
Andre Ward is heavily favoured by many going in, and not without reason. Last time out against Kessler, he put in a real coming-of-age performance, ďtransforming from a boxer into a fighterĒ in his own words, and admitting many late-comers to his now over-subscribed bandwagon. Ward also has far and away the most variety in his arsenal, and having demonstrated this at the highest level, is now perhaps the favourite to win the tournament. Contrarily, Green, who fights for his first world title on Saturday night, has never completed twelve rounds before and although he was also impressive in his last outing, handing the unbeaten Travis Simms a wide decision loss over ten rounds, a gulf in experience does exist. As always though, the style will make the fight - and the tools each man has will decide the winner. Letís take a closer look at the key areas.
The Battle of the Jabs
There are only three ways to win in boxing - by winning the battle of the jabs, by refusing to fight the battle of the jabs, or by knockout. For all Ward is gifted physically, he is not Roy Jones and the jab forms an absolutely crucial part of his armoury. Like Jones, Ward is an absolutely exceptional rhythm-breaking fighter, arguably the best in the world today outside of Manny Pacquiao. This is due in part to his style, dipping quickly in and out against an opponent who will need serious speed or timing to properly counter him, but the jab does play a role, snapping, accurate and thrown from a variety of angles, anyone boxing Andre is gong to have to work hard to stay on balance. Further to his disruptive style, Ward can make the sudden switch to southpaw, and although his right-handed jab is not as good as his left-handed jab, it does give the opponent something new to think about. This worked well for Ward against Kessler in the fifth when the Dane started to have success with his own jab for the first time, taking him out of that rhythm and forcing him to think again. Ward also has a decent feint and a fine jab to the body.
Against this potent weapon, Green deploys that harder jab. He likes to throw it from chest height directly up and through an opponent, a really nasty punch. It is also the technically superior jab, Iíve never seen Green paw or over-reach with it, a compact punch that comes in a more traditional flavour than the more versatile version owned by his opponent. But with little to chose in terms of height and reach, speed could be key here and Ward is the faster of the two. Greenís advantages do not seem pronounced enough to me to overhaul this superiority in hand-speed, so whilst he might have his successes I donít think that Green can out-jab Ward for any length of time. Additionally, as the fight roles on and Ward gets into his rhythm-breaking groove, Green may struggle to land this punch more and more. This means he has to do one of two things, refuse the invitation to jab by taking the fight inside or give up that ground, those points, and try for the knockout. Control of range, then, may be crucial.
I think that Green has an edge in strength, edge enough to make any sojourn to the inside very uncomfortable for Ward. Although he looks a good infighter, I donít think that is the range the WBA super-middleweight champion will enjoy fighting at. I think Ward will look to stay outside and box, flashing leads in with either hand from either stance. If Green feels he is being out-jabbed, which is something I expect to see, his ability to close the distance on Ward becomes paramount. Is it something he can do?
Because Green has never fought a fighter of Wardís quality in footwork, this is a difficult question to answer, but there are some clues. Against Kessler, Ward was cornered several times in the first few rounds but the Dane failed to pull the trigger on his challenger. Ward was able to box or trick his way out trouble without coming to any harm. I suspect though that Green would be more aggressive in this position than Kessler was. For all that he has stressed his boxing ability throughout the build up to this fight, I think the challenger knows that he is generally out-sped by the champion, and that whatever his boxing ability, his chances lie in landing the harder shots in pursuit of the knockout or keeping Ward dominated. Should he be able to close the distance on Ward persistently, I expect to see him do good and forceful work. There are two provisos here; firstly, the Kessler fight took place in an eighteen foot square ring. As I understand it, the original stipulations for the Super Six competitors stated that all fights would take place in a twenty foot square ring. If Green has to go looking for Ward, he may have a tougher time of it for this reason. Secondly, Green has shown nothing like the organisation in footwork in pursuit of an elusive opponent that Kessler has. So whether he can persistently corner the champion is questionable regardless of the ring size. My guess is he is organised enough to be able to do it, but not consistently - I donít think he has the speed of pressure to dominate the range should Ward give ground. Ward will control the range in this fight, clinching and working inside when the two come together, waiting for the referee to separate them.
Greenís Defence and Wardís Power
Greenís defence is derided in some corners in the light of his battle with Edison Miranda. The basic thinking seems to be that because Miranda is viewed essentially as a one-handed fighter (although it should be pointed out that the first hurtful punch Miranda landed in the torrid tenth round of that fight was a left uppercut), Greenís vulnerability to the MirandaĎs right-hand money punch can be read as a serious defensive weakness.
It was the case that in his ten round loss to Miranda, Green seemed totally unable to make his opponent miss with that punch. It is also the case that Green still wears his left hand low to facilitate his impressive jab - furthermore Ward has an excellent right hand that he really, really likes to sit down on at times. Ward is a genuinely powerful hitter with this punch, and in stopping 13 of his of his 21 opponents is not far behind Green in terms of knockout percentage, Green having stopped 20 of his 30 opponents. How badly will the championís punches hurt the challenger? In a sense Green proved his durability against Miranda because the Columbian is a serious puncher - but he is not a particularly precise one. If Green shows the defensive lapses he did in that fight he will have serious trouble, not so much because he can be knocked out with one punch, but because Ward will break him down badly across multiple rounds. Kessler is a durable opponent and proved it against Calzaghe, but by the end of his fight with Ward, Kessler looked like he had been mauled by a dog, bleeding from multiple cuts to his eyes and from his mouth. This was success born of consistency in accuracy married to good power.
What has been sounding up until this point like a genuinely difficult match-up for Green now sounds like a disaster waiting to happen, but a note of caution - the Miranda fight was some three years and six wins ago. Green appears to have tightened up since that time, but then he hasnít fought a fighter with the type of persistent offence that Miranda brought. Heíll be facing that and more this weekend.
The Left Hook and the Straight Right
Ward has a serious edge in variety when it comes to punching, able, as he is, to disguise a left hook and then land an uppercut with the same hand before switching stances and looking to land the left form the southpaw stance. But as noted, it is his straight right hand from the orthodox stance which will likely be his most important punch on Saturday. This is because he doesnít particularly want to be inside so he will spend some of his time in the ring trying to bring Green forwards onto his punches. The most affective punch in these circumstances is generally the right, and Ward has a good one. For Green, the money punch is the left-hook. The left-hook also happens to be the best punch for countering a miss-timed right-hand. If heís to be successful with this punch, it will be in the form of a counter-punch, as Wardís right-hand guard is generally flawless, a catcherĎs mitt for a left-hand pitch. When heís not using the right hand or rushing, heís generally un-hittable with the left-hook. However, Ward can be seen on film lunging when becoming confident in his offence, and this would be Greenís moment. Also having had success using this punch to counter the jab to the body - a punch the champion likes to throw - Greenís chances of becoming champion may hinge upon seizing such a split second. Looking for all the world a top-class finisher now, I think Green would likely be able to close the blinds on Ward were he to land such a punch flush.
Other than that? I donít like Greenís chances. What this short analysis boils down to is the proverbial puncherís chance for the challenger, perhaps slightly enhanced by Wardís occasional tendency to lunge in with the right hand. As Iíve described, Ward would win any battle of the jabs, and Ward will control the distance. When this becomes apparent to Green, the fight arrives at itís crossroads. Here, Green must decide whether to wither on the vine, out-boxed to a wide decision by a superior athlete, or to really dig in and make the fight messy, fought at close range with heavy punches against a retreating but aggressive foe. If he picks the later, watch out, because this fight could really take off - it is also a fight that would offer up Greenís best chance for victory. Ward will score frequently, but this will bring him on to Greenís offence, whilst also keeping the pressure on, perhaps forcing a crack to open in the Ward defence.
But that is something Kessler could not achieve. He, too, was reduced to trying desperately to land something big despite the fact that his jab and big fight experience were superior to Greenís own. My guess is that Green will bring the fight to Ward when he realises he is being out-boxed, but that he will be caught hard and often by the championís punches whilst trying to sustain the pressure. Failing to get across his own blows as he would like and also to consistently cut the ring off on his more mobile opponent I fear itís likely some of the fight will go out of him and he will begin to crumble in terms of discipline. Greenís temperament, like his defence, can legitimately if not conclusively questioned in the light of the Miranda fight. Starting to seriously unravel in the ninth and the tenth, Green will be stopped in the eleventh or twelfth in Wardís most impressive performance to date.
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