Operator: Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon and welcome to the Andre Ward vs. Alexander Brand call. Your host today is Michael Yormark, President & Chief of Branding and Strategy, Roc Nation. We will begin now.
Michael Yormark: Good afternoon everybody and thank you so much for participating today. Roc Nation Sports is excited to announce that Two-Time World Champion and top rated pound-for-pound fighter Andre Ward will return to the ring on Saturday, August 6, to continue his conquest of the light heavyweight division when he takes on power punching Columbian Alexander Brand at Oracle Arena in Ward’s hometown of Oakland, California.
This 12-round fight will be televised live on HBO World Championship Boxing beginning at 10:35 p.m. Eastern and Pacific. Tickets are priced at $250, $120, $90, $40 and $30, not including applicable service charges and taxes and are on sale now and available at Ticketmaster locations, online at Ticketmaster.com, and charged by phone at 1-800-745-3000. Ward versus Brand is presented by Roc Nation Sports and sponsored by Corona Extra, the motion picture HANDS OF STONE: The True Story of Roberto Duran, Corporate Travel Management Solutions (CTMS), Brand Jordan, Verizon, Shoe Palace, Ticketmaster and The Clorox Company, supporting the Bay Area community for over 100 years.
Before we introduce the fighters, I would like to acknowledge and thank several people who have been instrumental in getting this fight made. Number one, Andre’s management team of James Prince and Josh Dubin, Executive Vice President of HBO Sports, Peter Nelson and his terrific team, and of course the entire team at Oracle Arena, one of the premier venues in the country and our home away from home over the last year and now the new home of another Roc Nation star athlete, Kevin Durant.
Let’s introduce our fighters. He is the last U.S. Olympic boxer to win gold, having done so at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games. His list of victories reads like a who’s who of the super-middleweight division including Carl Froch, Mikkel Kessler, Arthur Abraham; all of who he defeated on route to winning the Super 6. He also dominated and knocked out former light heavyweight world champion, Chad Dawson, in their 2012 showdown. In his last fight, he dominated formerly undefeated Cuban Sullivan Barrera. He is the pride of Oakland, California, a family man, a youth athlete role model.
On August 6, he takes on his second opponent in the light heavyweight division as he continues his collision course toward a date with unified light heavyweight champion, Sergey Kovalev. It is my pleasure to introduce the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, the face of the light heavyweight division, and an athlete Roc Nation Sports is so proud to represent, with a record of 29-0 with 15 KOs, a man who hasn’t lost a fight since the age of 13, from Oakland, California, Mr. Andre Ward. Andre would you like to say a few words?
Andre Ward: Wow, that’s a pretty powerful intro, Michael. I appreciate it, man! That’s almost like my ring entrance and probably the best one that I’ve ever had on a conference call. As always I’m preparing my body and my mind, my spirit for war and in this case it will be August 6. I’m ready. I’m just excited to be active and I’m ready to answer any questions you guys have.
Operator: Our first question comes from Brad Marchetti from ESPN2 News.
Brad Marchetti: You’ve had some shoulder problems and, you know, your knees – there has been talk that your knees are bothering you, just wondering if these injuries have made you, like a great basketball player, have to fight in a different way or adjust your style or anything?
Andre Ward: I don’t know who your endorsers are but I’m fine and I’ve said that at the outset and that’s still the case.
Brad Marchetti: No lingering effects from the shoulder injury?
Andre Ward: No, my shoulder is fine. My body is fine, you know, I’ve put in my time in this sport, man. I’ve been a professional for over 10 years now, I fought as an amateur for over 10 years, I’ve put in my time. I’ve paid the top pavement; I’ve gone the rounds. You are going to have things that happen. You manage it as best you can and you move on but as of right now, the rumors, wherever they are coming from, are not accurate. I feel good and I hopefully will stay that way.
Operator: Our next question is from Mitch Abramson with Ringtv.com, Mitch please go ahead.
Mitch Abramson: I’m sure you probably knew this question was coming but did you watch Sergey Kovalev fight last night and what was your reaction if you did?
Andre Ward: No I did not watch it. He’s not my next opponent. It is obviously the end game and what we’re trying to get but I didn’t watch it. I have to compartmentalize what I have to do right now. That’s just kind of how I operate and how I stay focused. I don’t want to juggle two opponents right now. I have to focus on one guy and that’s Alexander Brand on August 6. I will not take him lightly. If I’m not successful August 6, there is no fight down the road with me and Kovalev and I’m very clear about that it’s not just a fight for me. It’s very important for me to look good in that fight, to my standard and to my team’s standard. I have a certain amount of pressure on myself to go out there, perform and hopefully, look good doing it. So my team has looked at it, they are doing their due diligence but no, I personally have not looked at it.
Mitch Abramson: Brand is not a very well-known guy. I know he’s been around for a while but is there any issue for you in terms of trying to get motivated for a name like Alexander Brand based on some other big fights that you’ve been a part of in your career?
Andre Ward: No motivation issue for me which is a good thing. It would really suck to have that mindset; be up and down based upon who the opponent is. Whether it’s a tune-up fight or contender or a champion, I’ve always had the mindset to go prepared. I know it sounds cliché but that’s just how I’m wired.
I’m very competitive and I want to look good every time. I want to give my fans what they come to see and to give the live audience viewing on HBO a great show. And in order to do that, I have to be in tiptop shape and mentally locked in. I don’t want to be a guy who wins but doesn’t look good because in my mind, I’ll know that I cut corners and didn’t prepare.
Mitch Abramson: Thanks, Andre. I have one question for Michael.
Hey Michael, I know this might not be the best place to ask you this question but when Andre was first announced as a Roc Nation client, Dave Itskowitch had just come on board and he abruptly resigned last week, and I’m just curious if you wanted to comment at all about what led to Dave stepping down from his position.
Michael Yormark: As I said last week, we appreciate the contributions of David. We parted ways and we wish him the very best of luck. As it related to Roc Nation boxing, our boxing division wasn’t based on one guy and we are super excited about the future. We are going to be one of the busiest promoters during the second half of the year.
We are really focused on Andre, obviously the big fight on August 6, and what we hope will be an incredible match on November 19. We are moving forward and we are excited about that future. Again, we wish David all the best but Roc Nation Sports, Roc Nation boxing, is much bigger than David Itskowitch.
Mitch Abramson: Thanks Michael, last thing on David, will his position be replaced and if so, do you have someone to fill in his role?
Michael Yormark: Are you looking for a job?
Mitch Abramson: If you are hiring, sure, why not?
Michael Yormark: No listen, we are going to get through August 6. We are going to address what the needs are within our boxing division and then we will determine how we replace David but you know, we’ve got a very, very busy second half of 2016. We are looking forward to it and we will staff up accordingly.
Operator: I would like to remind everyone that we do have Michael Yormark available for questions as well. Our next question is from Brad Marchetti with ESPN2 News.
Brad Marchetti: Andre, you were a gold medalist and I just wanted to know how you felt about the professionals being able to compete in the Olympics this year?
Andre Ward: It can go either way, there are a lot of varying opinions out there. I haven’t given it too much thought but there’s the argument that it’s not fair for the pros to come and fight guys who are amateurs, and potentially, you take a top spot from them. The other side of it is in a three round fight, there are a lot of top amateurs who can probably beat some of the pros who are used to going 10 and 12 because it takes pros, who in spite of their distance, some time to warm up and get going, and if you get a kid with a lot of talent and ability, you know, he can get by in a three round fight. So it’s risky for pros as well. But in terms of an overall stance on it, I’m kind of indifferent towards it at the moment. It’s interesting though for sure.
Brad Marchetti: Do you consider yourself the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world?
Andre Ward: That’s not really something that I’ve ever given myself. I’m just not the guy who is going to crown myself the best, that’s just not how I roll. I know what type of ability I have. I know what I’ve accomplished. That is clear. And I know what I want to accomplish at the end of the day.
Brad Marchetti: Last question, I remember you fought a guy named Mikkel Kessler and to me, Kovalev fights with a lot of similarities to him. I remember you took that guy aside and roughed him up on the inside. Having seen Kovalev fight, would you take that same strategy towards him?
Andre Ward: It’s tough to say. I’m going to be honest, it’s literally fight to fight with me. I have not given myself any time to think about Kovalev. I have plenty of time to get ready for Kovalev. That is where you have slipups. That is where you have upsets. That is where you have bad performances, when you start to look ahead and you say, I am not looking ahead, but then mentally, you are. So, I just try to block it out. I’m really good at doing that; it’s just something that I’m not trying to entertain, right now. Kovalev is not my next opponent. Come August 7th, I will begin to think about, Sergey Kovalev and what needs to be done to beat him and to get those belts.
Operator: Our next question is from Eddie Goldman with No Holds Barred.
Eddie Goldman: Andre, I’d like to know what you know about Brand because he’s not that well-known and from what I see from his record, he is 39. He’s only had one loss and that was an eight round split decision to Badou Jack who holds one of the 168 pound titles, a couple of years ago. Brand has fought virtually most of his fights in Colombia and virtually all of them at super middleweight. Badou Jack is the one name that I think we could recognize but a lot of unrecognizable names. What do you know about him? Have you watched tapes of him and what can we expect?
Andre Ward: Let me start out by saying that Roc Nation and my management team, James Prince and Josh Dubin, had a list of guys that we went through. We started at the top and that’s just how Virgil Hunter has always done it. That’s what I am accustomed to, not just picking the best guy on the list for the sake of picking him, but picking a guy who is going to give you the work that you need, and Virgil is a firm believer that if it’s a list of five guys and we’ve got two top guys, those are the guys you need to be fighting.
Guys just were falling off and I’m talking undefeated contenders and prospects that had great opportunities and for one reason or another fell through. I’m not going to name his name but one guy fell through because he didn’t want to take the vital testing, and so it was stuff like that, and then we got to a point where we started to go down the list and Brand was available and Brand is going to bring it. Don’t get me wrong. Like you said, regardless of his age, he’s no bum. He’s the type of guy who puts his head down and swings for the fences. Those are very dangerous guys, and to be honest with you, it’s easier fighting the top guys with more form and more technique than it is fighting a guy who has nothing to lose.
It’s a dangerous fight. It’s a fight that I have to be on point for and that’s just how the cookie crumbles.
Eddie Goldman: Have you watched tape on him? He’s never been knocked out. His one loss was a split decision in Las Vegas too, by the way.
Andre Ward: Yeah, I’ve seen tape on him and like I said, he’s a guy that swings for the defensive. He loads up on a lot of shots. He doesn’t have a lot of nuance about him. He’s not trying to set things up. He’s just swinging hard, that’s what he does. He’ll try to move and get some space when he wants to rest. Because of different things like that even if he gets hit with a good shot, he is able to survive. He’ll use his legs so he does various things and is awkward so that’s something that I’m going have to overcome. I’m going to have to be disciplined. I’m going to have to be really determined just to let him do everything that he is going to do, however he does it, and stay locked in on hitting him and hitting him until the fight is over, and hopefully, being the first to stop him.
Eddie Goldman: Do you have in the back of your mind the need to make a statement? Because you said you haven’t seen Kovalev and Chilemba and although Kovalev won, most people felt it was not one of Kovalev’s better performances. It went the distance and a lot of people said during and after the fight that he is tailor made for you. Do you feel the need to make a statement in this fight because people are going to make comparisons about how you do in this fight versus how he did against Chilemba?
Andre Ward: I’m not really too interested in trying to change any minds, leading up to this fight, about Kovalev. It’s not about public opinion. It’s not about any of those things, you know? At the end of the day, it’s about the opinions after the fight and you walking away with those belts and winning that fight, that’s the ultimate opinion changer. If I’m honest, some of the people who are talking down on Kovalev right now and are saying that he’s tailor-made for war are the same people who were saying that Kovalev was going to kill me, asking why am I taking this fight and those kind of things. So opinions come with the wind, it just depends on the day, it depends on the weather, and that’s kind of, unfortunately, how we are as people a lot of the time.
I can look phenomenal in my next fight and people will say, “Ward demolished this guy, Brand, who’s never been knocked out” and “Kovalev did this,” but that’s not guaranteed for what will happen in November. At the end of the day, I’m not putting any stock into what Kovalev did or didn’t do. He’s still the guy that everyone said he is and it’s unfortunate for him, being a guy who started as a puncher, because he’s got a lot of pressure on him. When he does go the distance, everybody scratches their head and they ask what’s wrong with Kovalev? There’s a lot of pressure on the guy but that comes with the territory. You’re not going to knock everybody out so, not too much stock into what’s being said at all.
Operator: Our next question is from Distinio Lois with Black Star News.
Distinio Lois: From the ring to the broadcast booth, will there more broadcasting for you or is your full concentration on your boxing career?
Andre Ward: I’m studying the sport that I’m involved in and it’s a beautiful thing. You need a break mentally, sometimes. I’m not a gym rat, I just try to outwork everybody when I’m in the gym so sometimes, I need time to get away and clear my mind. Broadcasting is a tremendous outlet for me and I love it. I’m not sure if I’ll be doing any between this fight and my November fight but we’ll see.
Distinio Lois: You have a tremendous broadcasting voice and a future in radio when you hang up your gloves.
Andre Ward: Thank you so much, it means a lot.
Distinio Lois: As a fighter, are you thinking, “I am training to fight Alexander Brand a certain way because I have an idea how he fights but if Plan A doesn’t work, there’s always the possibility of switching over to Plan B and Plan C?”
Andre Ward: Yes, actually, 100%.
Distinio Lois: Your days in the Olympics, do you think about them, and do you feel that that experience was a stepping stone into the pros and the success that you are? Was it good preparatory experience?
Andre Ward: Of course. I think about it all the time. I draw on that time and those experiences, those emotions, those feelings that I had, the things I had to overcome. It’s different but it’s all the same; as a professional, it’s a different format in terms of the fights and the caliber of the opposition, but it’s still the same test, same doubters, same things you’re trying to accomplish and overcome so 100%, I draw on those things and it’s good and bad, maybe bad isn’t the right word, but it definitely can give you a boost coming into the pros for a lot of reasons like financially, confidence-wise. But then you also have to deal with the extra added pressure of having a bullseye on your back and being a Gold Medalist which is and of itself extremely, extremely hard to deal with because no matter who you fight, no matter where you go, you are the Olympic Gold Medalist, and if a guy even remotely looks good against you, has a good round against you, everybody is looking at it like what happened to the Gold Medalist? So, that’s a lot of pressure to deal with but I’ve been fortunate to learn how to deal with that and to compete under that type of pressure so that now it’s just second nature.
Distinio Lois: Are you comfortable and happy, finally with a promotional company like Roc Nation that you can now just focus on the business of boxing, not have to worry about managerial problems and contracts, and can focus steadily on your career?
Andre Ward: Of course, the thing is I’ll forever be grateful to Dan Goossen and his company. They got me started, they took the first chance on me when I came out of the Olympics and we’ve had a great relationship. I consider Dan family and I still love his family to this day, but sometimes families fight and you have issues, especially when business is involved. Unfortunately, we went through what we went through but of course I’m happy that all of those tough times are behind me. I’m excited to be with Roc Nation Sports. I’m kind of the new kid on the block but someone who is not just here for the short-term but hopefully here for the long-term. They have everything that they need in house to build superstars and to build champions so I’m ecstatic to be with them.
Operator: Our next question is from Brad Marchetti with ESPN2 News.
Brad Marchetti: I’ve worked with a lot of young boxers and it’s a tough game. When you were on the shelf for two and a half years, did you ever feel like giving up?
Andre Ward: I don’t know if giving up is the right word. I was very close to walking away and I wanted to walk away simply because I would rather walk away if there was not going to be any resolution to my situation with my head held high and on my own terms as opposed to just slowly letting my career dwindle away without any resolution. I didn’t really look at it as a giving up type of thing because even when the lawsuits and different things were going on, I already had 19 years under my belt and that’s a lot of time for a professional boxer so I felt like I had done a lot of what I wanted to do but yeah, I was very close to it, I talked about it a lot, was very close to retiring. I thank God that I have great counselors, friends and people whose opinions I trust and every time I got ready to really do it, they would tell me to hold on, that it’s not the right time, and that these tough times are going to pass. They were right.
Brad Marchetti: Speaking of God, you are a very religious guy. What type of conversations did you have with God during those times?
Andre Ward: Well, most of them are personal. I just ultimately knew or felt that if I just held on, it was going to be greater later. I knew I was going to learn a lot, I was going to become a better person, a better businessman, and once I got past the retirement talk and feeling bad about the situation, I ultimately felt that there was a purpose with the whole situation.
I could probably write a book about that last two years on what I’ve learned, mistakes that were made and the whole process. When you get on the other side of something like that, it’s a beautiful thing because you can draw from that situation. I can’t tell you the amount of individuals that have called me; fighters, who seek advice. I have fighters sending me contracts and stuff, asking me to look them over and I let them know that I’m not a lawyer but I can get it in the right hands. We try to help because I went through what I went through, and a lot of times you go through things, not just for yourself but so that you are going to be able to assist others down the road.
Operator: Our next question is from Martin Gallegos with Bay Area News Group.
Martin Gallegos: I know you’ve gone through some long lay-offs but now you’re coming back within a five-month time span. What are your thoughts on being able to fight more actively now, more often?
Andre Ward: It’s definitely a good thing. It’s also a sacrifice because you don’t have a lot of time off and you are pretty much constantly in the gym and your mind is constantly on what’s next? I think people have to realize that even though, we kind of had a stop and go thing going for the last couple of years, we kind of lose sight of the time. I’ve put my body through a lot over the last 20 years with those layoffs, I may have gained a few years to my career. I wasn’t getting hit in the head. I wasn’t taking any punishment to the body. I was working out but I wasn’t working at the level that I would be if I had a fight coming up so I probably preserved my body for a couple of years and gained a couple of years. A layoff is not always a bad thing, especially, at a certain point in your career. If you look at Floyd, he’s taken probably two or three long hiatuses and I think they were necessary for him, mentally but then also physically because you cannot grind the body down for 10, 15, 20 years and expect to be whole and expect nothing to ever happen or to not have any chronic issues. Sometimes, the only thing that gets those issues better is rest and I got that, involuntarily, but I got it.
Martin Gallegos: I know obviously you are a big Warriors fan, what are your thoughts on Kevin Durant joining the Warriors and some of the criticism that he’s taken?
Andre Ward: First and foremost, Durant and I are friends. I’m obviously ecstatic that he is with the Golden State Warriors. I think it’s a very courageous move for him and Roc Nation Sports to make simply because the criticism is coming, he’s going into unknown territory, he’s going into an unknown land in the Bay Area and in many cases, he’s coming over to a rival and that takes a lot of humility. It’s a perspective thing, either the cup is half full or half empty. A lot of people are looking at it like a bad thing like how could he do that but the flip side is like wow, he did that, he had enough humility to say, “guys beat us in this last series but I think this is best for myself and I think this is best for my career.”
He left OKC which is very dear to his heart and I know it hurt him. Tough decision but he was courageous enough to make that decision. Furthermore, people have got to realize that everybody has given us the championship next year because KD is here but it’s going to take a lot of work and KD knows that, the Warriors know that, you know that, the coaches know that, the front office knows that they are going to have to mesh, they are going to have to work hard to get into a rhythm and figure out, how they mesh together. That is also a challenge and, believe it or not, it takes a lot of courage to take on that because look at the pressure that they have on them now. Everybody is saying championship or bust. KD and his team, they knew that going in. They know that all of these standards are going to be there so I just think ultimately, a very courageous move. I appreciate an athlete who in the midst of criticism can make a tough decision. I tip my hat off to him. It’s really cool to see.
Operator: Our next question is from Robert Hough with Fight News.
Robert Hough: Sometimes people see fights, ZAM-O, somebody gets knocked 20 seconds in the first round and that’s a great result for the victorious fighter. Other times, you’ll see fights that don’t happen and the analysts and commentators will say, “oh, it’s good for that fighter to get rounds” but I know a lot of the times, some will say things that fighters frankly think is nonsense. Do you feel like you need rounds? Would it benefit you for this to go longer than a couple, four rounds?
Andre Ward: I think so. I’m not going to argue if it ends in the first round or second round; that’s just kind of how it goes. I know this isn’t a sport where you know can play around and decide when it ends, so we’re going to go in there and implement the game plan. The goal is to get him out of there as quick as possible but if it goes the rounds, the rounds definitely wouldn’t hurt.
Robert Hough: You touched on this a little bit earlier, it’s a little bit unusual for you to be back in the ring so quickly – very end of March and now the very beginning of August – how’s your body responding to all this?
Andre Ward: I feel great, a lot sharper in camp, a lot quicker. It would normally take a little while with the layoff to kind of get the rust off but I came in right away, feeling really sharp and just knowing that I feel good a lot sooner than I’m used to. Feeling this good just speaks to the activity.
Operator: Our final question is from Matt Horan with World Boxing News.
Matt Horan: We’ve talked about your activity but for you how easy is it to get that same hunger and drive that you perhaps had earlier in your career at this stage? Do you still have that same hunger and drive? Obviously, you do but is it just as easy to pick up every day in the gym?
Andre Ward: It’s not as easy. It’s not. When you are in your late teens, early 20s, you just go. When you get into your late 20s and 30s and you’ve accomplished some things, you become very aware that you are punching your clock to go to work and it’s time to go to work. I’m very aware of that but I’m thankful. I’m thankful that I do have the drive, you know and I self-check myself and I’m self-aware. I pay attention to my intensity and my dedication, making sure that I’m doing the little things. Not overlooking those things whether it’s in your diet or your rest or your body work or whatever the case may be, and that those things are on point. Any type of extra fuel that you can get, you use that as well. You’ve got to find a reason to fight, you know, at a certain point in your career when you’ve put in time. So, all in all, I feel good and I’m happy about that because if I felt like I had multiple days and weeks or several months where I just couldn’t get myself going, I wouldn’t step in the ring. I would find another vocation or something else to do because this isn’t the sport for that.
Operator: And before we go, Andre, do you have any final words?
Andre Ward: Great questions, I appreciate everybody who took the time and I hope we answered all the questions that everyone had. I hope everyone got a chance to ask a question. Tune in August 6. I’m excited! I’m looking forward to a great year and happy to be active and happy to be back August 6 at Oracle Arena.
Operator: If you have any questions for Michael Yormark, please press Star 1 on your phone. Our first question is from Robert Hough with Fight News.
Robert Hough: You know with Kevin Durant, who is a Roc Nation athlete, there’s a couple of heavy hitters in the Bay Area. Ward is obviously a big KD fan, are the wheels turning at Roc Nation to talk about things that you guys can do with both of them?
Michael Yormark: Andre and I texted back and forth when KD made his decision and obviously, you heard Andre say that they are good friends. We are blessed to have both of them as part of Roc Nation so at the right time we are going to look at some opportunities that we might be able to create for both of them. Right now, Kevin is traveling and he’s got the Olympics in front of him so he’s not going to be spending too much time in the Bay Area. He will be there on July 26 for the U.S.A. Basketball Exhibition Game at Oracle Arena but we will start focusing on that, sometime in the fall.
Robert Hough: It would seem like a good problem to have, figuring out what to do with those guys in the same town.
Michael Yormark: Yeah, I agree. Pretty special.
Operator: Our next question is from Distinio Lois with Black Star News.
Distinio Lois Another fighter that you’ve had on contract for a long time, Miguel Cotto, when would be his next fight? The media is always full of rumors – one is that he may challenge GGG since Canelo refused GGG, is that a fact? Are you working on that or is this just rumors?
Michael Yormark: I think those are rumors. We are hoping to have Miguel back in the ring before the end of the year. We are working on that now and we are hopeful to have some kind of announcement over the next couple of weeks.
Distinio Lois: Do you have any opponent in mind or it is too soon to broadcast that one?
Michael Yormark: We are looking at a couple of opponents but it’s too early to disclose who we are talking to.
Okay, I guess that I’ll conclude this call. I want to thank everyone for participating. I want to thank Andre for his time during training camp for this call. Obviously, on behalf of Roc Nation, very, very excited about August 6 at the Oracle Arena, very excited to see Andre back in the ring, very excited about what is in front of us this coming fall and we look forward to seeing everybody on August 6.
It’s going to be a great fight. As Andre mentioned, Alexander Brand will come ready. He’s an accomplished fighter and Andre is going to have to be at his best to get through that night. So, come on out, see the fight, enjoy the action and again we look forward to seeing you and thank you again for participating on today’s call. Take care.
Operator: Ladies and gentlemen, that concludes your call. You may all disconnect your lines.