Michael Yormark: Its election day in the United States and if you think the race for the White House has fireworks, just wait until Nov. 19 in Las Vegas. We are now only 11 days away and the stakes could not be higher. In a few minutes, you’ll hear from Andre Ward, the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. After weeks of intense training, Andre will be fighting for something he has spent his entire life pursuing – the title of world’s best boxer. For a true competitor like Andre, there could not be a loftier goal. To walk in to the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas for the undisputed fight of the year, in front of a capacity crowd supporting him and even more watching live on HBO Pay Per View, and to know that Andre has the chance to walk out of that ring as the undisputed face of boxing. In doing so, another chapter will be written in one of the world’s most storied rivalries – not just in boxing, but in virtually every competitive arena there is. It is a battle of world super powers, a matchup of styles as well as beliefs, a collision of two fighters, two cultures, two fan bases.
On Nov. 19, I have no doubt that Andre will win a decisive victory over a worthy challenger in Sergey Kovalev, and the title of pound-for-pound king. But before we hear from the fighter and his team, I want to take the opportunity to thank some of the people that made this global event a reality. Our chairman JAY Z and President of Roc Nation Sports Juan Perez. The entire team at Roc Nation Sports boxing including Dino Duva, Josh Roy, Eric Bottjer, Caitlin Wickwire and Sarah Flynn. Kathy Duva and her team at Main Events. Peter Nelson and HBO for bringing this fight to a global audience. Richard Sturm and MGM for hosting this event at the new T-Mobile Arena in Vegas. Our fight partners Corona Extra, Monster Products, JetLux and Zappos for supporting the fight and helping to promote and market the event over the past few months. And Andre Ward’s partners for Nov. 19 including ProSupps, Lyft, Monster Products, Body Armor and JetLux and his longstanding partners Jordan Brand, PowerHandz and Shoe Palace.
Now it’s time to hear from the hardest working and best trained boxer in the world today. A man whose commitment to excellence and being the best are surpassed only by his commitment to his family and his community. A man whose passion, work-ethic, and pure determination are representative of the Bay Area community from which he hails. 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 proud to represent…with a record of 30-0 with 15 KO’s, a man who hasn’t lost a fight since the age of 12, from Oakland, California, Andre Ward…
Andre Ward: Thank you Michael. I don’t have much to say, I just want to thank everybody who worked on putting this together, everybody who’s been working to keep this fight moving as it should in terms of the promotion. Everybody on my team has been working tirelessly to get me ready and I am ready. I’m excited that this fight is less than two weeks away and I’m ready to answer any questions.
Q: How does this fight compare to some of your other big fights in terms of how you’re mentally approaching it?
Andre Ward: Mentally it’s honestly the same to me. Obviously, there’s a lot at stake and it’s a different challenge moving up in weight, pay-per-view, all of those things make it a little bit different. Whether it’s Alexander Brand or Sergey Kovalev I approach every situation the same way. I wouldn’t be able to get to this level and stay at this level if I checked in and checked out. It’s the same dedication and it’s the same work. For me it’s about trying to be the best in sport where there’s little room for error. I understand that every time I step into the ring and leads to me making sure I prepare accordingly.
Q: Can you compare Kovalev to other fighters that you have neutralized in the past?
Andre Ward: At the end of the day, personally we don’t approach the fight being enamored with anything a guy does well. We acknowledge it and we respect it and we understand what we’re up against, but I been in the ring with big punchers, good boxers, you name it. At the end of the day, to be a champion you have to be able to beat whatever’s in front of you and Kovalev is not just a big puncher. He’s a boxer. He’s a thinker. He understands range, positioning and different things like that. There’s a lot more to him than just being a big puncher, but at the end of the day many people make the same mistake with me. They call me a great boxer or a great neutralizer, but there’s so much more going on with me than that. If I was just about defense and neutralizing then a lot of these big punchers would just try to walk through me and there’s a reason they’re not. But that’s what fight night is all about, it’s not about talking about it to try to prove your case, it’s about the opportunity to be great on November 19 and it’s less than two weeks away.
Q: In your last two fights you appear to be fighting more stationary than usual. Was that strategic on your part? Was it because of the layoff? Can we expect to see that on the 19th?
Andre Ward: I think it’s always about what’s in front of you. It’s about what type of opponent I have and what needs to be done. As you get older, it’s about becoming more efficient. I’ve heard some people say that I’m not the same fighter that I was when I was in my 20’s and I hope I’m not. I should be getting better and more efficient, that’s what it’s about. It’s not about making unnecessary moves. It’s about making the necessary moves when you need to make them. The last two opponents I had, that was what was necessary. You’re going to see a little bit of everything in this fight and that’s what it’s all about. It’s about rising to the occasion and being in the moment. We specialize in that and I look forward to doing the same thing on November 19.
Q: Do you think Kovalev is going to be a little craftier than he has been in the past and does that play to your advantages more?
Andre Ward: He’s not a brawler who doesn’t think, he thinks in there. But the fight has already started between our two sides and our two camps. I don’t put too much stock in that. There’s a lot said. It’s chess moves being played. We don’t get caught up in my camp with the things people say. We don’t pay attention to that stuff, but we’re ready for whatever he wants to bring and that’s the key. However he wants to bring it, we’ve got our game plan and it’s about making constant adjustments, the ebbs and flows and who wants it the most is what it’s going to boil down to.
Q: How do you expect Kovalev to come out? Do you think he’ll be aggressive or more patient than he has been in the past?
Andre Ward: I can’t say. I don’t know what’s going on in their camp, but like I said, I don’t put too much stock into what they say. I’m just ready man and I’m ready for whatever and I truly mean that. When you’re at that point, you welcome it all. I’m not concerned about what he’s going to do. At the end of the day, you got to find ways to make adjustments to get the job done in these big moments. That’s what’s going to separate the guy who gets his hand raised from the guy who doesn’t. We’ve been working on everything. Mentally I’m prepared for everything he brings and I’m sure he’s prepared too.
Q: Who are the top couple of punchers you’ve fought so far?
Andre Ward: You guys should be able to answer that question for me because you guys are the ones that tout these guys’ punches. I think all of the guys I’ve fought have had a good punch and should be respected as punchers. Some guys get more credit than other guys, but I can’t really single anybody out. Froch is a good puncher…there’s been several.
Q: How much do you think your experience against high level of opposition will be an advantage in this fight?
Andre Ward: I definitely think it helps. I don’t think it hurts for sure. In a fight like this you take everything you can. You take every tough fight, every experience not just in the ring, but in your life experiences and who you are into that ring. Looking back to the Super Six and Chad Dawson and the two fights I’ve had this year, all of them mean something. That’s why it’s so important to be moved and managed properly. I know there’s no cookie cutter way to do it, but to fight the right fights at the right time and then to be able to test yourself against the best. When you have showdowns like this you want to be able to say I’ve been in this this position before, I’ve been in with guys who have buzzed me or I’ve been in 50-50 fights before. I can point to all those things and know I’ve had those moments and have been fortunate enough to prevail, so obviously that has me going into this fight well prepared.
Q: Do you think the winner of this fight should be the number one pound for pound fighter in the world?
Andre Ward: It’s hard to say definitively, but I think it would be really, really hard to argue against it. I’m saying this based on both of our resumes and based on the fact that we are both willing to step up and face each other at this stage of our career. We’re both 30-0 and we both have a lot to gain and a lot to lose. I think that the winner of this fight should be pound for pound number one.
Q: What are your expectations of the Pay-Per-View for this fight?
Michael Yormark: We haven’t put a number out there, but we’re obviously excited about this match up and we think it’s going to do very well. Collectively, us and Main Events think this is going to be the best Pay-Per-View event of the year. We’re very optimistic about the Pay-Per-View numbers. We’ve got two great fighters in a 50-50 fight, it’s the best fight of the year and arguably on paper the biggest fight of the last decade. We would be very disappointed if it wasn’t the biggest Pay-Per-View of 2016.
Q: You seem to put a lot of pressure on your opponent whether you’re fighting on the inside or the outside and you seem to be ahead of them mentally. Would you say that’s accurate?
Andre Ward: I would say that’s a very accurate assessment. I know they want blood, they want me knocked down and staggered. I’ve studied this sport for many years and if you look at old footage of Roy Jones, Bernard Hopkins and old interviews and footage of Floyd Mayweather, it’s the same kind of things that were said about them and those three guys are legends and hall of famers. You can’t be worried about that because you understand that some people get it and some people won’t, but you have to do what you have to do. Some people won’t like it, but some people will. I could not have described it any better than you did, so it’s good to know that some people get it and appreciate it.
Q: When you’re displaying that in the ring is that something that comes to you in the moment or is it something you worked on training specifically for an opponent?
Andre Ward: I think it’s a little bit of both. A lot of who you are is who you are. It’s who you’ve been all these years, but what I think separates fighters a lot of times is who can make the adjustments and those adjustments start in the gym. One of the things I love about my coach is that he’s not too enamored with what I do well. He acknowledges it. He starts where he feels I could be beat or I’m susceptible to get hit, or something could happen and that’s where he starts to train me, from that point. He’s not enamored with what we’ve done, he’s always tweaking and encouraging me to get better and add a new wrinkle. As long as I’ve been fighting, I come to the gym and sometimes I feel like I’m just starting out because there’s always something he’s working on for me to get better at. And if you put the time in these things show up when you need them.
Q: What should we know about your style and what should we be looking for that’s overlooked in some of the more simplistic explanations of it?
Andre Ward: That’s a tough one. Some things are taught and not taught. I can’t explain what my style is. I don’t really have a set style. If you see it and you understand it and you know what’s going on in there then you kind of do, but you kind of don’t. I don’t know if there’s anything I can say to anyone that would make them understand. It’s tough to describe. It’s something that’s indescribable.
Q: What would you like people to understand better about angles, in fighting and the stuff that gets overlooked for people who expect wild brawls?
Andre Ward: I just think, taking me out of the equation just as a whole, boxing has never been about one thing. In this day and age, the public is sold that if it isn’t a knockdown drag out fight and one guy’s ear isn’t hanging off then it wasn’t worth your time or money and I don’t think that’s fair to the fighters or fair to the fans. Hardcore fans know who they like and know what kind of style they like and they’re going to tune in and buy tickets. But I feel that turns the casual fan off when they’re not being educated on what they’re looking at or they’re reading things that are always ripping one type of style and one type of fighter. It’s one thing if a guy doesn’t throw or look like he wants to be in the ring, but if a guy has a particular style where he has nuances and sometimes he fights, sometimes he boxes, whatever the case may be I feel the general public should be educated on what they’re looking at.
Q: Do you have a prediction?
Andre Ward: I’m not leaving Las Vegas without those belts and however I got to get it we’re going to get it that way. I don’t have a prediction. I’ve never been a prediction guy. I just know I’m ready, I’m excited and I can’t wait to fight.
Q: Do you think you have won your detractors over after the terrific documentary that just aired on HBO?
Andre Ward: It was a real vulnerable moment. I hadn’t really talked about that all for a lot of reasons. If anybody heard about my story and became a supporter, or previously was a detractor and became a fan I welcome that and I’m appreciative of that. I’ve done that myself where I’ve generally knew about a guy, but then heard a story and became a big fan. Dak Prescott is a perfect example. I’m not a Dallas Cowboys’ fan by any means, but I admire his talent on the field. And then I heard his story and I became a supporter who appreciates where he comes from. By no means am I trying to win somebody over. Detractors are always going to be there and it’s ok. Everybody doesn’t have to like you or appreciate you, but I am appreciative if my story touched somebody, that’s a good thing.
Q: Back in 2012 when Floyd was retired and you beat Chad Dawson a lot of the pundits were looking at you as the top fighter pound for pound. Do you think it’s a little strange that this is the first time you’re fighting in Vegas?
Andre Ward: I’ve definitely tried to make it happen. Being close to Vegas, in theory I feel it should it have happened. I always wanted to fight in New York City at Madison Square Garden or at the Barclays Center but it just didn’t happen for one reason or another. I’m just glad that it’s happening right now and what better time than at this stage of my career? You just got to trust the guy with the plan. It’s not always going to be what you want it to be or would like it to be, but I can’t argue with the way the table is set right now. I’m just excited about seizing this moment.
Q: Why did it take so long for your story to come out? How could we do a better job as boxing journalists to get these kind of stories out there and serve the fighters better?
Andre Ward: This is the first time that I really, really opened up about it. From my standpoint, I’m a private person number one. Number two I’ve always wanted to respect my mom and dad. My dad was a dying addict, my mother is doing well right now and I’ve always seen the rags to riches, the kids that come from the ghetto, and I didn’t want to come into the game with that type of story preceding me. I wanted it to be about who I was as a person, about my talent, my ability. And then I felt like at the right time I’ll start to open up about it. It took twelve years. I’ve been a professional for almost twelve years now and it kind of got me going, where I just started to feel content with myself. I feel like my supporters and my fans know me and know part of my story, but I felt it was important to open up and pull back the curtain and let them know it hasn’t always been easy. Hopefully somebody could just relate to what I’ve gone through and it serve as an inspiration to them in some kind of way. I’m so much more than just a fighter. I’m more than what the public sees in the ring. I’ve overcome a lot in life and that speaks to my faith. All these things people wondered about sometimes, I felt like the missing component was me just opening up and talking about it. My father is deceased, but I talked to my mom and asked if it was okay and she told me to speak about it. I just want people to know that they could trust who they’re talking to, there’s not going to be anything added or taken away, or sensationalized or whatever the case may be. I think trust is a major thing and I think sometimes people don’t realize that it goes a long way. For me, if I can trust you I’ll give you the world.
Q: Anything else you think boxing journalists could do better?
Andre Ward: At the end of the day, it’s about integrity and it’s about trust. You guys individually and collectively are great at what you do which is why you do it. I just think humanizing the athletes and looking at them as more than just commodities is important. I think a lot of athletes get the rap as being meatheads or unintelligent, especially with fighters. It doesn’t matter what a person’s level of education is, they know when you’re being real with them. They can sense and feel if you’re trustworthy and have their best interest at heart. Just be truthful. I feel like fighters and athletes would open up a lot more if they felt they could trust you.
Q: Michael, are you a long-time boxing fan?
Michael Yormark: I’ve been a boxing fan for many, many years. I remember watching Muhammad Ali-Leon Spinks with my mother, brother and sister. When I got out of graduate school, I did an internship for Madison Square Garden Boxing and worked for Bobby Goodman who as you know worked for Don King for many, many years. Boxing has been a passion of mine for many years. When I joined Roc Nation three years ago, there was a great opportunity for me to be involved in a sport that I watched closely for many years and fortunately we’ve got some great fighters, namely Andre and Miguel Cotto and it’s just been an incredible thrill for us.
Q: Did you help push Roc Nation Sports getting into boxing?
Michael Yormark: JAY Z and Juan Perez the head of our sports division have been boxing fans for many, many years and made the decision to get into the sport. I joined Roc Nation right at the moment that we stepped into this space. Obviously, I’ve helped push it along and we’ve come a long way in a very short period of time. To have the opportunity to work with Andre and to be part of this event on November 19 is something we couldn’t have imagined two years ago. It’s a great moment for us, a great moment for Andre and his family and we’re just looking forward to it.
Q: Do you think your success has increased in the interest of boxing in Oakland?
Andre Ward: That’s a great question. I hope I’ve had some part to play in it. Boxing in Oakland used to be much bigger. There was Pittman’s, King’s Gym, which is still there, and it was just a more competitive town for the sport. You had top contenders and a lot of bad guys fighting in the same city. They sparred together, they fought against each other and I heard a lot of these stories and I started boxing at the tail end of all of that. Just to be able to make my mark starting here and then going worldwide is just unbelievable. When I see young kids who say they box because I box and they want to win a gold medal like I won a gold medal, it’s just amazing to me. I’m blown away. I never get used to that and I’m so thankful for that opportunity to just play my part. I’m not a guy who recruits kids to fight because I know that it’s a different kind of sport and it could be very dangerous, but I totally support it if a kid wants to do it on his own and he’s dedicated and he wants to give it his all then I’m behind it 100%.
Q: What’s it going to be like when you’re able to look at your mural on the verge of becoming pound for pound undisputed?
Andre Ward: It’s surreal. Because I had a coach growing up and was fighting as a young kid we’ve never really got too caught up with ourselves. And I’m talking about me, Virgil and my father, when he was alive. We’ve always had a blue collar mentality and I get a little scared sometimes to look back on what we’ve accomplished and kind of relish on it because the clock is still ticking. I’m still active. My career is still going, but I’ve got to continue to show up and show my worth and continue to be the champion that I am. It’s just hard to stop and look back at what you’ve accomplished and the road that you’ve traveled on. Personally it’s good to do it sometimes, but when I do peek back just for a split second it’s overwhelming. I can’t believe God has taken us this far. I can’t believe that a young kid at nine years old who just wanted to do what his dad did got this far. I’m sure if my dad was alive he wouldn’t be able to believe it either.
Q: How many people from the Bay Area do you think will show up?
Andre Ward: I think the Bay Area is going to show up and show out like they always do. They support their own. Everybody I run into is very excited about it, as they should be. It’s funny because some casual fans don’t think you’ve made it unless you go to Vegas, so I think the Bay Area has been waiting on the Vegas moment and it’s here now.
Andre Ward: I’m ready. I’m excited. Tune in to watch this fight on November 19, it’s worth every dollar. It’s worth every dollar if you pay to come see it, you won’t be disappointed.
Michael Yormark: I’m going to go back to my old hockey days and quote the late Herb Brooks. Back in 1980, when the United States beat Russia for the gold medal in the Olympics, Herb said “great moments are born from great opportunities”. When I think about November 19 this is just a tremendous opportunity for Andre to prove that he is the best of the best and one of the greatest fighters of all time. We at Roc Nation are so excited for him and his family. We know it’s going to be a sellout crowd and we’re expecting a huge audience on HBO Pay-Per-View. This is without question the fight of the year and maybe the biggest fight of the last decade. It has been 19 years since two fighters ranked in the top 5 pound for pound fighters in the world, were undefeated, in their prime ready to do battle in the ring. On November 19, you’re going to see that for the first time in 19 years. As Andre said he’s ready, and I’m ready to embrace him after he collects those three belts on November 19. We hope that everybody will tune in on HBO Pay-Per-View.
Kovalev vs. Ward “Pound For Pound”, a 12-round mega-fight for the WBO/IBF/WBA light heavyweight title at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, is presented by Main Events, Roc Nation Sports, Krusher Promotions and Andre Ward Promotions and is sponsored by the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino, Corona Extra, Monster Product, JetLux and Zappos. The championship event will be produced and distributed live by HBO Pay-Per-View® beginning at 9:00 p.m. ET/6:00 p.m. PT. Tickets are available on axs.com and the T-Mobile Arena box office.