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June 15, 2017

By Rick Evans

Winning an Olympic gold medal in the sport of boxing is an amazing achievement. It can lead to fame, fortune, name recognition before your first professional fight. What you do with all of that from there is what determines if you become the next Ray Leonard (a 1976 Olympic champ who needs no further introduction) or the next Tyrell Biggs (a 1984 Olympic champ who was destroyed by Mike Tyson as a pro). For 2004 Olympic champion Andre Ward, who fights Sergey Kovalev in a rematch of their hotly disputed November 2016 fight this weekend, it's been a tale of nothing but success inside the ring. 

Ward became a pro champion in 2009 when he beat Mikkel Kessler for the WBA title. Ward fought and beat the best at 168 pounds in virtual succession:  Edison Miranda, Kessler, Arthur Abraham, Carl Froch and then knocking out world light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson when Dawson came down from 175 to challenge Ward. 

Then, after four years of sporadic activity, Ward-- no matter how close it was-- defeated the man generally regarded as the best at 175 pounds, namely Kovalev. Ward is also considered the number one pound-for-pound fighter in the world by Ring Magazine. 

With that level of success, it would appear that Ward would be in the conversation as an all-time great fighter. Most, if not all, boxing fans know who he is and the skills he possesses. 

However, how many casual sports fans are aware of his success? He doesn't have that one attention-grabbing characteristic that brings more eyes to the sport just to watch him fight. Contemporaries like Gennady Golovkin and Saul "Canelo" Alvarez have built solid fan bases and are much more well known to the casual fan, but do either of their resumes hold a candle to the victories recorded by Ward? 

It begs the question, can you be an all time great, but not have "crossover appeal"? The answer to this question, at least for Ward, is that at this stage of his career, he must continue to do what he's done since he was 13 years old, and that is win fights. This Saturday, he is the slight favorite to defeat the man known as the "Krusher" who knocked him down for only the second time in his career. Krusher will be out for blood this time around. 

The all-time great fighters of the past, when faced with this type of challenge, rose to the occasion and proved their greatness. Ward has the opportunity to do just that. Is he an all-time great? That will continue to be debated. A highlight filled, SportsCenter worthy, retweetable victory over his biggest adversary would help his case.

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