By Nick Tylwalk
Before I get going, let me assure you that I am not getting carried away with Andre Ward's performance in defeating Arthur Abraham last Saturday, complete as it was. King Arthur has proven to be too small for the top guys at super middleweight pretty conclusively by now.
But that shouldn't take anything away from Ward, who heads into the Super Six final this fall with a unique chance to seize his division by the neck the way few boxers have in recent years. It's still going to take a few more potentially difficult victories, yet by the end of 2012, he could honestly say he's beaten everyone worth beating at 168 pounds.
That simply doesn't happen very often in boxing as it stands in the 21st Century. It's become far more acceptable to hop around between weight classes to make big fights, a trend which has become something of a double-edged sword: It provides us with more relevant meetings between top fighters but robs us of truly dominant champions.
The closest thing in the sport right now is the way the Klitschko brothers have tag teamed to clear out fellow heavyweights. If they both win their next scheduled fights - Wladimir against David Haye and Vitali versus Tomasz Adamek - it will be tough to think of anyone who endangers their grip on the division.
That still doesn't really count because the Klitschkos do have big challenges they could take on in the form of each other, they just won't (at least they've said repeatedly over the years that they wouldn't). No sir, we're talking about one man clearing out his division, something that is a rare occurrence today.
The Super Six, maligned as it's been for the bumpy road it's faced while unfolding, has put Ward in position to do it. If Carl Froch defeats Glen Johnson in the other tournament semifinal and Ward goes on to take down The Cobra in the final, he'll have beaten the entire European contingent that started the event (Froch, Abraham and Mikkel Kessler) plus Sakio Bika and Allan Green for good measure. If it's Johnson who ends up in the final, Ward should get full credit for beating him instead, because the Road Warrior will have earned his spot, and everyone knows he is a tough, very capable veteran.
It's widely assumed that the Super Six winner will face Lucian Bute, the best super middleweight not in the tournament and a guy who could be the best in the world at 168, some time early next year. Depending on who you ask, Ward could be an underdog in that match-up, but he's at worst a very small one based on what we've seen from him over his last four fights.
Who would be left for Ward after Bute? Former middleweight champ Kelly Pavlik would make sense if he can win another bout or two in the interim. He'd be a very marketable opponent and a creditable one if his comeback stays on track.
Beyond that, it's tough to see much else. Perhaps Andre Dirrell if he's able to resume his career, but The Matrix would have to win something in the meantime, and the two Dre's have not seemed eager to fight each other in the past. Any other real threats would have to come from someone either moving up (like Sergio Martinez, one of the few guys around Ward's weight I'd make a definite favorite against him) or down (Jean Pascal or Chad Dawson, maybe) to get to super middleweight.
That's reaching a bit anyway. Ward could realistically end 2012 with a hit list that looks like this: Kessler, Green, Bika, Abraham, Froch, Bute and Pavlik, all in a row. I'd put that up against anyone in the last ten years as far as beating top opponents in one weight class. You'd have to go back to Bernard Hopkins' middleweight reign before running into Jermain Taylor to find something similar, and I'd argue that this would be a tougher seven-fight stretch than anything B-Hop faced.
Of course that's getting ahead of ourselves, because victories over Froch (or Johnson), Bute and Pavlik aren't going to be easy. Ward certainly has the talent and headiness to get them, though, and that would make him the true king of his division. Not bad for someone who wasn't even considered one of the favorites to win the Super Six eighteen months ago.
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