In pro ranks, will Ward have golden touch?

Boxing: Andre Ward is hoping for a successful transition from Olympic gold medalist to professional fighter. So are the folks trying to market him.

Boxing

September 06, 2004|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

As soon as Andre Ward's amateur status ended, the marketing of the Olympian began.

On Thursday, four days after capturing an Olympic gold medal in the light heavyweight division with a come-from-behind victory over a Belarus boxer in Athens, Ward signed with manager James Prince. Immediately, an attorney for Prince began entertaining offers from promoters, including Cedric Kushner.

Prince and the attorney, Jeff Fried, are heading to New York to begin negotiations with HBO and Showtime on behalf of Ward, whose four-year deal with Prince is worth $100,000.

FOR THE RECORD - Because of incorrect information provided by the attorney for boxing manager James Prince, an article in Monday's editions incorrectly reported the terms of boxer Andre Ward's contract with Prince. Prince said yesterday that his attorney, Jeff Fried, was incorrect in saying Ward had signed for $100,000 over four years. Prince would not disclose the terms of the contract.
The Sun regrets the errors.

"My gold medals have been glued to my neck, and I've gotten mobbed in airports, malls - everywhere I've gone I've gotten lots of love and warm receptions," Ward, 20, said.

"I've definitely lost a lot of sleep over the past few days," he said. "But I realize that's something that comes with the territory when you're appreciated by an American public that appreciates what I was able to do for my country."

Ward is a deeply religious, Oakland, Calif., resident who has not tasted defeat since the age of 14. He could be in his first professional fight by December as part of an ambitious schedule of eight bouts a year.

"He's great for boxing. A God-fearing kid who really endeared himself to a number of people [media] who covered him in Athens," said Joe Santoliquito, associate editor of Ring magazine. "Right now, he punches in volume, which is how you score in the Olympics. But he'll have to make the successful switch to the professional style, which I think he can do."

Seen as both the future of the light heavyweight division that has included talented but aging Antonio Tarver and Roy Jones, and a potential remedy to a heavyweight division devoid of star power, Ward said he will start his profession as a middleweight (160 pounds).

Prince had been trying to land Ward "for about three years." He said promoters are lining up with similar zeal in pursuit of the fighter, who has a penchant for quoting Bible verses.

"After I met Andre Ward, I realized how focused and spiritual he was. He has the type of background that will be embraced by the public," Prince said. "Andre has a clean lifestyle and could bring dignity back to the sport because of the way he carries himself."

A fleet-footed, accurate puncher, Ward captured only the third Olympic gold medal for the United States since 1992, and its first since David Reid achieved the honor in 1996.

In his match against Belarus' Magomed Aripgadjiev, Ward overcame a hard punch that caused double vision and a swollen right eye, along with a 9-7, second-round deficit to defeat Aripgadjiev, 20-13.

Ward kissed his award during the post-fight ceremonies, then blew a kiss skyward and pointed toward the ceiling of the Olympic Boxing Hall - a gesture honoring his father, Frank, who died Aug. 25, 2002, of a heart attack.

For some, that evoked memories of youngster from Los Angeles named Oscar De La Hoya, who dedicated his 1992 gold medal to his late mother.

One of the sport's two richest fighters, De La Hoya could earn more than $40 million later this month in an undisputed middleweight title bout against Bernard Hopkins. De La Hoya's "crossover appeal comes from the fact that he is handsome, Hispanic and bilingual," said his promoter, Bob Arum.

Kery Davis, HBO's senior vice president of sports programming, said "it remains to be seen" whether Ward's appeal translates into De La Hoya's level of success. "But Ward is one of the better stories coming out of the Olympics. With his tremendous work ethic, yes, I think he can be a future world champion."

Ward has drawn comparisons to former light heavyweight bronze medalist Evander Holyfield, a former world heavyweight champion known for his spiritual faith and humility. Holyfield, who ranks with De La Hoya financially, began his professional career as a light heavyweight.

Ward said he could eventually rise to fight as a heavyweight.

"If that's the case, then he'll be very marketable because the heavyweight division is so bad," Arum said. "Somebody who is young like Andre Ward, who is similar to Holyfield and who is a nice person can do very well in the sport over the next five years."

"Success is the greatest attribute, the first ingredient in an individual sport," said Jeff Chown, managing director of The Marketing Arm. The Dallas-based entertainment and sports consultancy company pairs Fortune 500 companies with athletes for advertising purposes.

"Part of what makes an athlete marketable is having a point of difference. Boxers have the opportunity to become No. 1 in their sport, which, in and of itself, is a point of difference," Chown said.

"Brands look for spokespersons who can influence purchasing decisions [by consumers]. Olympic athletes need to continue to have a platform that will put them out in the public eye," he said. "If they don't have that opportunity, then they don't become as relevant. That's why Ward's continued success as a pro is important."

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