Hometown Hitter

Oakland boxing champ Andre Ward returns to the Oracle this Saturday.

The tension was thick on May 16, when Oakland boxer Andre
stepped into the ring at Oracle Arena. His eyes were trained
on 28-year-old Edison Miranda, a mean-mugging Colombian fighter who
gazed back with equal venom. By all accounts, it looked like a fair
match. Ward stood one inch taller at six-foot-one, with a tight,
chiseled face and arms smothered in tattoos. By that point he’d won
eighteen fights in his professional career, along with a gold medal
from the 2004 Olympics in Athens. Miranda had prevailed in 30 fights,
with 26 knockouts (about double Ward’s record). Years of hand-to-hand
combat had toughened Miranda’s chest muscles, and caused his face to
ossify into something cold and hard. Like Ward, he’d grown up in the
‘hood, though Miranda’s story had a lot more pathos: He was abandoned
by his mom and left to fend for himself at a young age, in streets even
rougher than inner-city Oakland. While Ward spent his teens punching
Everlast bags and avoiding gang violence, Miranda picked plantains and
butchered livestock. Not surprisingly, both men grew up to be super
middleweight champs.

So it was down to the wire on that May evening. Ward started out on
the offense, going toe-to-toe with Miranda and incurring a huge gash on
his forehead — apparently the result of a head butt. In the
second round Miranda threw a few hooks to Ward’s face, as though to
capitalize on the injury. But the hometown hero stood his ground and
put up a stout defense. Fansites generally agreed that Ward was the
more agile, technical player — kind of a traditional pugilist in
contrast to the street-raised bruiser Miranda. Ultimately, technique
won out over brawn. By the twelfth round Ward’s eye had swollen
visibly, but it didn’t matter because Miranda was too fatigued to
return punches. Ward trounced him. Fans rejoiced.

It’s not just an impeccable boxing record that’s made Ward a folk
hero in Oakland. It’s also his do-gooder sensibility and religious
piousness (he frequently quotes scripture and is nicknamed “Son of
God”). While some of his counterparts built their muscles through
street brawls or hard manual labor, Ward launched a ruthless training
regimen at King’s Gym in Fruitvale — where his newspaper profiles
still plaster the walls. And he wasn’t just whacking a bag or running a
treadmill. According to Chronicle sportswriter John Crumpacker,
the young boxer trained for Athens by pushing his trainer’s Cadillac
around a parking lot at Cal State Hayward. To a bystander, that might
seem an excessive degree of self-flagellation. But the payoff was
phenomenal. At this point, Ward remains undefeated. He returns to the
Oracle Arena (7000 Coliseum Way) on Saturday, Nov. 21, to spar
30-year-old Mikkel Kessler, a Danish boxer nicknamed with 41 wins under
his belt. A couple weeks ago, Ward was back in boot camp. Stakes are
high. 5 p.m., $35-$300. Coliseum.com


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