Andre Ward Signs to Roc Nation
Super middleweight champion Andre Ward, who has fought only twice in the past three years — mainly because of a protracted contact battle with Goossen Promotions — is about to get a lot busier.
Music mogul Jay Z’s Roc Nation Sports, in its biggest move yet since opening a boxing promotion division in August, signed Ward on Friday, shortly after Ward worked out an agreement to part ways with Goossen Promotions.
Details of how the split with Goossen Promotions came about after years of legal battling were not disclosed, but Tom Brown of Goossen Promotions clearly was not happy with the result.
“That chapter is closed. I’ve moved on,” Brown told ESPN.com.
Roc Nation Sports’ move came only hours before it will promote its first fight card on Friday (Fox Sports 1/Fox Deportes, 10 p.m. ET) at the Theater at Madison Square Garden, which is headlined by welterweight prospect Dusty Hernandez-Harrison against Tommy Rainone. Ward will be ringside for the show.
“We have signed Andre Ward and it’s something we’re very excited about,” David Itskowitch, chief operating officer of Roc Nation Sports’ boxing division, told ESPN.com. “It’s just the beginning for us but it’s a game-changer. He’s one of the best fighters in the world. Everything is coming together for us. On the same day we are having our first event, at Madison Square Garden, we are announcing our first really huge signing.”
Ward (27-0, 14 KOs), widely regarded as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world not named Floyd Mayweather Jr., will instantly become the face of Roc Nation Sports’ boxing franchise, one day after the company completed a deal to buy promoter Gary Shaw’s company, an agreement under which it will take over most of his 20 or so fighter promotional contracts and see Shaw jointly run Roc Nation Sports’ boxing division along with Itskowitch.
“I wholeheartedly believe in Roc Nation Sports and I just believe that they have the vision and the power and resources to carry their vision out,” Ward told ESPN.com.
Ward said it was his manager, James Prince, who helped pave the way for the break with Goossen Promotions and the union with Roc Nation Sports, which had been rumored for months.
“I followed his lead on the whole situation and at the right time we talked about it and he asked how did I feel about (making the move) and he went through the steps to get to this point,” Ward said. “I felt it was the best move for me at this stage of my career.”
More than any of the Shaw fighters, Ward is the big prize for Roc Nation Sports. When Ward will fight next is has not been determined.
“We’re going to sit down and talk about when he will specifically fight and the level of opponent he will fight,” Itskowitch said. “He’s been out of the ring for a while. We’ll come up with names and come up with a date but we’re excited to give him the opportunity to show he’s one of the best in the world.”
Ward said he hoped to be back in the ring in late March or April and plans to remain at super middleweight and defend his world title.
“I kept myself in shape and I’ve stayed motivated and hungry,” Ward said. “But there’s nothing concrete now. I want to get back in the groove and consistently fight and get back on track. I don’t see what the rush is to push me to a higher weight class. I am not far off my fighting weight and I am super middleweight champion of the world and I want to defend my title.”
Since rolling through the Super Six World Boxing classic in dominant fashion (including lopsided wins against Mikkel Kessler, Arthur Abraham and Carl Froch) to unify two 168-pound world titles in the December 2011 final, Ward has boxed only twice.
Ward, of Oakland, California, delivered a tour de force performance in a 10th-round destruction of then-light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson, who dropped down to super middleweight to fight Ward, in September 2012. After a 14-month layoff, Ward, since stripped of one of his belts for inactivity, returned to win a one-sided decision against Edwin Rodriguez in November 2013.
Part of the reason for his layoff was a shoulder injury that led to surgery and forced a fight with former middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik to be canceled, but mainly it was problems with promoter Dan Goossen, who signed Ward after he won a gold medal at the 2004 Olympics and promoted his entire professional career until his untimely death from liver cancer at age 64 on Sept. 29.
Goossen Promotions, now being run by Brown, Goossen’s brother-in-law, and Craig Goossen, Dan’s son, still had about two years remaining on its contract with Ward, but it was an untenable situation.
At least four times, using various arguments, Ward, who will turn 31 on Feb. 23, attempted to break his contract with Goossen Promotions. Ward lost an effort in Los Angeles Superior Court in August in which the judge dismissed his case saying he did not have “any basis upon which to invalidate the contract.”
Another case was ongoing in which Ward accused Goossen Promotions of violating the federal Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act for failing to disclose all forms of income generated by his fights. Goossen Promotions denied the charge and countersued Ward for $10 million, claiming defamation.
Previously, the California State Athletic Commission twice ruled against Ward in separate arbitration hearings pertaining to efforts to terminate his promotional agreement.
Ward said he is glad to finally have his contract sorted out and won’t look back at what has been a lost couple of years of his career.
“I’m just excited about moving forward. It’s been a grueling two years but I can see what’s ahead in the future,” Ward said. “No regrets. Unfortunately, these things happen in the sport but it truly made me stronger as an individual and as a fighter.
“I embraced the whole process through the good and the bad and now I am on the other side of it. It can either make you, so to speak, or break you and I think it made me a stronger person.”