Mending Ward wonders what happened to U.S. Olympic boxing

Updated: August 22, 2008

Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images

Andre Ward, who won gold in the 2004 Olympics in Athens, is disappointed with the '08 squad's performance.

Ward recovering, watching Olympics

Four years ago, Andre Ward delivered the only Olympic boxing gold medal for the United States by winning the light heavyweight tournament. Now, as the Beijing Games roll toward a conclusion this weekend, Ward wonders what has happened to the United States.

After all, the U.S., once an Olympic powerhouse in boxing, qualified fighters in just nine of the 11 divisions and will exit with only one medal from heavyweight Deontay Wilder, the most inexperienced boxer on the American squad.

"I'm a little disappointed in how the U.S. has performed," Ward told ESPN.com. "I really want us to be a force again. I don't know what it's going to take. If you look at the Cuban team, they don't even have their top guys and they have nine guys in the semifinals. I don't know what we have to implement to be a bona fide force again. I've watched pretty much all of the boxing and I think our guys have given all they have. I'm not pointing fingers, but I think there needs to be an adjustment.

"If you look at the Cubans, they have nothing else. Boxing is what they do. They know if they are a boxer on the national team, that is everything to them. Their outlet is practicing their craft. They know if they lose, they are going back down the totem pole, so these are hungry individuals."

So does Ward mean the Americans aren't as hungry as fighters from other countries?

"I think all of our guys want a gold medal, but we have other distractions that other countries don't have," Ward said. "They're putting all their chips in this Olympic basket. We have like four or five baskets. Our guys are talking to managers and promoters and thinking about turning pro."

It's been a slow and steady decline for the Americans in the past several Olympics. It's not like Ward's team did all that well either, but his 2004 Athens squad at least claimed two medals: his gold and Andre Dirrell's bronze.

Ward said he remembers vividly the feeling he had when he saw Dirrell get eliminated, leaving him as America's lone chance to win gold.

Wilder, Russo

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Deontay Wilder, left, will be going home with a bronze medal after losing to Clemente Russo in the semifinals.

"I just thought, 'Wow.' I remember it like yesterday," he said. "I was down in the basement in the training area, and when his match was over, reality set in that I was the last guy standing. It gave me great motivation, but it was a lot of pressure. But it was meant to be. I had to carry the team and the USA on my back. I'm sure that is what Deontay Wilder will be feeling when he fights his semifinal."

Coincidentally, Wilder's semifinal loss Friday came against Italy's Clemente Russo, who used to be a light heavyweight and was the same fighter Ward beat in his opening-round match in Athens.

"These four years have gone really, really fast," Ward said. "Watching the Olympics is bringing back so many memories. I miss it. I had been amateur for so many years; I was ready for the pros, but I miss being at the Olympics and I wish I could return. "

But he sure wouldn't want to box again under the baffling open scoring system, in which three of five judges have to press a computer scoring pad within one second for a point to count.

"I think the scoring system is atrocious, and not just for the Americans," he said. "Guys put their whole life into this and they have their moment, and whether it is political or the judges miss the shot, I don't know. I think the scoring is worse than in Greece. I don't understand why they don't push the button. I have seen guys outfight, outwork and outwill their opponent and they don't win the fight. It hurts me."

Ward (16-0, 11 KOs), whose pro career has moved slowly but steadily to the point where he's on the verge of a super middleweight title opportunity, has paid close attention to this year's tournament. One of the reasons is because he's had plenty of time to tune in.

The 24-year-old built tremendous momentum over his last three fights with dominant knockout victories in nationally televised bouts against Jerson Ravelo, Rubin Williams and Roger Cantrell, but it stalled when he injured his right knee during a pickup basketball game and underwent arthroscopic surgery Aug. 8.

Ward said the operation was a success, that he already feels much better and that "the prognosis is great. I feel I can be up and going in 4 to 6 weeks, but it's a matter of not pushing too hard. I'm hoping to fight by the end of the year, but that's me."

Promoter Dan Goossen is more cautious and figures Ward should be ready to go by January.

"Andre was on a good roll and we had great momentum, but you deal with these things," Goossen said. "It's eating Andre up a lot. It's a lot tougher on him than on us. But after 30 years in this business, you know this is all part of it. You hope your fighters don't get injured in the ring or outside of it, but crap happens. It slows us down. We'll make it up next year."

Goossen said at first it didn't look like Ward would require surgery.

"We thought at first he would just need to rest the knee, but then it was determined to [be necessary to] scope him," Goossen said. "There's not too much good about it, but you deal with it. He'd have been fighting for a title in the first part of next year." Goossen had planned for Ward to fight in October, possibly on "ShoBox," and again in December.

After Ward does get back into the ring, you can be sure you won't find him playing basketball in his spare time after what happened.

"I'm finished with that. I'm retired," he said with a laugh. "I don't even want to look at a basketball."

Morales eyes return

Former three-division champion Erik Morales (48-6, 34 KOs), who turns 32 on Sept. 1, says he's coming back to boxing despite losing four fights in a row and five of his last six, including two by knockout.

The Mexican great hasn't fought since losing a close decision to David Diaz for a lightweight belt last August, but told Mexican wire service Notimex that he plans to return next summer. Morales said his plan was for a couple of smaller fights followed by a title bout.

Erik Morales

John Iacono/SI/Icon SMI

Erik Morales is looking to get back in the ring and into the lightweight title mix.

"With the support of [WBC president] Jose Sulaiman, I'd have the opportunity to fight directly for the WBC lightweight championship, but my credibility is first, so I decided to have a few fights to prepare and get in shape," Morales said. "My objective is to win a fourth world championship in a different division. Against Diaz, I deserved better luck, but I think I'm better than some of the current boxers, like Joel Casamayor or Juan Manuel Marquez."

Morales' return, however, will come without the backing of longtime promoter Top Rank, which encouraged his retirement following the Diaz fight and refuses to be involved in any of his future bouts.

With Morales and bitter rival Marco Antonio Barrera, who recently ended his association with Golden Boy, both eyeing comebacks, a fourth fight has been suggested by some. If it did happen, however, Top Rank said it wouldn't be involved. Barrera leads the epic series 2-1.

Big deal for Warren, Khan

Lightweight contender Amir Khan (18-0, 14 KOs), the rising British star, 2004 Olympic silver medalist and 2007 ESPN.com prospect of the year, doesn't have a regular TV home in the U.S., although he's appeared once on HBO. But he is the centerpiece of the deal promoter Frank Warren made this week with subscription network Sky Sports in the United Kingdom.

Amir Khan

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Not just pie in the Sky: English hotshot Amir Khan will be moving to Sky Box Office.

Khan's fights were previously seen by audiences of between 6 million and 8 million viewers for free on broadcast network ITV, which is akin to an ABC in the U.S. But as Khan nears a title fight and his star power has grown, Warren cut a deal that will move the 21-year-old's fights to Sky Box Office, the pay-per-view arm of Sky, the network that was instrumental in the careers of British stars Lennox Lewis, Ricky Hatton and Joe Calzaghe.

Before the deal expired, Khan was the only fighter in Warren's vast stable under contract to ITV. The rest of his cards were screened on Setanta. But now Warren's cards, roughly 20 over the next year, are also moving back to Sky, which televised Warren's shows for a decade before he left.

The new alignment would be like if all of Golden Boy's fights suddenly moved from HBO to Showtime. The deal begins with Khan's Sept. 6 fight against Colombia's Breidis Prescott (19-0, 17 KOs).

King in China

Promoter Don King spent part of last week in Beijing, where he attended Olympic boxing matches and held a press conference to announce that he would stage a card Nov. 7 in Chengdu, the largest city in the Sichuan province.

Don King

David Martin Warr/Don King Productions

Don King took some time out of his busy schedule to mingle with the locals in Beijing.

"We had been in discussions with Chinese officials to bring a fight card to Chengdu prior to the devastating earthquake they experienced on May 12," King said. "Now more than ever we need to go. We want to remember those who perished and try to help in any way we can those who survived."

The card will be staged in conjunction with the WBC's annual convention, which takes place in Chengdu this year.

King has not finalized bouts for the card, but heavyweight Andrew Golota, who fought in China in 2000, could headline against Jameel McCline or Shannon Briggs, or face Mike Mollo in a rematch.

Also on the card, interim strawweight titleholder Juan Palacios could make his first defense.

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.

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QUICK HITS

Julio

• A proposed fight between Sergio Martinez (43-1-1, 23 KOs) and Joel "Love Child" Julio (34-1, 31 KOs), which would have been for an interim junior middleweight belt and taken place as the main event on HBO's Oct. 4 "Boxing After Dark" tripleheader, is off. The winner would have become mandatory for the Sept. 13 Sergio Mora-Vernon Forrest rematch winner, but when neither side would sign a document promising Julio the next shot, his handlers at Main Events and All-Star Boxing rejected the $125,000 offer and ended discussions, fearing the WBC would not enforce Julio as the next title challenger if he won. Instead, they'll pursue a mandatory against alphabet titleholder Sergei Dzindziruk (35-0, 22 KOs), who is based in Germany.

Martinez

• Even without Julio as his opponent, Martinez will see action on the Oct. 4 HBO card. He'll face Alex Bunema (30-5-2, 16 KOs) for an interim title in a fight promoter Lou DiBella finalized with Don King on Thursday. Bunema has scored impressive back-to-back knockout wins against Walter Matthysse and Roman Karmazin. After Julio rejected the fight, DiBella offered the bout to Joe Greene (20-0, 14 KOs), who stunningly turned down a six-figure payday and the opportunity over the objection of his promoter, Seminole Warriors Boxing. Then there was some discussion of Martinez facing Deandre Latimore (19-1, 16 KOs), who scored an upset June 11 when he stopped Sechew Powell in the seventh round of an ESPN2 main event. But Bunema was rated higher than Latimore and accepted the fight.

Margarito

• Although Top Rank's Bob Arum still plans for welterweight titleholder Antonio Margarito to headline a Nov. 1 card (possibly a rematch/unification bout with Joshua Clottey), he said the card won't take place at Dodger Stadium, where he wanted to stage it. Arum has been infatuated in recent years with the idea of doing a show at a major stadium, but once again, he didn't pull the trigger. The reason this time? "The costs are so prohibitive. I was floored with the costs," he said. Arum said he would likely stage the card at the Honda Center in Anaheim.

Collazo

• Promoter Dan Goossen and HBO continue working on a Nov. 29 card that will feature welterweight titlist Paul Williams in the main event and rising heavyweight contender Cristobal Arreola in the co-feature. Goossen told ESPN.com his first choice is to match Williams with ex-titleholder Luis Collazo, and that he is talking to Don King, Collazo's promoter. Money is tight on the lower-budget show, so it remains to be seen if Collazo will take the fight. Goossen attempted to match Arreola with ex-champ Hasim Rahman, but "that's not happening. It was just too much money to make it. They were looking for an unrealistic number."

Witherspoon

• Heavyweight prospect Chazz Witherspoon (23-1, 15 KOs), who suffered his first defeat to Arreola on June 21, returns Nov. 15 on the Jermain Taylor-Jeff Lacy undercard, promoter Lou DiBella said. Witherspoon will face Adam "The Swamp Donkey" Richards (21-1, 14 KOs) on a card that will also feature the comeback of ex-welterweight titleholder Kermit Cintron. DiBella hasn't finalized a venue, but said he's talking to officials at Indianapolis' Conseco Fieldhouse, which hasn't hosted boxing since Vernon Forrest defeated Shane Mosley in their 2002 rematch.

Campas

• Faded former junior middleweight titleholder Yory Boy Campas (92-12, 74 KOs) will meet Julio "Baby Face" Garcia (41-3, 35 KOs), who is just 21 despite 44 pro bouts, in a 162-pound fight on the Sept. 13 (HBO PPV) Joel Casamayor-Juan Manuel Marquez undercard, Golden Boy matchmaker Eric Gomez said. Although Campas -- who has been medically cleared to fight by Nevada officials after undergoing a rigorous medical exam because of his age (37) and the fact that he has boxed more than 300 professional rounds -- has lost two of three, he knocked out ex-junior middleweight titleholder Alejandro "Terra" Garcia in the first round June 21.

Ponce De Leon

• Gomez said that ex-junior featherweight titlist Daniel Ponce De Leon (34-2, 30 KOs), who lost his title via first-round knockout to Juan Manuel Lopez in June, will return Oct. 24 (Telefutura) at the Morongo resort in Cabazon, Calif. "We're still behind him 100 percent," Gomez said. "Lopez caught him. Now we'll try to get him back in position for another title fight. He's training for the comeback." Gomez said Golden Boy is in the process of signing him to a new promotional contract.

Kirkland

• Hot junior middleweight prospect James Kirkland (22-0, 19 KOs), who scored an electrifying first-round knockout of Eromosele Albert in his HBO debut May 17, returns to action Sept. 5 in his hometown of Austin, Texas, as the headliner on the season finale of "Friday Night Fights" (ESPN2). Kirkland, 24, will fight despite litigation with promoter Gary Shaw, with whom he split this summer. Kirkland will face Ricardo Cortes (22-2-1, 15 KOs).

Valuev

• Nikolai Valuev, who faces John Ruiz in a rematch for a vacant heavyweight belt Aug. 30 in Germany, tidied up some business ahead of the fight by extending his promotional contract with Sauerland Event and Don King through 2011, Sauerland announced. "I am happy we got everything sorted out," Valuev said. "I am glad I just missed one day of practice. Five years ago I joined Sauerland Event, and ever since then my career has taken a much more professional and organized course." Said Chris Meyer, managing director of Sauerland: "Nikolai's signature is a very important part of our future plans. Everybody was convinced that it would be best to sign the contract before the next fight."

Lewis

• Former middleweight contender Howard Eastman (43-6, 35 KOs) and ex-welterweight titlist Andrew "Six Heads" Lewis (23-3-2, 20 KOs), natives of Guyana, have agreed to face each other for Eastman's national title Oct. 5 at Guyana's national stadium, according to media reports out of the South American nation. Eastman, 37, whose career has been on a steady decline, has lost five of eight but captured his birth country's national title July 5. Since losing his world title via fifth-round knockout to Ricardo Mayorga in March 2002, Lewis, 37, has fought sporadically, going 2-2-1 since, including a second-round knockout loss to Antonio Margarito in a 2003 title bout.

Salita

• Junior welterweight Dmitriy Salita (28-0-1, 16 KOs) will appear on the Nov. 8 HBO PPV card headlined by the Joe Calzaghe-Roy Jones light heavyweight championship fight at Madison Square Garden in Salita's adopted hometown of New York. If all goes well, Salita, born in Ukraine, will challenge Ukraine's Andreas Kotelnik (29-2-1, 13 KOs) for his junior welterweight title, Salita announced. However, the fight is contingent on Kotelnik making a successful first defense against Japan's Norio Kimura (34-5-2, 18 KOs) Sept. 13.

Linares

• Jorge Linares, whose featherweight title reign was sidetracked by ankle and shoulder injuries, is moving up in weight. The 22-year-old Japan-based Venezuelan relinquished his alphabet belt and plans to campaign at 130 pounds, where his countryman, stablemate and friend Edwin Valero holds a title. Linares won a vacant belt via 10th-round destruction of Oscar Larios last summer and made just one defense, a spectacular eighth-round knockout of Gamaliel Diaz in December. While Linares was sidelined, Larios, suspended in the U.S. because of a brain injury suffered in the loss to Linares, claimed the interim belt and has been elevated to the WBC's full titleholder. Larios (62-6-1, 39 KOs) defends Oct. 16 in Tokyo against Takahiro Aoh (16-0-1, 8 KOs).

Lucas

• Canada's Eric Lucas (38-7-3, 14 KOs), a former super middleweight titlist who now runs promotional company InterBox in Montreal, is considering a comeback. Lucas said he'll undergo medical testing and then spar to test his reflexes before making a final decision. "I still have the fire inside me to compete and the desire to win," Lucas, 37, said. "I have been training more seriously now for three months and feel like I am in great shape. If everything goes according to plan, then my return will be for a significant fight." Lucas, who held a title from 2001 to 2003, hasn't fought since being stopped in a January 2006 title challenge against Mikkel Kessler.

• Promoter Tuto Zabala Jr. of All-Star Boxing announced that he has signed featherweight Luis Valero, the brother of junior lightweight titlist Edwin Valero. Luis Valero, who will be co-promoted by Japan's Teiken Promotions, which also promotes his brother, will make his professional debut Sept. 12 (Telemundo) in Kissimmee, Fla. Zabala said Valero will fight in both countries. He's in the Las Vegas training camp of his brother helping him get ready for his next defense.

QUOTABLE

Jones

"I've always fought well at Madison Square Garden. After all, it's the Mecca of sports arenas, which has as much history and tradition as Yankee Stadium or Chicago's Wrigley Field. It's an honor to fight in the same building as many other greats have, including Sugar Ray Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Floyd Patterson, Joe Louis, Max Baer, Jake LaMotta, Joe Frazier, George Foreman and so many others. I'm looking forward to fighting in a historic place that I'm very comfortable in and have never lost. The fans that come to these fights are not only knowledgeable; they create a lot of noise. It's the best venue for my fight with Calzaghe." -- Roy Jones Jr., on the historic venue in which he'll challenge Wales' Joe Calzaghe for the light heavyweight championship Nov. 8.