The Super Six and the Search for Boxing's Next Star
The lopsided result, which propelled the undefeated Ward into the final of Showtime's Super Six 168-pound tournament, shouldn't surprise anybody beyond Abraham's immediate family.
But Abraham adjusts to shifting tactics worse than Manny Ramirez adjusted to shifting outfield winds. Andre Dirrell exposed Abraham in March 2010, working angles and potshotting so relentlessly that in the 11th round a frustrated Abraham got himself disqualified, slugging a downed Dirrell after the American slipped to the canvas.
And last November Carl Froch further outsmarted and outclassed Abraham over 12 of the most one-sided rounds you're likely to see at boxing's elite level.
Against that backdrop Ward couldn't afford to struggle. For fighter working to enter the pound-for-pound title picture, a shootout against an opponent two of his peers had dominated wasn't an option.
And Ward didn't let it happen.
After two competitive rounds Ward pressed the action in the third and established the pattern the rest of the fight would follow: Ward snapping jabs and uppercuts through Abraham's guard, ripping shots to the body and looping hooks to the head a confused Abraham staggered forward winging wild shots.
The victory earns Ward a spot in the Super Six final, but his future beyond the ring isn't so clear.
Ward's diverse skills have him surging upward on boxing's pound-for-pound list, and under the old formula for creating boxing superstars -- Olympic Gold plus an unblemished face and record -- he would already be NBA player-famous.
But that system of producing boxing celebrities disappeared with Oscar De La Hoya, so despite Ward's impeccable pedigree we can't be sure that he's the transcendent superstar who will sustain the sport in the future.
Which might seem like yet another troubling sign for a sport many experts believe is on a steep, one-way decline, but i'm not sure it matters much.
There's no disputing that boxing depends heavily on a few huge stars to earn what little attention the sport still receives from mainstream fans and media. And there's no denying that the sport's current crop of superstars sorely needs a boost.
De La Hoya is a full-time promoter now and Bernard Hopkins is 46. Floyd Mayweather is 34 and semi-retired, and while Manny Pacquiao is still producing he, too, is creeping deeper into his 30s. Besides, without Mayweather as a partner, just about every potential matchup for the Pac Man seems like an anticlimax.
Since the Super Six tournament kicked off October 2009 Ward has emerged as one of several exciting fighters grabbing attention among hardcore boxing followers. The group includes Cuban exile and featherweight champ Yuriorkis Gamboa and cyclist-turned-154-pound champ Sergio Martinez, but it doesn't include a sure-fire successor to Pacquaio and Mayweather as a boxing champ with mainstream cachet.
That's problematic for sure, but I'm not convinced its a sign that, as Frank DeFord argues, we'll never see another great boxer.
It's a tempting conclusion to leap to.
A generation ago we could see boxing stars coming. They were Americans who either won medals at the Olympics (think Holyfield, Whitaker et al) or smashed their way through through the heavyweight division with spectacular knockouts (think Mike Tyson).
But it's been a genereation since the pro debut of De La Hoya,a 1992 Olympic champ the last boxer to graduate from the 20th-century system of making stars.
Yes, Mayweather won bronze in Atlanta, but he didn't exactly step into stardom. Boxing fans knew him a mind-blowing skill set and massive ego, but was a minor player in the sports world at large until HBO's 24/7 reality series exposed him to the mainstream.
Now he's (arguably), the second-biggest name in the boxing game, (arguably) eclipsed only by another star nobody saw coming.
*Although at this point the only one arguing against Pacquiao's primacy is Mayweather himself.*
Three years ago Manny Pacquiao could have walked unnoticed down just about any street in North America -- even if he was wearing the WBC super featherweight belt he owned back then. Now his image graces billboards on both sides of the Pacific, evidence of a rocket ride to mainstream fame in North America that as unexpected as it was sudden.
And that's the point.
In this age of fragmented title belts and audiences it's increasingly difficult to manufacture a superstar, much less predict who will become one.
Yet superstars still develop.
So yes, the search for a boxing saviour looks grim at the moment. Ward is an outstanding fighter but lacks Mayweather's flash or Pacquiao's combination of power and personality.
But in the months leading up to De La Hoya/Mayweather the outlook was equally gloomy.
Then from that fight a superstar emerged. Mayweather, B-side of what was supposed to be the last significant fight in history.
A year and a half later another star popped up. Pacquiao a small but powerful filipino with spotty English and a jones for karaoke.
So while we search for a star to replace those two we need to remember that he is probably already out there.
We just don't know who he is yet.