Muhammad Ali left the sport of boxing with a shake and a huskier, slower speech. Benny Paret went from the ring to a hospital bed to a coffin.
Andre Ward retires with his speech, looks, brains, and perfect record intact. Three cheers for that!
Under a “mission accomplished” headline, the 33-year-old announced his retirement on Thursday:
To the sport of boxing – I love you. You’ve been by my side since I was 10-years-old. You’ve taught me so much. You’ve humbled me. You’ve promoted me. I’ve sacrificed a lot for you, but you’ve given me more than I ever thought possible. You gave me a platform, made me a champion and helped me provide for my family. I am forever grateful to you. You and I will always be synonymous, connected at the hip. Thank you for all the wonderful people I’ve come in contact with because of you. I’ve made friends for life. As I walk away from the sport of boxing today, I leave at the top of your glorious mountain, which was always my vision and my dream. I did it. We did it.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you to everyone who has played a part in my journey. You know who you are. I could not have done this without you. I want to be clear – I am leaving because my body can no longer put up with the rigors of the sport and therefore my desire to fight is no longer there. If I cannot give my family, my team, and the fans everything that I have, then I should no longer be fighting. Above all, I give God the Glory, for allowing me to do what I’ve done, for as long as I have.
Bernard Hopkins aside, boxers generally age more like milk than wine. Thirty-three marks a point when athletes lose their reflexes and recovery. Ward, unlike almost every other great boxer you can name, opted for the road less traveled–to go out on his terms–which, in the strange world of the sweet science, actually serves as the easier road to travel. But the no-quit attitude that puts so many boxers on top eventually works to knock them to the bottom.
The Bay Area boxer posted wins over Sergey Kovalev, Carl Froch, Chad Dawson, Mikkel Kessler, and anyone else unfortunate enough to share a professional boxing ring with him. He remains the last American male to win an Olympic gold medal in boxing. Despite the success, Ward’s humility tied to his Christianity, and his reputation as a boxer and not a puncher, made him a star in the boxing world that did not transcend that niche audience the way big mouths and big punchers often do. At 32-0, and with Floyd Mayweather saying goodbye under similar circumstances, Ward looked poised to capitalize on his place atop boxing’s pound-for-pound list for bigger paydays. Instead, he chose to live the rest of his life instead of endure it.