Andre Ward (right) lands a punch against Alexander Brand in their WBO Intercontinental Light Heavyweight Title bout, Aug. 6, 2016 in Oakland. (Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

In recent eras of boxing it’s not often you find a world-class fighter unafraid to put their undefeated record on the line, or someone who dares to be great and fights the best possible opposition even when other top fighters avoid them. This best describes the career of the recently retired and former undisputed Super Middleweight and Light Heavyweight Champion, Andre Ward.

When you watched him fight, you may not have seen blazing hand and footspeed, or bone-crushing power. You may not have seen cat-like reflexes, either, but what you did see was a master of the sweet science.

Ward, who has not lost a fight since his teenage years as an amateur, would go on the win a gold medal at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece. Andre is currently the last American boxer to win a gold medal. After the Summer Games, the Bay area native continued his winning ways in the professional ranks. Ward would go on the win his first 18 fights with little struggle. However, what many believed to be his first real test came against the tough, rugged, hard-punching Edison Miranda. Miranda, to some, might have looked a bit too much for the talented Ward. Either way, many believed it would at least be a competitive fight. Ward had other plans. The undefeated youngster used his superior boxing skills en route to a one-sided unanimous decision win.

After soundly defeating Miranda, Ward got a call to be apart of the Super Six World Boxing Classic. This was a major opportunity for Ward to show everyone what he was made of. This tournament featured the best possible fighters the super middleweight division had to offer. Besides Ward, who was by no means looked as a favorite, the tournament included the likes of Mikkel Kessler, Carl Froch, Arthur Abraham, Andre Direll and Jermain Taylor.

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Ward would get his first shot at a title in the first round against tournament favorite Mikkel Kessler. The Danish veteran figured he would outbox the lesser-experienced American. Andre, however, would put on his best performance to date, dominating Kessler from start to finish, winning a wide unanimous decision.

His first defense would come against hard-hitting Allan Green. Green, who was a late replacement due to Jermain Taylor withdrawing from the tournament following his knockout loss to Arthur Abraham, was thought by some to be too strong for Ward. Could Andre take Green’s punch and keep him at a distance? Instead of doing what many thought he should, Ward showed great versatility on this night, constantly backing Green up and eliminating his best weapon the entire fight and winning another clear decision.

It was the next fight that really showed his well-roundedness as a fighter, though. Not many boxers can adapt on the fly, but Ward had that ability. Ward was expected to face long time friend and fellow American Andre Dirrell in the third round. However, Dirrell was forced to withdraw after suffering a devastating punch in the 10th round of his bout with Arthur Abraham.

Dirrell’s replacement was the dangerous Sakio Bika. For many guys, having to go from preparing for one fighter with a certain style, to all the sudden preparing for a completely different style, is not an easy task. This is one thing that made ward special. It didn’t matter to him. All he cared about was winning. On this night, he used his superior boxing skills and inside game to out-punch and out-land the rugged Bika.

After defeating Kessler, Green and Bika, Ward was then looked at as a legitimate threat to everyone in the tournament.

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In the semi-final round, Ward would square up with German power puncher Arthur Abraham. It was rumored by many that when Abraham hits you, it feels like he has bricks in his gloves. Many likely expected the size and power of challenger to be too much for the champion. Once again, Ward proved the critics wrong. He constantly beat Abraham to the punch all night long, winning another clear decision.

With the win, it would setup the highly anticipated showdown with the trash-talking Carl Froch, who looked pretty good throughout the tournament.

One December night in Atlantic City, Ward being the classy guy he was, let his skills do all the talking. From the opening bell it was clear Ward was the superior of the two combatants. Froch looked slow on the trigger and was unable to settle into a rhythm against the elusiveness of Ward. While Froch would have some success down the stretch, it was another dominant performance and clear victory for Ward.

Ward had then accomplished what just two years prior many said he wouldn’t, win the Super Six World Boxing Classic. There was now no debate as to who was the best super middleweight in the world.

For many fighters today, fighting top opposition like that for two straight years would make guys want easy tuneups. Not Ward, after winning the Super Six, he would go on to face Light Heavyweight Champion “Bad” Chad Dawson. Dawson at the time was coming off a clear win over the legendary Bernard Hopkins.

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Chad would be no match for Andre. The Super Middleweight Champion embarrassed Dawson, knocking him down several time before the fight was finally stopped in round 10.

Following a lengthy layoff due to promotional issues, Ward would take a few tuneup fights as he prepared to make the leap seven pounds north to the light heavyweight division.

The jump to 175 was to eventually setup a showdown with what many considered the “boogeyman” of the division in Sergey Kovalev. Another guy who many believed would be too big, too strong and overall too much for the smaller Ward.

In November 2016 in Las Vegas, the first few rounds validated what most experts thought to be true. Kovalev would even drop Ward for the second time in his career (the first time being against journeyman Darnell Boone exactly 11 years to the day). Kovalev’s power and accuracy would control most of the first-half of the fight. Ward, however, would adapt like he always did. Continuing to take the fight to the bigger man and wearing him down with body shots round after round. Finally, after a hard-fought and competitive 12 rounds, Ward was awarded a unanimous decision and three belts to go along with it.

After suffering his first career defeat, Kovalev and his team cried robbery and demanded an immediate rematch.

That rematch would take place seven months later. On this night, the new titleholder was in top form. Ward put on a great display of offense and defense before stunning Kovalev in the eighth round with a counter right-hand. The fight would be stopped shortly after Kovalev failed to fight back during Ward’s savage body attack.

Following his second win over Kovalev, Ward would announce his retirement from the sport. He would finish his career with a record of 32-0 (16 KOs).

Andre Ward set a precedent that all true competitors and champions should follow. He never complained and always seemed to want to fight the best possible competition. Ward, a classy guy outside the ring, just as he was a true champion inside the ring. Let’s hope the precedent he set rolls over to the new era of boxing, the best fighting the best.

“If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best.” And Andre Ward did just that.