The tension was thick on May 16, when Oakland boxer Andre Ward stepped into the ring at Oracle Arena. His eyes were trained on 28-year-old Edison Miranda, a mean-mugging Colombian fighter who gazed back with equal venom. By all accounts, it looked like a fair match. Ward stood one inch taller at six-foot-one, with a tight, chiseled face and arms smothered in tattoos. By that point he'd won eighteen fights in his professional career, along with a gold medal from the 2004 Olympics in Athens. Miranda had prevailed in 30 fights, with 26 knockouts (about double Ward's record). Years of hand-to-hand combat had toughened Miranda's chest muscles, and caused his face to ossify into something cold and hard. Like Ward, he'd grown up in the 'hood, though Miranda's story had a lot more pathos: He was abandoned by his mom and left to fend for himself at a young age, in streets even rougher than inner-city Oakland. While Ward spent his teens punching Everlast bags and avoiding gang violence, Miranda picked plantains and butchered livestock. Not surprisingly, both men grew up to be super middleweight champs.
So it was down to the wire on that May evening. Ward started out on the offense, going toe-to-toe with Miranda and incurring a huge gash on his forehead — apparently the result of a head butt. In the second round Miranda threw a few hooks to Ward's face, as though to capitalize on the injury. But the hometown hero stood his ground and put up a stout defense. Fansites generally agreed that Ward was the more agile, technical player — kind of a traditional pugilist in contrast to the street-raised bruiser Miranda. Ultimately, technique won out over brawn. By the twelfth round Ward's eye had swollen visibly, but it didn't matter because Miranda was too fatigued to return punches. Ward trounced him. Fans rejoiced.
It's not just an impeccable boxing record that's made Ward a folk hero in Oakland. It's also his do-gooder sensibility and religious piousness (he frequently quotes scripture and is nicknamed "Son of God"). While some of his counterparts built their muscles through street brawls or hard manual labor, Ward launched a ruthless training regimen at King's Gym in Fruitvale — where his newspaper profiles still plaster the walls. And he wasn't just whacking a bag or running a treadmill. According to Chronicle sportswriter John Crumpacker, the young boxer trained for Athens by pushing his trainer's Cadillac around a parking lot at Cal State Hayward. To a bystander, that might seem an excessive degree of self-flagellation. But the payoff was phenomenal. At this point, Ward remains undefeated. He returns to the Oracle Arena (7000 Coliseum Way) on Saturday, Nov. 21, to spar 30-year-old Mikkel Kessler, a Danish boxer nicknamed with 41 wins under his belt. A couple weeks ago, Ward was back in boot camp. Stakes are high. 5 p.m., $35-$300. Coliseum.com