Andre Ward is fast becoming a victim of his own success.
Such is the plight of a champion who has already faced, and in most cases decisively beaten, every legitimate challenger in his division.
Ward will return to the ring on January 26 in Los Angeles, facing former middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik in a fight that can only be described as a downer given his recent opposition.
Pavlik has not fought near this level in over two-and-a-half years since losing a decision to Sergio Martinez in 2010, and is a shell of the fighter who was once undisputed middleweight champion.
His career, and life, jumped the tracks largely due to his problems with substance abuse, and while he has won his last four bouts, he hasn't faced anybody in spitting distance of Ward.
Even in his prime Kelly Pavlik would've struggled against a guy like Ward, and at this stage, it could be ugly. He's just a name fighter whom many fans of the sport can still identify, but who has little chance of winning the fight.
By taking this fight, Ward, who defeated light-heavyweight champion Chad Dawson by 10th-round TKO in September, is asserting the obvious—there are few viable options.
In winning Showtime's Super Six 168-pound tournament last year, Ward already holds victories over Carl Froch and Arthur Abraham, two other belt holders at super-middleweight, as well as Sakio Bika, Mikkel Kessler and Allan Green.
Even a move to 175-pounds isn't ideal, as he already holds a clear victory over the undisputed top dog at that weight.
So the options for Ward are extremely limited. He could seek out rematches against fighters he's already beaten—Carl Froch has been mentioned most prominently in this regard—many of which could be tough sells in the United States.
Or he could do what he's doing in facing Pavlik: Stay busy in the hopes that a bigger fight emerges in the future.
It's a situation not all that different to the one faced by Roy Jones Jr. in his prime as light heavyweight champion.
Jones was so dominant, and had so few legitimate challengers around him, that he was forced to face a litany of inferior opponents—the Derrick Harmon's and Glen Kelly's of the world—in the hopes something bigger would emerge.
While Jones remained dominant for a long stretch of time, his fights became more exhibitions than events. And people began to tune out.
Nobody is saying this will happen to Andre Ward. He does have options.
A move to 175 pounds brings the possibility of interesting matchups against Dawson, at his natural weight, or Jean Pascal, who holds a win over Dawson and will face him in a rematch on March 23.
Other possible opponents include IBF light-heavyweight champion Tavoris Cloud or British rising star and WBO champion Nathan Cleverly.
And then there's the big name that nobody seems to be talking about—Bernard Hopkins.
Yes, that's right. Hopkins has not yet retired, despite his loss to Dawson last year, and plans to continue his career next year.
A match between Hopkins and one of the light-heavyweight champions at the Barclays Center has been discussed for next year, but nothing has been finalized.
Bernard Hopkins, particularly an Executioner who holds a share of the 175-pound title, could be an intriguing matchup for Ward.
Pretty much any of these opponents would provide a greater threat, and challenge, for Ward than the version of Kelly Pavlik we will see in January.
This is why after this fight a move to light-heavyweight is a near certainty, if nothing else than to find some new opponents.
You can't fault him for taking the fight. Pavlik is still a name and to many this is more attractive than rematches against European fighters without any serious American fanbase.
But you can see the potential trap awaiting Andre Ward. He might just be too good for his own good.
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