SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Retired boxing champion Andre Ward is taking on new duties in the ring with his debut Friday as host for “The Contender,” the reality TV series which showcases boxing hopefuls seeking their shot.
The San Francisco native and longtime Oakland resident spoke to CBS Local in a lengthy interview touching on his stellar career, Bay Area roots, and the opportunity to host the show.
“The Contender” follows a group of up-and-coming fighters who battle each other in a tournament-style competition to determine an overall winner. After a hiatus of nine years, “The Contender” launches its fifth season Friday on premium TV channel Epix.
Ward retired from boxing last year after going undefeated in 32 professional bouts. He won his first world title in 2009 and held multiple titles in the super middleweight and light heavyweight classes. Ward also won a gold medal in the light heavyweight division at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. He now lives in Danville with his wife, three sons and daughter.
On his new gig as a reality TV host
As host of “The Contender,” Ward knows he faces inevitable comparisons to the show’s previous hosts, Sylvester Stallone, Sugar Ray Leonard and Tony Danza.
“I talked to Sly, I talked to Sugar Ray Leonard, and you know, I understood from the very beginning the magnitude of shoes I was trying to fill coming behind those guys, and I didn’t want to, you know, try to compete in any kind of way. I just wanted to do the best that I could,” said Ward.
“And all those guys gave me the same advice universally, which was, ‘Listen, you have the job for a reason. They didn’t just call you by happenstance. Go out there and do what you need to do. You’re ready for this.’ And that was all the encouragement that I needed.”
Reflecting on his career and going out on top
Ward said he was cognizant early in his career about how many of his boxing idols ended their time in the ring – past their prime and often a shell of their former selves.
“I care enough about, obviously, my family and my own health but also the sport. I care enough about the sport to not just selfishly be concerned about, you know, my money or winning more titles. But I care about the guys and the girls [up-and-coming fighters] that I just mentioned. They’re watching. And we don’t have a lot of good endings in the sport. And I hope that I can be one of many that they can point to and say, ‘Let’s do it the way he did it. Let’s get in, let’s get out, and let’s have our faculties and whatever money we made and just move on to the next phase of life.'”
On watching his beloved Golden State Warriors become the dominant force in the NBA
When Golden State was the doormat of the NBA for decades, Ward says he always supported them and now has no problem at all with their new role as the evil empire.
“We got some people that aren’t happy with us, because you know, when you’re winning, man, and you’re in the winner’s circle, man, you’re gonna have naysayers,” he said.”
“That element is not going anywhere. So, like, the only option is to lose and not have that? I would rather win and have that. So go ahead and say what you gotta say, I’m trying to get the ‘W.’ And they’re doing it. They’re doing it with class. I love what Steve Kerr is doing, and I’m just – man, salute to all those guys. Nothing but respect.”