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SportsJam with Doug Doyle: Boxing Great Andre Ward and "The Contender" Contestant John Thompson IV

Joe Favorito for WBGO News

A sports feature on Andre Ward and "The Contender"

2004 Olympic Boxing Gold Medalist and former super middleweight and light heavyweight champion of the world Andre Ward is the new host the reality boxing series The Contender which started its first episode last week on EPIX.

Andre “Son of God” Ward retired in 2017 after a professional boxing career record of 32-and-0, that’s right he never lost a pro bout.  He's joined on this edition of SportsJam with Doug Doyle by one of the 16 contestants on the show, Newark boxer and artist John Thompson IV.

The interviews took place in the EPIX offices in New York City. 

Credit EPIX
"The Contender" season five is now on EPIX

The contestants are competing for $250,000 but Ward says the show is about telling these boxer's real stories.

"It was a pleasure to be around some of these 16 young men.  You know I knew some of them, John Thompson is one of them, personally, but a lot them I didn't know personally.  I just heard about them, or read about them.  I had a blast just letting the show unfold, watching these guys process success, failure, dealing with their fears and insecurities, seeing each and everyone of the 16 combatants have that hunger in their eyes.  You know I had that hunger for many many years.  Just the totality of the package was a blessing to be a part of."

Ward says audiences get a chance to learn about 16 interesting men.

"You know it's just about the fighting.  It's not just about making money.  It's not just about winning belts and getting opportunities.  Like you have real human interest stories."

How does Ward handle being a business man or host with he never tasted defeat.

"Oh no, I've tasted it.  Just not as a professional.  And I think that taste is still in my mouth and that's what in large part has allowed me to be undefeated because I never wanted to feel that again.  That taste drove me to go above and beyond the call of duty.  Whatever I put my hand to do, I want to try and do it with all my might and typically you'll have success when you do that."

Andre Ward
Credit Las Vegas Review-Journal
Andrew Ward came back from being knocked down in the second round against Sergey Kovalev to win a unanimous decision and stay unbeaten

What is Andre Ward's favorite bout?

"There's a handful of fights in my career I like for different reasons, but I would probably one of my favorites is (Sergey) Kovalev 1.  Lot of people would think it was Kovalev 2, but Kovalev 1 I had to do something in a 30-some odd fight career that I didn't have the opportunity, thankfully have to do, which is come from behind. I had adversity in training camp leading up to that fight and then early in the fight in the second round.  It's funny because when I went down it's almost like I could feel the naysayers and the detractors like smiling..like yeah this is how we thought this was going to go.  But then I just had this peace about me because everything I had been through in life had prepared me for that moment."

Ward got off the canvas and eventually would beat Sergey Kovalev in a controversial unanimous decision.

John Thompson
Credit Doug Doyle for WBGO
John Thompson IV has had a successful boxing career after learning from his father at an early age

John Thompson IV is not just a boxer, but's he also an accomplished artist.  He graduated from Cicely Tyson Community School of Performing and Fine Arts in East Orange.  The 29-year old, who goes by "Apollo Kidd" in the ring, enjoys painting realism and expressionism pieces. 

"I started drawing at the age of three.  I saw one of my friend's writing, I tried to write his name, tried to copy it the way he wrote his and soon after I was asking my father for a dollar to go to the dollar and buy some little drawing books.  I just never followed the rules, and skipped straight ahead to the end.  Soon after I went to the Cicely Tyson School from 6 to 12.  My art grew then.  From there I started painting in high school in 2005." 

Andrew Ward is impressed with Thompson's art.

"I love it.  He was in one of my training camps several years ago, and you know he gifted me with a personal piece for me when I was in the locker room getting ready for one of my fights.  It's a beautiful thing.  It's at my house.  I don't know if he's a better boxer or a better artist.  I guess he can do both."

John Thompson
Credit Inside the Ropes Boxing
29 year old John Thompson hopes to win the $250 K prize at the end of "The Contender"

Thompson learned how to box from his father at an early age. 

"Well Joe, my father got me into boxing at the age of 4.  My mom passed away when I was six and I moved in with my father.  He was actually the coach, so him being the coach I was in the gym day in and day out."

Why did Thompson like boxing?

"It allowed me the chance, an opportunity to compete against other people, which were older also.  As a kid you try to not necessarily be like the older people, but you want to be better than them in a lot of things.  I've always competed and I want to be better than everyone else.  I don't actually see boxing as just something barbaric, you know I look as it as an actual  talent.  Lot of people say hey you box, that's good, you get out your frustrations.  But for me I don't get out any frustrations when it comes to boxing, it's just fun for me."

Click above to hear the SportsJam with Doug Doyle podcast with Andrew Ward and John Thompson IV.

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Doug Doyle has been News Director at WBGO since 1998 and has taken his department to new heights in coverage and recognition. Doug and his staff have received more than 200 awards from organizations like PRNDI, AP, New York Association of Black Journalists, Garden State Association of Black Journalists and the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists.