Super middleweight kingpin Andre Ward returned from a 14-month layoff Saturday night, proving he hasn’t lost a step en route to another dominant victory.
Fighting for the first time since his three-knockdown annihilation of Chad Dawson last September, proud Oakland son Ward showed no signs of ring rust as he earned a unanimous decision over fellow unbeaten super middleweight Edwin Rodriguez from the Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario, Calif.
Judge Jerry Cantu scored the bout 117-107 and Steve Morrow had it 116-108 in favor of Ward. Max DeLuca scored it the same as SFBay did – 118-106.
Ward said after the bout that while every performance may not look spectacular, a win is still a win:
“I felt like I did great (after) being off for 14 months, and I’m happy to be back.”
Rodriguez (24-1, 16 KOs) was originally scheduled to challenge for Ward’s WBA and Ring Magazine world titles, but became ineligible after he failed to make the 168 lb. weight limit at Friday’s official weigh-in.
Ward and his camp agreed to proceed with the bout only if Rodriguez weighed in no more than 180 lbs. unofficially on fight night.
Rodriguez, who was born in the Dominican Republic and fights out of Worcester, Mass., was also fined $200,000 and ordered to pay both Ward and the California State Athletic Commission $100,000 each.
Though Ward (27-0, 14 KOs) was dominant throughout the fight, Rodriguez tried to make it very rough. He dashed across the ring at the start of the first round and tried to rock Ward with a looping right hand – which Ward effectively sidestepped.
Ward, who had shoulder surgery to repair his right shoulder earlier this year, controlled the pace of the first three rounds by consistently landing his power left jab and left hook.
Rodriguez, meanwhile, tried to disrupt Ward’s rhythm by hitting and holding – and landing some shots to the back of Ward’s head.
Then seconds into the fourth round, Rodriguez got Ward into a headlock and Ward – frustrated with Rodriguez’ tactics – retaliated by driving Rodriguez into the ropes, resulting in a wild scuffle.
Referee Jack Reiss immediately separated both fighters and deducted two points from both men, sternly warning them that he would not hesitate to disqualify them if such antics continued.
He even insisted that both fighters be fined because of their unsportsmanlike conduct.
Nevertheless, his words left a lasting impression as both fighters went the remaining eight rounds without any dirty tactics.
When asked about Rodriguez’ tactics, Ward said that while he means no disrespect, he believes Rodriguez simply came to get lucky rather than win:
“He wants to hold and make it ugly, and hopes he catches you with something big. You’ve got to learn to how to fight those kind of guys.”
Rodriguez’ tactics had the opposite effect as Ward continued to punish him with heavy left-hand shots throughout their HBO-televised 12-round fight. He even connected with several sharp body shots as he was aware of how much Rodriguez struggled to make weight.
Ward also appeared to be ready to record a knockout in the 10th round when he staggered Rodriguez with a flush left hook that completely knocked the sweat off of his head.
Rodriguez seemed to have more success with his roughhouse tactics than his punch output; according to Compubox, he only landed 46 total punches throughout the first half of the fight – compared to 118 landed by Ward.
In the end, Ward landed a total of 217 out of 526 punches thrown, while Rodriguez landed a mere 85 out of 389.
The road towards the Rodriguez fight was not an easy one for Ward.
He was originally scheduled to kick off his 2013 campaign by defending his titles against former middleweight champ Kelly Pavlik in January. But the shoulder injury suffered during a November 2012 sparring session ultimately cancelled the bout when Ward decided to undergo surgery to repair the damage.
In addition to the rigorous rehabilitation he endured following the successful surgery, Ward also dealt with promotional issues outside the ring.
Earlier this summer, he filed for an arbitration hearing with the California State Athletic Commission in an attempt to terminate his contract with longtime promoter Dan Goossen. The Commission, however, upheld Goossen’s contract with Ward.
Ward and his team then had difficulty coming to an agreement with HBO over who would be his next opponent.
Goossen had a deal in place for Ward to fight former super middleweight champ Dimitri Sartison – a fight HBO rejected due to Sartison’s lack of name recognition in the United States.
Ward and his team then set their sights on Rodriguez, who was coming off his vicious first-round destruction of Denis Grachev back in July. His only other notable wins came against James Anthony McGirt – son of trainer and former world champion James “Buddy” McGirt – and Aaron Pryor Jr.
Rodriguez also attempted to make things personal by criticizing Ward prior to the bout – which the super middleweight champ said he used as extra motivation during training camp:
“It’s not personal, but I run the extra mile, (and) I spar that extra round when I hear guys talk like that.”