By Cliff Rold
Andre Ward won’t be returning from a 14-month layoff to resume his reign as Super Middleweight champion. Oh, the reign will continue, and he meant to extend it here, but the body of his opponent flipped the script.
In lieu of a chance at a successful title defense, Ward will get some extra cash instead.
Coming off an impressive knockout over tough Denis Grachev just over 171 lbs., intended challenger Edwin Rodriguez couldn’t get below 170 on Friday at the weigh-in. With a rehydration limit of no more than 180 lbs. in play now, let’s assume Rodriguez makes it to scratch for this non-title affair.
With a win, the belts won’t matter much. Rodriguez can still be the guy who beat Ward. The undefeated Ward, a 2004 Olympic Gold Medalist at Light Heavyweight, will have plenty to say about that.
Let’s go to the report cards.
Titles: Lineal/TBRB/Ring World Super Middleweight (2011-13, 1 Defense); WBA Super Middleweight (2009-Present, 5 Defenses)
Previous Titles: WBC Super Middleweight (2011-13, 1 Defense)
Weight: 167.8 lbs.
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 167.95 lbs.
Hails from: Oakland, California
Record: 26-0, 14 KO
Record in Major Title Fights: 6-0, 1 KO
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: 5 (Mikkel Kessler Tech. Dec. 11; Sakio Bika UD12; Arthur Abraham UD12; Carl Froch UD12; Chad Dawson UD12)
Title/Previous Titles: None
Weight: 170 lbs.
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 168.55 lbs.
Hails from: Worcester, Massachusetts
Record: 24-0, 16 KO
Rankings: #4 (BoxRec); #6 (TBRB); #7 (BoxingScene, Ring), #8 (ESPN)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: 0
Pre-Fight: Speed – Ward A; Rodriguez B
Pre-Fight: Power – Ward B; Rodriguez B+
Pre-Fight: Defense – Ward A; Rodriguez B
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Ward A; Rodriguez B
Even without the weigh-in issues, Rodriguez was coming into the bout with plenty of questions marks. Grachev, who was coming off a series of solid performances, was an eye opener. It was also quick enough to make one wonder if it was an emergence or an outlier. Rodriguez has shown good pop but knockouts like than one haven’t been his norm as competition improved.
For a fighter seen as having a puncher’s chance at best coming in, that’s probably not the best sign. Now one has to wonder about the effort to make a weight his body clearly wasn’t willing to give him. Instead of thinking about the fight for the 24-plus hours before it arrives, he will still be thinking about what was on his mind headed to the scale today.
He still has to make weight to insure the show goes on.
While his mind is on weight, Ward need only lay in wait for his delayed return to the ring. When a defense against former Middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik fell apart earlier this year, Ward had surgery to repair a shoulder issue. He’s been out of the ring well over a year since a pasting of then-reigning Light Heavyweight champion Chad Dawson last September.
While Dawson coming down in weight to challenge gave some room for skepticism about how threatening he was on the night, the performance from Ward in the ring was probably the best of his career. His typical mix of boxing and swarming worked perfectly and his infighting was superb. He caught Dawson with big shots from range and worked him with some vicious uppercuts inside.
Rodriguez could be vulnerable to a similar game plan. While he is physically strong, he often appears a little stiff in the ring. Rodriguez has a good hard jab and fires with authority, but his game doesn’t typically come with a lot of wrinkles. He’s steady.
For Ward, that could mean predictable. Where Ward has had some occasional tough moments as champion, in a fight with Sakio Bika where he dominated but found competition and in a unification with Carl Froch where he held off a late rally, it’s been against fighters that throw while he might be thinking. Rodriguez, if he lets his hands go even under pressure, might find chances.
Like Bika and Froch, those chances might not be enough.
Since becoming a champion, Ward has defeated an assortment of the best at 168 lbs. His title reign is so complete that, at one point, every belt he didn’t hold in the division was held by someone he’d already defeated. As it stands now, only one other titlist in class (WBO titlist Robert Stieglitz) has avoided a loss to Ward.
Stieglitz hasn’t fought Ward.
As has been the case for seemingly every Ward fight since the Kessler title win, there has been much ado about Ward being ‘boring’ coming into the fight. As was the case after each of the fights that followed Kessler, expect this one to end with ‘well, that one wasn’t boring.’ Ward isn’t a daredevil but he’s physically demanding in the ring, aware of how to use his fists, leverage, clinches, and angles to wear opponents down mentally and keep landing leather.
Against a fighter who struggled to make weight and still has to think about it, a night where he was already a prohibitive favorite looks even more one-sided. This is a case of two different classes of fighter. Ward is one of the very best in any weight division, a cerebral champion who imposes will and skill. Rodriguez may have some moments in the early going if he can get off but Ward will ultimately time him and break him down. The chance for a late stoppage exists but the call here is a lopsided decision.
Report Card Picks 2013: 49-24
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]