By Luis Sandoval
Andre Ward (27-0, 14KOs) returned after a 14 month layoff and picked up right where he left off as he simply outclassed and dominated a game Edwin Rodriguez (24-1, 16KOs) to pick up a lopsided unanimous decision with scores of 118-106, 117-107 and 116-108.
Even after a long hiatus and recovering from major shoulder surgery, Ward looked like his old self and showed why he’s long been considered one of the best in the sport and in most cases, just one spot behind Floyd Mayweather on the pound for pound rankings. It was obvious Ward’s skill set was levels above Rodriguez and the only thing Ward wasn’t able to do in this fight was knock his opponent out.
The fight took an unexpected turn Friday when Rodriguez failed to make the contracted 168 pound super middleweight limit. Not only was he penalized 20% of his purse and not eligible to fight for Ward’s WBA title, but he was forced to accept a clause where he was unable to weigh more than 180 pounds on the morning of the fight. Rodriguez weighed in at 179.8 pounds which allowed the fight to go on but his troubles would only continue once he stepped in the ring with Ward and he was not able to deal with the reigning champion.
Rodriguez wasted no time getting things started as he bolted out of his corner and threw a big left hook that Andre evaded in the opening seconds of the fight. A very aggressive Rodriguez tried to rattle Ward as he showed him no respect and attacked wildly. Rodriguez charged at Ward like a bull as he appeared to want to throw the recently inactive Ward off.
There was as much clinching as there was punching early on as there was seldom any sustained action as both men grappled strongly on the inside. Rodriguez made it a point to apply relentless pressure but it quickly turned into rough house tactics. In the 4th round, Rodriguez had his arm wrapped around Ward’s neck which prompted Ward to push him into the ropes and retaliate. As referee Jack Reiss tried to separate the fighters, both men continued to swing and according to Reiss, he was hit during the melee.
Reiss would then send both fighters to a neutral corner and proceeded to deduct two points from each in hopes of regaining control of the fight. He brought both fighters to the center of the ring and instructed them to knock it off or he’d had no problem disqualifying them.
The fight resumed and even though Rodriguez was game, Ward simply showed to be too skilled for him as he landed hard stiff jabs and left hooks almost at will. Ward’s jab was a huge key to his success in this fight and he wasn’t just using it as a range finder; he was landing it with conviction and Rodriguez’s head constantly snapping back violently was proof.
By the middle of the contest Ward was already in complete control as the jab continued to land and also opened up a path for Ward’s straight right and left hook. Rodriguez’s aggression subsided and the only thing he was showing was a good chin by taking the flush shots Ward was firing.
If there was any ring rust, Ward shook it off completely as he simply dominated Rodriguez and looked incredibly accurate and fluid in the ring. Ward is regarded as one of the top fighters in the sport and against an undefeated contender like Rodriguez, he once again showed why he’s one of the best.
Rodriguez would try to rally again late in the fight but after landing two big left hooks on Ward in the 10th, Ward responded with his own monster left that shook Rodriguez and it was amazing he didn’t go down from it.
After 12 rounds, it was clear Ward was the better fighter as he notched the 27th victory of his career as well as his 6th successful defense of his title.
The question now for Ward is where does he go from here and who does he fight next. There have been talks of a move to 175 pounds or even having guys like Gennady Golovkin move up to challenge him. At the post fight press conference Ward said he will talk to his team and go with the fight that makes the most sense.
Part of Ward’s dilemma is he’s literally cleaned out the 168lbs division and he’s also looking to crossover with a big pay per view fight. While Ward doesn’t like calling out names, he did mention Julio Cesar Chavez Jr and Bernard Hopkins as the two names he feels would provide him that big fight he’s looking for.
Ward is also looking to return to the ring as soon as possible and while he feels the 14 months away from the ring provided him with a good rest, he’s not trying to stay out of the ring that long ever again.
As for Rodriguez, he suffered his first professional loss and also had to deal with not being able to make a contracted weight for the first time in his career. At the post fight press conference he confirmed he will be moving up to light heavyweight and he and his promoter Lou DiBella will plan out his opponent in the coming weeks.
You can follow Luis Sandoval on Twitter and Instagram @Truewest007.