By Jake Donovan
Andre Ward returns the ring following a 14-month layoff, as the defending super middleweight champion takes on undefeated Edwin Rodriguez. The championship bout headlines on HBO, live from the Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario, California (Saturday, HBO, 10PM ET/7PM local time).
Though still the king of all super middleweights and highly regarded among those who are about pound-for-pound rankings, it’s hardly been a celebratory time for Ward (26-0, 14KO). The aftermath of Ward winning the Super Six World Boxing Classic tournament and receiving 2011 Fighter of the Year honors has featured just one fight heading into tonight – a 10th round stoppage of Chad Dawson last September.
Since then, Ward has fought plenty, but just not in the ring. The lone active American fighter to have won an Olympic gold medal was unsuccessful in an attempt to free himself from his current contract with Goossen-Tutor Promotions, who has served as his co-promoter since his pro debut in 2004. Additional fights have taken place through social media, where Ward has dared fans and media alike to quit talking foolish on any given boxing-related subject in which he voiced strong opinions.
Piling on to his downward spiral in popularity and visibility was a misleading assumption of his refusing to agree to random drug testing for Saturday’s contest. Rodriguez, fresh off of a 1st round knockout of Denis Grachev over the summer in Monte Carlo, announced his enrollment in VADA – Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency – during the initial press conference to formally announce the super middleweight fight earlier this fall.
During the session, Rodriguez cleverly played to the media by questioning why Ward wasn’t doing the same. The counter response offered by Ward and his handlers was that the subject was never addressed at any point during negotiations – a period which included Rodriguez rejecting an offer of $800,000 to accept the fight.
The New England-based Dominican held out for – and eventually received – a $1 million payday. However, those efforts proved for naught, as he showed up two pounds heavy during Friday’s weigh-in. His lack of professionalism comes at the cost of a mandatory 20% forfeiture of his purse, imposed by the California State Athletic Commission. The deduction brings his overall purse – before deductions – back down to the $800,000 total he originally declined.
Still care about tonight’s fight, boxing fans?
Fortunately for those who do, the staff at Boxingscene.com cares enough about it to offer predictions on how tonight’s action will play out.
PREDICTIONS – ANDRE WARD vs. EDWIN RODRIGUEZ
“I like Ward by TKO8. [He is] too much for a very game but outgunned Rodriguez.”
- Mitch Abramson (Ward TKO8)
“I like Ward to stop Rodriguez in the 10th round.”
- Damien Acevedo (Ward TKO10)
“Andre Ward by unanimous decision.”
- Ryan Burton (Ward by unanimous decision, in case you didn’t hear the first time)
“Despite the write-up preceding our staff predictions, I will remain optimistic that Ward will enter this fight to make a statement. Hopefully some of the piss and vinegar he’s showed in alienating himself from the boxing public over the past few months carries over into the ring. If so, I don’t believe Rodriguez – weight-drained or full-strength – stands much of a chance.”
- Jake Donovan (Ward TKO9)
“I've followed Edwin Rodriguez for much of his career and admire his story, but I think Ward will be too much and too skilled for him. This could be similar to Curtis Stevens' loss to Gennady Golovkin, with Rodriguez stepping up and doing his best, and in essence winning by the way he loses.”
- David P. Greisman (Ward by unanimous decision or late stoppage)
“I like Rodriguez. I feel he is an all-around good fighter but he bit off more than he can chew with Ward. Ward is simply on a different level and Rodriguez is very limited when it comes to big fight experience. Coming off a big win, I think Rodriguez will be very confident and possibly snatch the 1st round or two but Ward will shake off the ring rust by the 2nd and dominate from that point on winning a lopsided UD.”
- Tim Kudgis (Ward by unanimous decision)
“It will be interesting to see what, if any, lingering affects Ward's shoulder injury have on his game. Probably not much. Rodriguez can crack, but Ward has a way of taking away power lanes by crowding opponents. His timing in impeccable and a puncher's chance just isn't enough a chance against him. Ward might start slow but Rodriguez could give him a chance to look good offensively down the stretch for a lopsided decision.”
- Cliff Rold (Ward by decision)
“Even a one year layoff and recovery from shoulder surgery won't be enough to deter Ward from getting the 27th victory of his career. There's no doubt Rodriguez will put up a great effort and even give Ward some trouble early on but Ward is simply too skilled and too good. The ring rust will certainly be there but by the halfway point, Ward will have shaken it off and be in full control.”
- Luis Sandoval (Ward by unanimous decision)
“Having watched Rodriguez several times, I still can’t define or understand him as a fighter. He is obviously skilled, can punch, and is experienced enough to get away with subtle dirty tricks. But he is totally untested at the elite level, and Grachev/Maderna/Rosinsky is no Ward. Even after a lengthy lay-off (not the first time he was sidelined for a long period) Ward will be too much for Rodriguez, beating him on skills and will in his trademark fashion. Scores like 117-111 or 118-110 are expected.”
- Alexey Sukachev (Ward by decision)
Andre Ward - 9
Edwin Rodriguez – 0
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as the Records Keeper for the Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and a member of Boxing Writers Association of America.