by Cliff Rold
Working his way back to the stature he had after winning the Super Six tournament, 32-year old former super middleweight champion and 2004 Olympic light heavyweight gold medalist Andre Ward (29-0, 15 KO), 174 ¾, of Oakland, California scored a third-round knockdown en route to a unanimous twelve-round decision over 34-year old Cuban Sullivan Barrera (17-1, 12 KO), 174 ½, of Miami Florida, on Saturday night at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, California.
Ward, plagued by inactivity due to outside the ring issues and shoulder surgery, takes a critical step towards a highly anticipated showdown with unified light heavyweight titlist Sergey Kovalev (29-0-1, 26 KO) of Russia.
The referee was Raul Caiz Sr.
Ward and Barrera appeared to possibly trade rounds in the first two with Ward controlling the first and Barrera landing a couple of effective right hands in the second. That was as close to success as Barrera would get. The class of Ward began to take over in the third. A short counter left off the ropes sent Barrera to the floor. The Cuban wasn’t hurt but he was down on the cards in a fight where he needed a good start.
As the fight progressed, Ward began to shake off some of the natural rust one will accumulate having fought only twice in almost four years. Taking more shots than has been his norm, Ward ended the night with a left eye bruised by the jab of Barrera and suffered a small cut over the same eye from an accidental head clash.
As the fight progressed, Ward’s accuracy meant more clean shots landed and he began to slip and defend better. Barrera’s biggest moment on the cards would come in the eighth round when a bad low blow saw a point deducted from Ward. That made the round even on the cards. When the bell for the ninth sounded, Barrera could say he’d gone farther than ever before in his career. By the end of the night, he’d go twelve for the first time.
Ward never scored another knockdown, and never seemed close to a stoppage, but the victory was clear. Ward received scores of 117-109, 119-109, and 117-108 to make himself the mandatory challenger in the IBF.
That designation helps to seal what most expect the world will see in the fall. Kovalev currently holds the IBF belt along with the WBA and WBO diadems. Whether that fight is next, or whether Ward takes one more bout before then, remains to be seen.
Ward wasn’t shy in the post-fight interview about the ongoing work to return to the form he had a few years ago. “The more you fight, the sharper you get. There’s certain things I wanted to do I didn’t do tonight but it showed tonight maybe even not at my best, we can still get it done the way we need to get it done.”
Work to be done didn’t mean he’s not looking to Kovalev sooner than later. “It’s never a problem. You look at my track record. I want to fight the best.” A fight between Ward and Kovalev is some of the best competition boxing can offer, hopefully in 2016.
In the televised featherweight opener, 23-year old 2012 US Olympian Joseph Diaz Jr. (20-0, 11 KO), 125 ¾, of South El Monte, California, won an entertaining but one-sided unanimous ten round decision over 28-year old Jayson Velez (23-2-1, 16 KO), 125 ½, of Caguas, Puerto Rico. The referee was Ed Collantes.
Diaz showed off his pedigree throughout the best win of his career to date. Quicker, more fluid, and more accurate, Diaz took his share of shots along the way. He landed far more, starting and finishing exchanges and showing excellent countering ability. Overcoming an early cut, Diaz came near a shutout on every card. Final scores came in at 100-91, 99-91, and 98-92.
The WBC currently rates Diaz tenth at 126 lbs.
The card televised in the US on HBO as part of its “World Championship Boxing” series, promoted by Roc Nation.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene and a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]