Super middleweight kingpin Andre Ward ended a fourteen-month layoff last night, winning a lopsided decision over Edwin Rodriguez at Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario, California. But not before a few unexpected transactions had cleared.
First, there was Rodriguez, who, unable to lose another ounce from his spent body, weighed in two pounds over the super-middleweight limit. Those two pounds cost Rodriguez 20% of his $1,000,000 purse; with $100,000 lining the pockets of the California State Athletic Commission and $100,000 going to Ward. Rodriguez also had to weigh in below 180 pounds Saturday morning, which he did.
But the fun didn’t stop there. Rifling through the trash that is the WBA rules and regulations, Team Ward struck upon a rule stating that, “A boxer who refuses to attempt to make weight during the two-hour extension shall forfeit 45% of his purse, with 30% going to the promoter and 15% to his opponent.” There were rumblings Saturday that the fight was in jeopardy unless this additional penalty was paid. One might ask why Rodriguez would have bothered trying to make weight on Friday with a deal in place for Saturday. Or ask whether Rodriguez really tried to make weight, perhaps planning to forego $200,000 for the opportunity to ride the crest of a victory over Ward to greater spoils. And did Ward, Oakland, California, really take Rodriguez’ unprofessionalism so personally, or was Rodriguez being raked over the coals for the VADA drama that preceded the fight (where Rodriguez showed Ward up by agreeing to drug testing)? Whatever the answers to those questions, Ward entered the ring with a chip on his shoulder, and beat on Rodriguez like, well, like Rodriguez owed him money.
Knowing his opponent could be rusty, and perhaps doubting his own stamina, Rodriguez, Worcester, Massachusetts, exploded from his corner. He tried to bully Ward, but Ward smothered him like a fire blanket. The first four rounds resembled the type of glorified mercy fight Ward is criticized for: holding and hitting, rabbit punching and wrestling served with a sprinkling of punches for color. Referee Jack Reiss admonished both fighters early, but he was just getting started. In the fourth, a Rodriguez headlock led to a scrum, forced Reiss to get heavy-handed. He docked both fighters two points each, meaning the next point deduction could result in a disqualification. Feeling plucky, Reiss also recommended both fighters be fined for the melee. What comes of Reiss’ sermon remains to be seen, but the threat of not getting paid was enough to make both fighters wary of getting caught again. Which is not to say the rest of the fight was clean—it was not. There was plenty of holding, mugging, rabbit punching and low blows, but even in these ugly moments, Ward’s superiority shone through.
Using lead left hooks and right crosses, crisp combinations and a punishing jab, Ward laid into the overmatched Rodriguez. Fighters become conditioned to anticipate the same combinations they learn to throw. Knowing Rodriguez expected him to throw jab, cross, hook, Ward instead threw jab, cross, jab. As a result, Rodriguez, his gloves protecting his temples, repeatedly took Ward’s jab flush in the face. Conversely, when Rodriguez expected the jab, Ward dealt him a hook. It was an educated, precise assault, and Rodriguez was nearly helpless from the outside, save for a few counter rights to the body. But Ward, as nasty as they come, saved his most malicious work for the trenches.
In close, Ward isn’t looking for a breather, and unlike Bernard Hopkins, he is not there to clown. No, when Ward is in a clinch, he is looking to hurt. Using his feet to take angles, Ward snarls and strikes like a wolverine in a snare. This does not make for a pretty fight, nor does it absolve Ward for the dirty tactics he regularly employs. It does, however, reveal an understanding of craft missing from the fighters he so easily dispatches. Ward dominated Rodriguez, 24-1 (16), wherever he wanted, and by the middle rounds had complete control of the fight. When the twelve rounds of target practice ended, the scores read 118-106, 117-107, and 116-108 for Ward.
It was a dominant performance, one that surely made the suits at HBO squeal with glee. Ward, after all, is one of the flagship fighters for HBO; a fighter so dear to them that Rodriguez, an earnest but glorified tune up, was paid a million dollars. (And so much for HBO’s ban on fighters advised by Al Haymon.) Ward proved yet again that he is the class of the super middleweight division. When asked about potential opponents, Ward, 27-0 (14), said that he would prefer to simply be ready when his name is called. Who might come calling? Perhaps fellow HBO darling Gennady Golovkin, when he gets tired of pursuing Sergio Martinez. But Golovkin, a career middleweight, would struggle mightily against the speed, strength and savvy of Ward. No, if Ward is looking to distinguish himself, if he is looking for a test—which is different from actually finding one—he needs to move to light heavyweight, where punchers like Sergey Kovalev and Adonis Stevenson await. And he needs to start naming names. Because they do not flock to this “Son of God”.