By Derek Bonnett. - Andre Ward successfully returned to the ring after a fourteen month layoff at Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario, California. The build-up to Ward’s sixth title defense was minimal, mostly due to the lack of excitement generated by his challenger Edwin Rodriguez. The fight did not truly become a boxing event until Rodriguez failed to make weight for his first title bout, making it impossible for him to win the title and costing him two hundred thousand dollars. This generated more fight talk than the actual head to head match-up. When all was said and done the two talking points which will seemingly endure longest are Rodriguez’ failure to make weight and referee Jack Reiss’ penalty parade during round four of the HBO broadcast main event.
The bout’s action began with mostly mauling tactics as Rodriguez charged out of his corner. The contender never landed cleanly or with great impact in the opening seconds, but he confirmed the opinion of many that he was looking to surprise a possibly rusty champion with a fast start as we saw in his career best win over Denis Grachev. The drama last perhaps a minute as Ward established much of the momentum for the next eleven round. The champion landed well with some stiff jabs and an occasional left hook on the aggressive, but ineffective, Rodriguez. Ward continued with greater accuracy in the second round, particularly on the inside where Rodriguez attempted to keep the fight. Ward’s advantage in speed was illustrated in Technicolor as the Dominican fighter was too slow to counter much of anything Ward produced or to even try to for that matter.
Ward began the third frame with a series of stiff jabs, keeping Rodriguez unsettled. The left hook of the champion began to take permanent residence on the side of Rodriguez’ face. The highly rated contender was visible rocked with the same punch later in the round. Near the round’s conclusion, Ward began a successful campaign to the body of the would-be challenger. After repeated warnings for holding and mauling tactics, referee, Jack Reiss caught an elbow from Rodriguez during an attempt to separate the two super middleweights. The action was halted for a considerable amount of time while Reiss collected his senses, deducted two points for un-sportsman-like conduct, and recommended fines to both fighters to the ringside commission. Reiss’ acts perhaps saved fans from a foul-fest or disqualification scenario. They certainly will hang in the minds of fans longer than just about any drama produced inside of the ropes. If nothing else, fans got to see what an 8-7 round looked like.
Rodriguez’ lack of speed was more apparent against the fluidity and athleticism of Ward and the contender failed to produce double-digit punch-stats in many rounds to follow. Ward’s body attack continued with success in the fifth round and seemed to sap a lot of strength from Rodriguez. The Dominican contender landed a good left hook midway through the round, but his attack was stifled by Ward’s ram-rod jab, which snapped his head back. Rodriguez put in his best work to the body in this round as well, which was the most competitive of the fight, but still one clearly won by the champion. Ward’s inability to miss with the left hook cemented this victory and was put to great use in the sixth round as he incorporated it into three punch combos to the body and head.
Ward dominated the last half of the fight in similar fashion. The seventh was highlighted by a three punch combo to the body. Rodriguez looked exhausted in the eighth and began fighting without any attention to his unprotected chin as he was blinded by Ward’s speed. The ninth round could have been any number of the previous rounds on replay. Without evidence of any legitimate opportunity for a Rodriguez win, the HBO crew and myself turned our attention to Rodriguez’ durability to find a positive with his performance. Ward never surrendered control, but Rodriguez did try harder in spots. He upped his punch output in round ten, but that left him open to the best punch of the night: a left hook which turned Rodriguez’ head far enough for him to bite his own ear. Yet, he took with only a moderate wobble or loss of balance. Rodriguez attacked the body in the eleventh producing a greater effort, but still fell victim to the same result as previous rounds due to Ward’s accuracy with the jab and left hook. Ward rocked Rodriguez along the ropes early in the twelfth with a right hook. A clash of heads opened a late cut over the left eye of Rodriguez. With the verdict a foregone conclusion, Rodriguez ate a few more jabs and left hooks over the final minutes to conclude a dominant win for the champion.
The three judges scored the bout in favor of the champion 118-106, 117-107, and 116-108. SecondsOut scored the bout 118-106 as well. Ward returned to the second spot in the Pound for Pound rankings after over a year if inactivity. He reclaimed the top spot among SecondsOut’s top super middleweights and added title defense number six. Ward’s dossier improved to 27-0 (14). Six of his last seven opponents have been SecondsOut ranked top ten contenders. Rodriguez tasted defeat for the first time in falling to 24-1 (16).
All talk of weight aside, even Edwin Rodriguez at his best could not have done much to improve upon his performance and will likely move up to light heavyweight full-time according to his trainer Ronnie Shields. Ward was non-committal to naming an opponent, but a light heavyweight venture or a match with middleweight titlist Gennady Golovkin stir the imagination of fans most.