World champion Andre Ward has made a triumphant return after a 14-month layoff, downing Dominican challenger Edwin Rodriguez by unanimous decision in a showdown of unbeaten super middleweight boxers.
Judges awarded Ward the victory by scores of 118-106, 117-107, 116-108, boosting the US fighter’s record to 27-0 while Rodriguez fell to 24-1.
Saturday night’s fight in Los Angeles was the first for Ward in 14 months, the longest break of his career after right shoulder surgery in January.
Ward had already been assured of keeping his World Boxing Association crown because Rodriguez failed to make weight, tipping the scales Friday at 170 pounds, two pounds over the weight division limit.
For failing to make weight, Rodriguez was fined $US200,000, half of that going to Ward to boost his total take from the bout to $US2 million and half to California’s boxing commission, leaving Rodriguez with $US800,000.
“In my first world championship fight, there’s no way I wouldn’t make weight. I’m a professional,” Ward said.
“He didn’t even try to make weight. He didn’t come to win. He came to get lucky and hold and find a way to win.
“Against a fighter like that, it’s not always going to be a spectacular performance, but it’s nice to be back after 14 months and it was a great performance.”
Rodriguez tried in vain to assert himself in the first round and Ward took command in the second and third with strong jabs and body blows.
Referee Jack Reiss stopped the fight early in the fourth round and warned both fighters about questionable moves, saying Rodriguez was instigating much of the trouble.
Reiss took two points from each man for unsportsmanlike conduct and asked each be fined.
“Jack set us straight right away,” Ward said. “Boxing is a tough enough business not to have to put up with illegal blows. I don’t mind if it’s accidental, but I don’t like when it’s intentional illegal blows. Jack put it right.”
Ward pounded the Dominican with left hooks and hard rights to the head in the sixth round and continued to fire punches before Rodriguez and thwart any counterattacks.
“He wants to win the lottery,” Ward said. “Even when he’s hurt he is still looking for that one punch so you have to be smart about it.”
Left hooks by Ward stung Rodriguez in the 10th and 12th rounds and Rodriguez suffered a cut over his left eye on an accidental head butt with 83 seconds remaining in the last round, but he was able to stay with the champion to the bell.