By Kirk Jackson
This upcoming Saturday, June 20th, Andre Ward 27-0 (14 KO’s) makes his return to the ring against Paul Smith 35-5 (20 KO’s) at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, California.
Partnering with Roc Nation Sports, the BET network will broadcast its first ever boxing event and this event will also be streamed on Tidal. Groundbreaking in many ways, the main thing of importance is the actual fight itself.
With no disrespect intended to Paul Smith, who will surely provide his best effort, the main thing people will be observing is the physical condition of Ward.
The scheduled bout will be fought at a catch-weight of 172 lbs., which will be the first time Ward is fighting above 168 lbs. in his professional career.
The first question will be how Ward looks and responds after another long layoff (approximately 19 months). Ward’s last fight was against the undefeated super middleweight contender Edwin Rodriguez.
Prior to the Rodriguez bout, Ward had a 14 month layoff after defeating the lineal light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson.
That’s two fights in roughly 2 ½ years. It’s no secret long stretches of inactivity can be hazardous to a boxer.
Of course there are exceptions to the rule. Ward proved that once before in his career, another prime example is Floyd Mayweather 48-0 (26 KO’s).
Ward now 31 years-old, has already faced a few stretches of long activity and it can be argued his physically prime years may have already been wasted.
A compelling argument can be made however, due to his slick style of fighting and that he has not accumulated the physical damage to his body compared to other fighters his age, the long layoff will not necessarily be too debilitating.
Essentially Ward has a fighting style that will allow him to have sustained success well into his later years ala Bernard Hopkins.
Based on the success or struggles of his bout against Smith, Ward and his team will make the decision to either stay at super middleweight where he is king or move up fully to light heavyweight and test the waters in that division.
He has a few options either way, the most lucrative option could potentially be a showdown with current WBA middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin 33-0 (30 KO’s).
A fight between Ward and Golovkin has been talked about for a little more than a year now, with die hards and now casual fans partaking an increased demand to eventually see this match-up, maybe we’ll get our wish.
One thing is for certain, Ward must first get past Smith. Get the win by any means.
Moving forward, Ward must remain active. He must remain active so he can maintain a high level of relevance, so that an impeding fight with Golovkin or with light heavyweight champions Sergey Kovalev 27-0-1 (24 KO’s) and Adonis Stevenson 26-1 (21 KO’s) can remain in the picture.
Ward is easily the second best fighter pound for pound in the sport after Floyd Mayweather. He has been for the past four years or so.
But many fans, boxing observers may forget that because on the fact we hardly see him in the ring. Which is a shame in itself, because he is truly a phenomenal talent.
He was once heralded as the man to take over boxing once Mayweather retires. Now, not so much.
Ward has the boxing skills, he is an Olympic Gold Medalist, has a great, transcendent, nice guy image/personality, but all of that hasn’t registered huge pay-per-view or mainstream boxing success.
Roc Nation Sports has a lot invested in Ward along with his promotional mate Miguel Cotto. Time for Ward to shine, and take a step towards a resurgence of his boxing career.