By: Matthew N. Becher
This weekend from the Oracle Arena in downtown Oakland, California, we will witness the return of former lineal super-middleweight champion Andre “SOG” Ward (27-0 14KO) against England’s own Paul Smith (35-5 20KO). It will also be the first professional fight ever broadcasted live on Black Entertainment Television (BET) and streamed live on Tidal.com, by the fledgling Roc-Nation Sports, which is owned by Rapper/Artist/Businessman Sean “JAY-Z” Carter. The Show will also include a music performance by artist Nipsey Hussle and MC’d by radio & television host Sway Calloway.
The Under card will feature two young undefeated fighters who will be given great opportunities to showcase their talents in front of a globally televised and internet streaming audience. Antonio Nieves (12-0 6KO) and Stephon Young (13-0-1 5KO) are both undefeated fighters with highly decorated amateur backgrounds. The young pugilist will have a chance to showcase their talents in a way that many are not given the ability to, so expect both to fight not only to hold onto their undefeated records, but to also gain popularity with a good performance.
The main event will be sanctioned at an agreed upon catch weight of 172lbs. Ward is coming off of a 19 month layoff, where he battled shoulder problems and a very ugly promotional dispute with Dan Goosen. Since that time, Ward has been working as a broadcaster for HBO, and has been stripped of all his titles and the #2 spot on most publications pound for pound lists. Prior to his absence Ward has beaten everyone in the 168lb division from, Kessler to Froch and even earning a TKO victory over then lineal light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson.
Paul Smith is definitely an underdog, but does not come into this fight as lightly as most may think. He is a seasoned professional who has been in the ring with the likes of Arthur Abraham, George Groves and James DeGale. Smith has been an active fighter and will look to expose any possible ring rust that Ward may have accumulated with such a long time out of the ring.
Ward will be looking to get back to work, and climb his way up into the rankings again, hopefully setting up big pay per view fights either in the 168lb division, against Gennady Golovkin, or at light heavyweight against, Sergey Kovalev.
One thing for sure is that it is good to have Andre Ward back fighting. His talent in the sport is second to none, and it would have been a shame if he sat on the shelf any longer then he already has.
Press Conf Quotes:
Andre Ward: Smith is a European champion. He’s got no problem traveling. He doesn’t care if he bleeds. If you knock him down, he’s coming to win, and that’s why we picked him. We didn’t pick him because there was anything soft about him. We picked him because he’s a tough competitor. I’m glad that all of a sudden he started talking like he did last week. I was almost getting offended that he wasn’t saying anything. I’m so used to guys talking a lot. So, he finally started talking and I loved it. It’s not that I needed more motivation, but it’s just a little bit extra.”
“I’m coming back off of two layoffs. During this past camp, I felt a lot better than I have in the past. I did more. My shoulder feels stronger and I think you all are going to see that on Saturday night.”
“Each fighter has their own personal struggles. You can’t predict what those challenges and struggles are going to be and you can’t predict how long they are going to be. I was able to persevere through that. Paul Smith is not just fighting Andre Ward off of an eight week camp, he’s fighting Andre Ward off of everything I just went through. All the frustrations, all the delays, all of those emotions…he’s fighting that guy come Saturday night.”
Paul Smith: “The last big gym session I had was this past Friday. Everything I could have possibly done happened during my training camp. The last week is all about relaxing, resting, getting your energy levels up and your weight down.”
“When [trainer] Joe [Gallagher] gets in [to Oakland], we’ll sit down and he will point out things straight away that we need to work out…what needs pushing, the game plan. Concentrate on the game plan and tactics. We’ll be watching tapes of Ward and dissecting them.”
“It’s great having people in the gym today. Yesterday, we came to King’s Gym to do a work out and it was a bit more quiet. It’s nice having a good atmosphere like this in the gym. Everyone knows there’s a fight this week and it’s great having the kids (from the Boys and Girls Club of Oakland) here.”
Photos: Tom Hogan – Hoganphotos/Roc Nation Sports