ONTARIO, Calif. -- Andre Ward’s world title belts were not on the line Saturday, but the pride of Oakland used his bout with Edwin Rodriguez as an opportunity to demonstrate why he reigns atop the super middleweight division with an iron fist.
In front of 4,158 fans at the Citizens Business Bank Arena, Ward (27-0, 14 KOs) outclassed an overweight Rodriguez with a lopsided 12-round unanimous decision. Judge Max DeLuca (118-106), Jerry Cantu (117-107) and Steve Morrow (116-108) all scored the bout for the man pegged by many to be the second-best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.
Ward was coming off 14 months of inactivity caused by a surgically repaired right shoulder, but he showed no effects of the injury in another dominant performance that has become his hallmark in recent years.
“He was holding, hoping to win the lottery and land something big,” Ward said after the fight. “You’re not always going to get a spectacular performance, but a win is a win coming off a 14-month layoff.”
The fight was in jeopardy Friday afternoon when Rodriguez (24-1, 16 KOs) failed to meet the 168-pound limit. To salvage the bout, the Worcester, Mass., native was forced to tip the scales no higher than 180 pounds the following morning. He also sacrificed 20 percent of his career-high $1 million purse; $100,000 went to Ward and $100,000 to the California State Athletic Commission. Ward made $1.9 million on his base purse.
“He didn’t even try to make the weight,” Ward said. “I was in there with a bigger man. He was talking a lot before the fight. I used all the talk as motivation. It wasn’t personal. I just went that extra mile, sparred that extra round.”
In addition, Ward’s WBA and Ring Magazine belts became off-limits to Rodriguez, who was supposed to be making his first world title challenge.
Despite the weight issue, Rodriguez hoped to make the most of his first marquee matchup, rushing Ward from the opening bell trying to land a massive overhand right to set the tone. But Ward neutralized his foe’s aggression, both with a stiff left jab in the center of the ring as well as a counter left hook as they went to war on the inside.
One such rough exchange in the fourth round led to referee Jack Reiss eating a couple punches from both men as he tried to break up a clinch. A furious Reiss would deduct two points each from Ward and Rodriguez.
“At the end of the day boxing is already a tough business. I watched (Rodriguez’s) films … and he does that repeatedly,” Ward said of the rough tactics. “… Jack Reiss did a tremendous job keeping the action where it needed to be.”
However, while producing a game effort, Rodriguez could not help his own cause by putting a dent in the scorecards; he was getting outworked by a more precise puncher. In the sixth round, Ward began to focus on his opponent’s midsection with punishing left hooks to the body whenever Rodriguez dared to come within striking distance.
“Andre Ward’s a good fighter, a very smart fighter,” Rodriguez said. “But I don’t think he’s unbeatable. He’s got a really good jab and he knows how to use it. I think the jab created a lot of problems.”
The seventh was marked by Ward punishing Rodriguez with a left jab and overhand right that generated gasps from the crowd. The East Bay star punctuated the frame with a left hook that collided with Rodriguez’s ribcage on impact.
Ward seemed to take the eighth round off but still flustered Rodriguez with lateral movement and a left jab that became increasingly accurate as the heavier fighter began to tire.
Rodriguez, to his credit, refused to fold and continued to press forward. Unfortunately for him, his assaults were ineffective and Ward kept him at bay. In the 10th, Ward dazed his rival with a left hook on the jaw as the two combatants traded that almost spun Rodriguez around. After the fight, Rodriguez dismissed the notion that Ward hurt him.
“There were a lot of times where we clinched and he hit me behind the head,” Rodriguez said. “He had OK power, but nothing I haven’t seen before.”
Though Rodriguez showed signs of life in a close 11th round by stepping inside and finding a home for a couple of left hooks to the body, Ward coasted to the finish line and punctuated the victory with a pinpoint left jab that left the Southern California spectators awestruck one last time.
As for Ward’s next opponent, a move north to the 175-pound light heavyweight division could be in the cards, but the current king of the super middleweights would not reveal his plans just yet.
“I’m going to go back and talk to my team,” Ward said. “I just want to beat the next guy they call when his name is called.”
A pair of power punchers -- light heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson of Canada and Kazakhstan-based middleweight titleholder Gennady Golovkin -- have come to the forefront as potential Ward opponents. Dan Goossen, Ward’s promoter, offered a timetable for his fighter’s return.
“I’d like to see Andre come back in three or four months,” Goossen said. “One thing I’d like to see is Andre sell out Las Vegas.”
GONZALES OUTDUELS NELSON, HIRSCH UPSETS LIVINGSTON
On the undercard, Sacramento super middleweight Brandon Gonzales (18-0-1, 10 KOs) remained true to his moniker “Flawless” by capturing a 10-round unanimous decision over previously unbeaten Jonathan Nelson (19-1, 9 KOs) of Little Rock, Ark. Scores were 98-92 twice and 98-91 for Gonzales.
Gonzales was coming off a questionable draw with Thomas Oosthuizen in June that most observers thought had swung the NorCal fighter’s way. This time, there were be no doubt on the scorecards, as Gonzales overcame Nelson’s constant holding to outwork him on the inside with the shorter, more effective shots.
In other action, Oakland junior middleweight Tony Hirsch (15-5-2, 6 KOs) defeated Palmdale’s DonYil Livingston (8-4-1, 4 KOs), the cousin of Andre Ward, via majority decision. A 57-57 verdict was overruled by twin 59-55 scores for Hirsch.