Tonight marks the return of former pound-for-pound stalwart Andre Ward (27-0, 14 KOs) who reappears after 18 months on the bench due to injury and promotional issues. “S.O.G” is signed on for a 12 round non-title fight against England’s Paul Smith (who weighed in a whopping 4.4 pounds over the 172 lb contract limit) in his home base of the Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. This return has been a long-time coming for Ward, and people are wondering – can he reclaim his status as a star of the sport or has the wear-and-tear of a long amateur and pro career caught up with his 31-year-old body?
This contest marks the first professional fight ever broadcasted on Black Entertainment Television (BET) which has partnered with Jay-Z / Roc Nation to broadcast to nine live boxing events in the year-and-a-half. BET recently released a statement promising that the new program will “stretch the boundaries of the sport.” Cameras go live at 10 PM EST with the show hosted by Sway Calloway from Sway in the Morning fame. The network picked an interesting bout to start their run to become a player in the sweet science.
Not long ago, Ward was considered by most to be the number three pound-for-pound fighter in the world, rating only behind floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. The undisputed champion of the 168 pound division was a double darling of the sport. As an athletic, well-spoken, gentlemanly type who came off as a likable person, promoters built entire events around his fights and networks lobbied for his services as a commentator during his periods of downtime. The sky was the limit.
Four years can be an eternity in boxing. Now the future is unclear for the Ring Magazine 2011 Fighter of the Year. Just when it looked like the former Olympic Gold Medalist was hitting his peak, he slowly faded away, fighting only twice since winning the Super Six Showtime Tournament that put him on the map.
The general views are that he is easing back into the ring against an average opponent at a catch-weight for a bout that had little promotional backing. Yes, he is the main event on the pioneer network’s inaugural telecast but that can be viewed as a demotion from the bright lights of HBO where Ward attained star status. Then again it could be viewed as a good place to hide a returning fighter. With little fan-fare behind this bout, Ward can dust off the cob webs and prepare for the major fights that the fans have been calling for, in particular a date with Gennady Golovkin.
“I’m coming back off of two layoffs,” Ward said in a recent interview. “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.”
Smith, 32 years old from Liverpool, realizes that this is his big chance. While the Vegas line has him listed in the neighborhood of a 7-to-1 underdog, Smith likes his chances to shock the boxing world.
“This is probably the only opportunity I will get to face such a great boxer,” said Smith. “As always with me, you’re going to get 100%. I’m going to give it every last thing I’ve got.”
That last quote leads one to wonder, was coming in nearly five pounds over-weight a strategic move or is he coming only to collect a pay check? Missing weight in unprofessional but Smith’s camp must have known that there is no way the show would be canceled. The Englishman needs every advantage he can get.
There is a chance for Smith to pull it off. There is also no guarantee that Ward is the same fighter as he returns from a severe shoulder injury. It is possible that the wear-and-tear of a long amateur and professional career may be beginning to take its toll on Ward’s body. It’s a long shot but stranger things have happened. Most experts predict that Ward will beat the boxing trunks off of him.
The bottom line is that a potential super star is back where he belongs, in the ring competing. Many are speculating about impact Ward will have on the sport as he moves forward. It is anyones guess at this point. what are your thoughts?