Andre Ward returned to the ring on Saturday in Ontario, California, after an absence of 14 months to thrash contender Edwin Rodriguez in what most observers scored a shutout victory.
Ward showed no sign of ring rust as he dealt with the rough-house early tactics of Rodriguez and then took over with his superior speed and accuracy from outside. Rodriguez obviously came into the fight with a game plan of rushing Ward and out-hustling him on the inside. He should know however that Ward is the best inside fighter in the game and will not be bullied, even by a bigger opponent, as Rodriguez clearly was.
Ward is a brilliant fighter but is the victim of his own ability. He has run out of opponents at his own weight, having easily dispatched his closest rival Carl Froch in December 2011. No other realistic challengers have appeared since. This could facilitate a move up to light-heavyweight, where he would have two obvious opponents, WBC champion Adonis Stevenson and WBO champion Sergey Kovalev, both dynamite punchers. One can’t realistically see either of them beating Ward, but what other choice does he have? An answer to that question could come in the form of devastating middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin, who also seems to be struggling for opposition that will give him a worthy challenge. Due to the unblemished record of Golovkin and the fan support that he is amassing, this looks a more interesting match for Ward than the move up to light-heavy. Let’s hope this fight can be made. As for Edwin Rodriguez, he will definitely be moving up to light-heavyweight, not through choice but rather due to nature – he has clearly outgrown super-middleweight. He will be a force in his new division and can sleep safe in the knowledge that he will never have to fight anyone as good as Ward again.
Referee Jack Reiss was the star of the Ontario show for about two minutes in the fourth round, as he laid on the histrionics after almost being caught by a stray punch from Rodriguez whilst desperately trying to prise the protagonists apart. Reiss deducted two points from each fighter and warned he would not hesitate to disqualify either one if the foul tactics continued. He went a bit far by telling them he would recommend to the local commission that they were both fined for their behaviour! It was rather over the top, but in hindsight it worked. The fighters cleaned up their acts from that point on and we ended up with an entertaining fight. In my opinion, Reiss is one of the best referees in the business, but he is in danger of getting above himself, in the manner of Steve Smoger, and needs to tone things down.
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Also on Saturday, in Bulgaria and televised live on BoxNation, Sergey Rabchenko went over old ground by once again outpointing Welshman Bradley Pryce over 12 rounds. The consensus of opinion prior to the fight, where Pryce was a late replacement for injured Frenchman, Cedric Vitu, was that Rabchenko would do a much better job on Bradley than he did in their previous fight, in May 2011, when he won a relatively close decision. As it turned out, the rematch was disappointingly similar to the first fight. Disappointing for Rabchenko, that is. I scored the first fight 116-112 and had this one slightly wider, at 117-111.
The cold, hard truth is that Rabchenko is little improved during the two and a half years between fights. He is no.1 contender with the WBC at light-middleweight and will certainly end up with a title shot in that organisation. The British no.1 in this division is the much-maligned Brian Rose, who is also mandatory contender, but with the WBO, and will fight thir new champion Demetrius Andrade in the new year. Rose receives a lot of criticism for being an undeserving challenger and is, on the whole, disrespected by a lot of boxing fans. However, to put things into perspective, I would take Rose to beat Rabchenko all day long. Sergey comes forward in straight lines and is too one-dimensional. He would be on the end of Brian’s jab and would go down to a close decision defeat.
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My week in boxing was rather special. I was lucky enough two win tickets to attend a Sky Sports special interview with the visiting Larry Holmes. It was a surreal experience for me as Larry was champion when I was growing up. I remember listening to his fight with Gerry Cooney on my little radio under the bedcovers so as not to disturb the rest of my family. During the interview with Sky, Larry was charm personified, the antithesis of the prickly character he used to be, even up to recent times. There was no bad-mouthing from Larry for any of his old rivals and he even had positive things to say about George Foreman! It was very refreshing. There was a moment when Larry went off on a tangent during the interview and started talking about aliens being on earth. However, Adam Smith quickly pulled him back to the subject of boxing. Shame, as I would love to have heard Larry’s theories about alien existence on our planet! This Ringside Special show will be broadcast on Sky in the new year. The day ended on an even more surreal note. After the interview I popped into the Tesco store just adjacent to Sky’s studios. As I was about to leave the store, in walked Larry with his manager. It was unreal seeing this great boxing champion walking down the aisles at Tesco, in Isleworth, and no one taking the slightest notice of him. Bizarre!
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Liverpool heavyweight David Price took part in a press conference on Monday during which it was announced he would henceforth be promoted by the German powerhouse team of Sauerland Event. This has to be a great move for Price, as the Sauerlands are masters of moving fighters safely through the ranks and into title contention. Kudos to Price for taking his time whilst considering his future. He first employed experienced Adam Booth as his new trainer and has now chosen his promotional backers very wisely. One of the first decisions his new team should make is to remove David from his soon to be scheduled mandatory defence of the British title against Dereck Chisora. He has to be brought back carefully and a fight with Chisora is the last thing he needs right now. In any event, from this standpoint, getting David Price to a world title fight would seem to be one of the biggest challenges that Sauerland Event has faced to date.
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We are in the middle of a sad period where several boxers have recently fallen gravely ill following their fights and one, Francisco Leal, tragically lost his life. Subsequent to that, Magomed Abdusalamov, Daniel McKinnon and Jose Carmona have also suffered life-threatening injuries in bouts around the world. None of these boxers are out of the woods yet and I’m sure that they are all in our thoughts as they fight for their very lives. Let’s hope this spate of terrible injuries has come to an end for now.
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Finally, the most anticipated event in British boxing was called off for a second and last time, when David Haye went into hospital for emergency surgery on his left shoulder. It now transpires that David has been advised by his specialist to retire from the sport. It’s such a shame as David looked to have at least one or two more big fights in him. It must be said, however, that many people always doubted that the Fury v Haye fight would ever happen. It shows what little faith people now have in David that a large but vociferous minority always believed that he would never fight Fury, even after the fight was rescheduled following Haye’s cut eye which caused the first cancellation. These people have now been shown to be correct. There are still cynics who suggest that Haye will be back in the ring halfway through next year to take part in the one fight he has really wanted all along, against WBC champion Vitaly Klitschko. I don’t subscribe to this theory but only time will tell if it is a valid one.