November 18, 2013

Andre Ward bests Edwin Rodriguez after weigh-in bombshell drops

Disaster for La Bomba on the scale 
ONTARIO, CA - The drama began the day before I took my seat next to RING magazine Editor Michael Rosenthal on pressrow Saturday night at the Citizens Business Bank Arena. Andre Ward, in his first fight in over a year, was supposed to defend his WBA super middleweight title against the dangerous and unbeaten Edwin "La Bomba" Rodriguez.

He was supposed to anyway.

Rodriguez tipped the scales at 170 pounds, two pounds over the division limit, and his inability to make weight cost him a cool $200,000 - a cash settlement that was shared evenly by the California State Athletic Commission and Ward, who did weigh in under the limit at 167.8 pounds.

Rodriguez, along with the hefty penalty, also forfeited the right to contest for the world title and his promoter Lou DiBella could not contain his disappointment: "I truly believe in him as a fighter and that he had a chance to do something great. Now he's in a situation where he can't win the belt, and he's been docked money his family desperately needed and I have a hard time believing he will be at his best. I have empathy if he simply couldn't make the weight but that doesn't change the annoyance or disappointment or stop me from saying I'm sorry on behalf of his team to Ward, Ward's team, HBO and to the fans."

It came as a shock to many, including myself, but maybe it shouldn't have. His last outing, an impressive first round knockout of the highly touted Denis Grachev, was contested at a catchweight of 171.5 pounds and was perhaps a tell tale sign of things to come. In many cases, a fighter will simply grow out of a division and having made his debut at 162 pounds over five years ago, maybe he can be forgiven. Or maybe not. It was unprofessional, borderline disrespectful, however out of character it may have seemed for him. After weighing in at 179.8 pounds at 9AM on Saturday morning, a fraction under the 180 pound limit that was agreed upon earlier, the Pride of Worcester, MA was cleared to fight.

Ward dismantles La Bomba
After that, it was all Andre Ward. The current WBA and RING magazine champion displayed all of the ring intellect and athleticism that we've become accustomed to in recent years. It was a boxing clinic, a master class perhaps. The frustration that Rodriguez caused upon the scale far outweighed the trouble he was able to create inside the ring. He was outmatched from the opening bell and had no answer for Ward, who did not display much evidence of a 14-month layoff due to a shoulder injury that had required surgery. It wasn't always the prettiest, due to clenching and mild wrestling at times, but there was a beauty within the ugliness that's to be admired. “He didn't really come to win,” said Ward to HBO's Max Kellerman “He came here to get lucky. He wanted to hold and make it ugly and hope that he could catch me with something big. You gotta learn how to fight those guys. It's not always going to be spectacular. But a win is a win."

Ward was being modest.

Rodriguez showed intent in the first round and launched an immediate attack upon Ward as the opening bell sounded. It looked, for a moment at least, that the size and willingness of Rodriguez could make things interesting. It was short lived. Ward punctuated the round with a shot that drew a reaction from the crowd and he took control of the fight from that point. The second round saw Ward establish the jab and he snapped the head of Rodriguez back at will over the course of the fight. As Ward found a rhythm, he began to land big left hooks as he varied his attack behind an educated, snapping jab that Rodriguez found unavoidable. Ward was beginning to show why he is a pound-for-pound #1 in the making.

Reiss sorts out the strange situation
Things took a turn for the bizarre in the fourth. As the action heated up, with Rodriguez sensing the already widening gap between the two, a fight broke out within the boxing match. Following some inside fighting, and clenching along the ropes, veteran referee Jack Reiss stepped in to separate the pair and took a shot for his troubles, as both fighters exchanged punches on the break. Having summoned both combatants to a neutral corner, Reiss composed himself, and then deducted two points from each of them. I had never seen anything like it before, and quite frankly pressrow was rather puzzled. Reiss later told me, "It was the first time I have ever had to do that, but it sorted them out."

Rodriguez's chin stood up to Ward's left hook
Ward, 27-0, 14 KO's, was coasting as we entered the second half of the fight and behind an excellent jab, would fend off the occasional attack from Rodriguez with a wry smile. In round ten, as Rodriguez came to life a little, and appeared to have some success, he was stunned by a huge left hook that had the crowd on their feet. Ward punctuated the round by backing his bigger opponent against the ropes. The next round was better for Rodriguez, I don't recall seeing the kitchen sink at all, but I scored round eleven in his favor. The twelfth and final round saw Ward land more of the big left hooks that had been kind to him all night. A cut was opened up above the left eye of Rodriguez, seemingly by a right hand during the round, but it was the left hand of Ward, either his efficient jab or accurate hook, that caused the most significant blows throughout the fight. "I'm going to get better," said Ward of his performance "This was after 14 months off. I'm going to get right back into the gym and get right back at it."

The result was beyond doubt as the final bell tolled and all three judges scored the bout in favor of Ward.
The official scores were 118-106, 117-107 and 116-108. I scored the contest 117-108 for KO Digest.

Rodriguez, now 24-1, 16 KO's, was not short of 'fight' throughout the evening, but he did appear short of ideas as the creativity of Ward shone through. La Bomba was lobbing bombs with bad intentions but a lot of desire must have escaped on the scales, along with the opportunity to become a true World Champion. It wouldn't have mattered anyway.

Rodriguez is good but Ward is great. The Son of God's ability to hit, and not be hit whilst dictating the pace of the contest is something to marvel at. It is a pity that a small crowd of only 4,000 or so spectators were in attendance to witness it.

KO Digest Ringside Report by Terry Strawson