If Andre Ward could’ve done anything to make anyone glad he was back after nearly two years in the ring, it would’ve looked an awful lot like Saturday night on BET. Ward beat up an overweight Paul Smith, stopping him in the 9th round after turning him into a bloody mess.
It’s a big “if,” of course. Ward’s extended absence and a fighting style that doesn’t enthuse some fans was enough to make people forget about him, even though he might be the best fighter alive. But Ward was aggressive Saturday, more than doubling Smith’s punch output, and closing the show once he had his man hurt.
Smith was the kind of opponent against whom Ward could display his wares with little risk. Once Smith came in more than four pounds over the agreed-upon 170-pound limit, the only question was whether the extra weight would help him or was the result of laziness. Smith, who once went neck-and-neck with Arthur Abraham, certainly didn’t do very much in the ring. It was like he was waiting for counterpunches, or else he was just controlled by Ward’s sharp-as-fuck jab from round 1.
Smith’s best sequence included a pair of left hands in the 7th, but they only seemed to awake Ward, who opened a cut over Smith’s left eye in the 8th and then battered Smith into spilling blood from his mouth and nose in the 9th, forcing his corner to throw in the towel.
Ward didn’t hold or maul, as he sometimes does, and he was more offensive-minded than defensive-minded. There was no sign of ring rust at all, not that Smith would’ve done much to expose it if he had any. The super middleweight champ looked like he never left. The Oakland crowd, led by Stephen Curry and Colin Kaepernick — 9,000 strong, by the AP’s reporting, no small number — enjoyed the show. If not for the fact that he’s only fought three times starting in 2012, we’d probably still be talking about whether he’s going to take over for Floyd Mayweather as the pound-for-pound king. Instead, we watched him fight on BET opposite a bigger card on NBC.
Ward said he wants to fight two to three times a year. That’s the right idea, but his track record on that count warrants skepticism, even now that he’s settled his long legal struggle to get promoted by Roc Nation Sports. He’s been too fickle. It’s good that he’s back to actually fighting in the ring. Bouts against Gennady Golovkin or Sergey Kovalev would make up for some hard feelings from the fans.
(Andre Ward, left, punches Paul Smith; Alexis Cuarezma, Getty Images)