Nearly two years since his last professional fight, super middleweight champion Andre Ward is in top physical condition and primed for battle.
Ward (27-0, 14 KOs) – Oakland’s native son – weighed in at 171.8 lbs at Friday’s live weigh-in on The Ridge at Plank at Jack London Square in Oakland.
Ward, recognized as the WBA’s super champion, squares off against former world title contender Paul Smith Jr. of Liverpool Saturday night in a 12-round bout contested at a catchweight of 172 lbs. from Oakland’s Oracle Arena.
Smith, however, failed to make weight and came in nearly five pounds (176.4) over the contracted weight limit.
The California State Athletic Commission fined Smith 20 percent ($45,000) of his $225,000 purse, half of which goes to the commission and the other half to Ward.
Both camps were working out details as of Friday night regarding a Saturday morning weight check for Smith as well as how heavier he is allowed to be. Ward will not have his weight checked Saturday.
Ward took time after the weigh-in to thank everybody who attended and acknowledged the Bay Area for having the best fans in the world:
“I told people four to five years ago, they seem to always underestimate the Bay Area, they seem to always underestimate Oakland. The (Golden State) Warriors did their thing (winning the NBA championship) and I’ll do my thing Saturday night.”
While Smith (35-5, 20 KOs) may seem like a relative unknown, he has been in the ring with some notable opposition.
He owns two victories over Tony Dodson (via unanimous decision in 2010 and sixth-round technical knockout in 2013) and a split decision win over Tony Quigley in 2009.
But Smith hasn’t been as successful stepping up in competition recently, suffering back-to-back decision losses to WBO super middleweight champ Arthur Abraham in September 2014 and earlier this February.
He’s also been knocked out twice recently, losing to current IBF super middleweight champ James DeGale in the ninth round in 2010 and getting blown away by George Groves in just two rounds in 2011.
But his underdog status isn’t preventing him from capitalizing on the biggest opportunity of his career so far, as he told media during Tuesday’s open workout at King’s Gym in Oakland:
“I’m in a position where I’m going to fight the best fighter in my division on the planet. I know that more than anyone. No one needs to remind me of that, but I also know I have a chance of beating him. I know that I just have to do what I have to do and stick to the game plan.”
Ward said during the media workout that he respects Smith’s toughness in the ring and refused to acknowledge him as a tune-up throughout training camp.
But he remains intent to look explosive and razzle and dazzle on fight night:
“(My trainer) Virgil (Hunter) has told me this whole camp, ‘There is no game plan for Paul Smith. Let it come to you. You’ve been boxing long enough, when you get in the ring, you’ll know what to do.’ We’ll make adjustments along the way, but there’s no specific game plan for Paul Smith. I think you’re going to see everything come Saturday night. I’m not going to force it and I’m just going to let it flow.”
The bout is Ward’s first in front of his hometown fans since his three-knockdown annihilation of Chad Dawson in September 2012. It is also his first since he dominated Edwin Rodriguez en route to a unanimous decision victory in November 2013.
Ward has remained inactive since then and also dealt with promotional issues outside the ring.
Prior to the Rodriguez bout, Ward attempted to terminate his contract with longtime promoter Dan Goossen, who unexpectedly passed away this past October from liver cancer at age 64.
Ward filed for an arbitration hearing with the California State Athletic Commission, but the commission upheld Goossen’s contract with Ward.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Holly Kendig ultimately dismissed Ward’s case this past August because Ward failed to state “any basis upon which to invalidate the contract.”
Shortly after Goossen’s death, Ward worked out an agreement and split from Goossen Promotions before signing with Roc Nation Sports in January.
Ward hopes to secure more high-profile fights under his new promoter, who he acknowledged as a force to be reckoned with in the fight game:
“I love them because they’re a powerhouse but they’re respectful about the older guards and the promoters that have been around. They’re not coming in being disrespectful … they’re a force to be reckoned with.”