Andre Ward returns to the ring this weekend after a 19 month lay off and faces Liverpudlian Paul Smith at a catch-weight limit of 172Ibs. A regular in the pound for pound list, the Olympic gold medallist is looking to make a statement on his return having last fought in November 2013 in a unanimous points victory over Edwin Rodriguez.
The WBA Super 168Ib champion made the decision to contract the fight at 172Ibs making the bout 4Ibs over the regular super-middleweight limit. This clause makes the bout even more difficult for Paul Smith who spent the beginning of his career fighting at 160Ibs before moving up in weight.
Andre Ward has an unblemished record with 27(14)-0-0, the only knock-down of his career came in his 7th fight but since then the 31 year old has mastered his defence and conquered the elite in his division with wins over Mikkel Kessler, Arthur Abraham, Sakio Bika and Carl Froch. The American is a fantastic technician who is punch perfect and uses his quick footwork and ring intelligence to avoid taking any punishment.
Critics have at times labelled the two time world champion as a fighter who clinches and doesn't engage enough but Ward showcased how good his work is on the inside with his dominant performance over Chad Dawson in 2012 becoming the first fighter to stop 'Bad Chad'.
A contract dispute with former promoter Dan Goossen who sadly past away last year has been part of the reason why Ward hasn't fought in so long but long time trainer Virgil Hunter suggested his fighter is extremely avoided which is why Ward has been inactive.
Earlier this year the undefeated WBA Super champion signed a promotional deal with Jay-Z's Rocnation and is fighting this Saturday at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, California and whilst many believe Ward will east past Paul Smith, the two time world title challenger has other ideas.
Paul Smith has recently lost out twice to WBO king Arthur Abraham, both gallant efforts from the Liverpool man who appears to be experiencing an Indian summer in his career agreeing to take on one of the worlds best in Andre Ward.
Smith is a former British Super Middleweight champion, a come forward style, the 32 year old carries explosive power. The experience gained from the Abraham defeats would have been vital in preparations for this bout under trainer Joe Gallagher who is arguably the best boxing coach in the UK. Paul Smith has fought James DeGale and George Groves losing to both of them but has re-established himself going on a four fight winning streak before challenging for the WBO title twice. Arthur Abraham was unable to stop smith in both encounters and the heart and toughness of the Englishman could spring a surprise this weekend.
The Skill vs The Will
The ring rust of Andre Ward could be a huge factor for a possible upset but with the contracted weight stipulation you feel that the ball is well and truly in the Americans corner. The chance to showcase his skills and make a statement is one that should be met with caution, if the Olympic Gold Medallist assumes he will be able to tee off on his opponent its very possible there may be a momentary lapse of concentration.
The undefeated fighter has expressed his desire to get a knock-out but with a 19 month lay off and Smith being the fresher boxer fighting at elite level in his last two fights it may be difficult for the champion to find his range in the early stages. The Californian last tasted the canvas in 2005, could we witness this again on Saturday? one things for sure if Andre Ward is beatable Paul Smith is facing him at the best possible time.