In his first fight after a 19 month layoff, Andre Ward (27-0, 14 KOs) defeated Englishman, Paul Smith (35-5, 20 KOs), by a 9th round TKO. The WBA Super Middleweight champion’s first effort to reclaim not only his standing in the fight game, but his marketability as well could be described as a qualified success. “Qualified” because Smith was so clearly out of his league and could charitably be considered “not in the best shape.”
Fighting in a non-title bout at a catch weight of 172—which Smith missed by going over by 4.4 lbs. (a near epidemic in the sport right now)–Ward showcased many of the skills and adaptability that allowed him to win a gold medal in Athens, storm the Super 6 tournament, and take him near the top of the “pound for pound” rankings–albeit against an inferior opponent.
Onto the rounds…
Round One: Ward content to work the jab early. Rarely throwing much else. It looks like SOG could win the fight with that punch alone. There is real snap on it. Smith looks soft and slow. The extra weight does not look to be an advantage for the Brit.
Round Two: Ward moving forward now. Letting his right hand go more often than in the first. Ward lands a chopping right to the top of Smith’s head. To say Smith is not doing a lot is an understatement. Good uppercut by Ward. Ward lands a sharp right-left combo to Smith’s face. A face that is taking on a reddish hue already.
Round Three: Ward looking to pick up the pace. He appears to realize he can do most anything he wants against Smith. I’m a little surprised he isn’t going to Smith’s soft middle more, but then again the shots to the head can’t miss.
Round Four: Entering the round, Ward has landed 72 punches to Smith’s 10. It feels worse than that. Ward finally goes to the body with a sharp right to the side. Smith lands a left hand and Ward laughs. Not the “I’m hurt and I’m smiling it off” kind of laugh either. More like a “good for you!” kind of thing.
Round Five: Thudding straight right by Ward. You wonder if Smith is getting tired of this. Ward now finding the body more. This is target practice. It’s surprising when Ward misses. Smith lands a head butt at the end of the round. It’s easily his best moment of the fight.
Round Six: This is a supremely professional performance by Ward. That being said, you’d like to see him step on the gas and get Smith out of there. Smith has been TKO’d twice (Groves and DeGale). It’s there for Ward if he wants it. Ward’s jab seems to be attached to Smith’s head by a string and Ward can snap it whenever he wants. Smith looks very worn at the end of the round.
Round Seven: Every round since a fairly quiet first is almost exactly the same. Smith lands a decent right and Ward swallows it and returns to form. Call it a clinic, a mismatch, whatever. It’s all of that and more. Smith lands a solid left. This has been his best round by far. Not that it means much.
Round Eight: Smith has a cut over his left eye. His face is so red you can barely tell blood from skin. It’s worth mentioning that Smith has never looked out on his feet. He is getting hammered though. Excellent left uppercut by Ward backs Smith up. Sharp combo by Ward pushes Smith against the ropes. Some jawing at the end of the round between the fighters. For Smith, that may qualify as resistance.
Round Nine: Ward hurts Smith with a right to head. Smith is backing up constantly and is now bleeding from almost everywhere above the neck. Smith’s corner does him the favor of throwing in the towel.
Paul Smith was set up as the classic “opponent”—a distinction as generic as his name–for a top level fighter looking to knock off the ring rust and he played that role with aplomb. Nearly every time Smith has stepped up in competition (DeGale, Groves, Abraham X2), he has lost. That did not change tonight.
Therefore, it wasn’t just important to the Ward camp to win tonight, they needed their charge to look good doing it. While he certainly did, it’s still somewhat difficult to judge where Ward is. He looked to be in great shape, his hands were fast, and his tactics superior. Smith Never stood even the slightest of chances.
Ward’s protracted contract dispute with Dan Goosen put him on the shelf during what should have been the prime of his career. It’s hard to imagine how much money Ward has lost by sidelining himself. It took the death of Goosen and a settlement with his family to get the “SOG” back in the ring. Now fighting under the fledgling promotion of Jay-Z’s Roc Nation, the 31 year-old fighter has a narrower window to recover his standing and set himself up for big money fights. That journey got off to a solid start tonight, but Ward will want to test himself against better competition before getting in the ring with Golovkin or taking a rematch with Froch.