By Alix Joseph [Twitter: @AJKnowzBoxing]
Andre Ward was last night coming off an eighteen month layoff, which some boxing enthusiasts considered his unofficial retirement. The Oakland native made a triumphant return to the ring against British brawler Paul Smith, in quite emphatic style.
The 2004 Olympic gold medalist didn’t disappoint in his return in front of a hometown audience; Ward cruised to a ninth round technical knock out after leaving his opponent bloodied and beaten, with Smith only saved by the mercy of his trainer, who threw in the towel mid-round.
Despite promoter Eddie Hearn’s claims that Ward couldn’t even sellout his own living room, the Oracle Arena was packed out and lively to witness the return of the ‘Son of God’. Being that the fight was taking place five days after the Golden State Warriors won the 2015 NBA Championship, the Bay Area seemed eager to support another hometown champion in Ward. Stars ranging from NBA MVP Stephen Curry,49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, to fellow Roc Nation fighter and WBC middleweight champion Miguel Cotto were in attendance.
This card was the first of a nine-show deal between Roc Nation Sports and BET, the channel which aired the fight.
Although Ward’s return was successful, naysayers and skeptics would argue Paul Smith made it much easier for him, by coming into the fight in terrible shape, missing the 172 pound catchweight by more than four pounds at Friday’s weight in. The former British champion came in even heavier during the rehydration check the morning of the fight. For his weighty negligence, Smith was fined $40,000, but Ward wasn’t deterred and went through with the fight despite the weight issue.
The reigning WBA super middleweight king didn’t show a hint of ring rust .The first few rounds were the display of skill true boxing fans were waiting to see. All night Smith was barely able to land a clean punch on the champion, being picked apart by the unbeaten Ward and eventually developing a cut over his left eye, that left his entire face bloodied.
After all but giving away the first half of the fight, Smith was able to score with a big right hand on Ward in the seventh round.
The shot caught the attention of Ward and the crowd, but Smith couldn’t follow it up and Ward quickly got back into his groove to dismantle the slugger. Soon after, Smith realized his last hope of a punch couldn’t phase his more skilled foe and his own cut began to get worse. The gash on Smith began to gush to the point of warranting attention from the ringside physician prior to the start of the eighth round.
Ward continued to land shots on Smith’s wound. The beating continued through round nine until it was decided that Smith was beyond the point of saving or even offering a competitive performance. The official time of the stoppage came at 1:46 of round nine.