Andre Ward brutalizes Paul Smith in nine. Is 175 pounds next?
Reigning WBA super middleweight titleholder Andre Ward has returned after a 19-month layoff and if future opponents were hoping for signs of decline then they were given a reality check by way of a punch-perfect ninth-round-stoppage of Paul Smith in Oakland, California, on Saturday.
Ward and Smith had agreed to a catchweight of 172 pounds although the latter missed the target by a mile, coming in way over at 176.6. In this case, however, size did not matter as Ward, who weighed 171.8 pounds, battered the British contender throughout the non-title attraction, forcing his corner to throw in the towel.
The official time was 1:46.
“It took some time to get the rust out,” Ward said when interviewed on BET TV after the bout. “I have a great coach (Virgil Hunter) and he told me, ‘Take your time and the knockout will come.’ I could see his legs getting a little wobbly.”
Ward reddened Smith’s face and body in the opening seconds with a rapier left jab and the pattern was established. The savvy American stylist dictated terms from the outside and the visitor, who was reticent to let his hands go, could only stand and watch.
As the rounds passed Ward began to add layers to his performance. A nifty right uppercut worked brilliantly, as did a sharp right hook to the body. The most effective signature move, however, was a blurring burst of straight lefts and rights, which continually pierced Smith’s exaggeratedly high guard and caused extensive facial damage.
One right hand did tag Ward in the seventh but it barely registered and normal service resumed.
By the ninth the fight seemed to have been sucked out of Smith and there was nothing coming back. His face was a mask of blood, due to eye cuts, and Ward was landing those straight shots with alarming regularity. All things considered, trainer Joe Gallagher made a wise decision to raise the white flag.
The fact that Ward (28-0, 15 knockouts) requested a catchweight bout with Smith suggests that he may be targeting the top names at 175 pounds. If that is the case then fans can look forward to potential clashes with the likes of Sergey Kovalev and Adonis Stevenson, which can only be good for the sport.
As for Smith, the former British champion was competitive in two losing efforts to WBO titleholder Arthur Abraham and a there is certainly no disgrace in losing to an elite performer like Ward. Still, there wasn’t much in the way of ambition from the affable 32-year-old and it is unlikely that he will secure another big fight following a third consecutive loss.
Tom Gray is a member of the British Boxing Writers’ Association and has contributed to various publications. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing