Unbeaten champion out to make his fifth WBA title defence-in-a-row.
Unbeaten Andre Ward returns to the ring for the first time in 14 months on Saturday, putting his World Boxing Association super middleweight “super” title on the line against Edwin Rodriguez.
Ward will be making the fifth defence of the title he won from Denmark’s Mikkel Kessler in November of 2009.
But the Californian hasn’t fought since a 10th-round technical knockout of Chad Dawson on September 8, 2012.
Since then he has undergone surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff — an injury he now says has troubled him since his teens.
“It was an injury I had probably 16, 17 years ago,” he said. “The diagnosis then was that I was too young to have surgery, that I just needed to keep the muscles strong around it and it would be OK.”
After his victory over Dawson, Ward was training for a scheduled fight with Kelly Pavlik when he “felt a twinge” in his shoulder.
After a month of treatment, he had an MRI exam and doctors recommended surgery that scuppered the bout with the now-retired Pavlik.
The 29-year-old, an Olympic gold medallist in 2004, says he’s looking forward to fighting with a healthy right shoulder and improving on his professional record of 26-0 with 14 knockouts.
“I thought I was hungry before the injury, but I’m famished right now,” Ward said. “I’m ready to get at it.”
Ward will be facing another unbeaten fighter in the 24-0 Rodriguez, who is coming off an explosive first-round technical knockout of Denis Grachev in Monte Carlo in July.
“I’ve watched Edwin,” Ward said. “I know his strengths and weaknesses. I’ve prepared to win this fight and dominate this fight.”
Rodriguez, a 28-year-old from the Dominican Republic who lives in Massachusetts, has an impressive 16 wins inside the distance. He says he won’t be counting on Ward to display any ring rust.
“I’m getting ready for the best Andre Ward out there,” he said, but added he believes he has “the tools” to take down the champion “regardless if he’s 100 percent or not”.
The fight will be at the Citizen’s Bank Arena in Ontario, California, 50 miles (80 kilometers) east of Los Angeles.
The venue keeps Ward in his home state of California, but it’s far from the bright lights of Las Vegas or Atlantic City.
If he does the job against Rodriguez, Ward could find himself in a bigger spotlight.
He is already on the radar of Britain’s Carl Froch, the International Boxing Federation and WBA super-middleweight “regular” world champion who defends his titles against George Groves in Manchester on November 23.
Ward is one of just two fighters to have beaten Froch, in a dominant display in Atlantic City in 2011, and the Briton is keen on a rematch.