Edwin Rodriguez will need to brawl to beat Andre Ward

LONDON (Nov 14) – If Floyd Mayweather Jnr is a unanimous pick as the sport’s premier pound-for-pound talent, Andre Ward is the strongest candidate to emerge as his heir apparent.

The Oakland super-middle – USA’s last Olympic champion after striking gold at light-heavy at the 2004 Athens Games – carved a formidable rep by scalping the likes of Mikkel Kessler, Sakio Bika, Arthur Abraham and Carl Froch en route to winning Showtime’s prestigious Super Six tourney in 2011.

The self proclaimed ‘Son Of God’ further advanced his standing by systematically dismantling reigning WBC light-heavy boss Chad Dawson inside ten rounds in a 12stone defence last September.

However, surgery to repair the rotary cuff on his right shoulder has rendered the 29 year old dormant for the past 14 months so he’ll no doubt be eager to remind the trade of his formidable talent when he defends his WBA Super title at The Citizen’s Business Bank Arena, Ontario, in his home state of California this Saturday evening.

He’s likely to receive a stiff examination from challenger Edwin Rodriguez, a Dominican born, Massachusetts based banger who’s unbeaten in 24 and fresh off an explosive one round mauling of respected Russian Denis Grachev.

A former US amateur star who’s managed by the formidable Al Haymon, ‘La Bomba’ has 16 stoppage wins on his slate and, at 28, is surely close to his physical prime. This is no ‘gimme’ for Ward.

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To preview the big fight, boxing writer Glynn Evans spoke to red hot and undefeated Enfield super-middle star Frank Buglioni, who fights on the big Copper Box Arena show on Saturday 30th November and here is his assessment:

“It’s always a privilege to watch Andre Ward box. He’s one of the masters. For me, he’s number two in the world, pound for pound, behind only Floyd Mayweather.

He’s not stayed unbeaten since the age of 12 without good reason. I didn’t watch it at the time but I’ve since seen footage of when he won gold at the (Athens) Olympics on You Tube. Back then, Andre was only really a middleweight yet was boxing up at light-heavy which gives you an indication of just how talented he is.

As a pro, I really started to take note of Ward once he became involved in Showtime’s Super Six tournament, when he defeated the likes of Mikkel Kessler and Carl Froch pretty effortlessly. I’ve become a big fan of his.

You’ve got to be a purist to really appreciate him. Though I’m associated with being a puncher myself I can appreciate all styles. Andre’s an expert at tying opponents up and always appears intent on taking the least amount of punches possible so not everyone would find him exciting to watch. But he’s so sharp and skilful plus he’s a master tactician. I like the way he kids his way in, then does his business.

I think we saw the full extent of Ward’s talent in his last fight when he stopped (then reigning WBC light-heavy champion) Chad Dawson in ten rounds. That was a master class in how to beat a southpaw; right hands to the body, left hooks up top.

For me, he’s comfortably the best fighter in the super-middle or light-heavy divisions at present. Him against (WBC champion) Adonis Stevenson at 175lbs would be interesting and, in time, I’d also like to see (WBA middleweight boss) Gennady Golovkin move up to super-middle to challenge him. Those fights would hold a bit of intrigue.

I can’t really detect any obvious failings in Ward. I suppose his power isn’t quite up to the level of his skills, tactics and movement and he usually takes five or six rounds for his game plan to really kick in and pay dividends.

Some critics might say Ward’s not the most entertaining but I think they just want to see him get hit more. Fight after fight, he wins without taking any punishment. He’s not in the habit of altering his tactics to make a statement. He’s solely focussed on winning the fight and winning it as comfortably as possible.

Away from the ring, Andre seems a very humble and spiritual guy. He’s doesn’t yet have the popularity that his talent merits back home in the US because he refuses to trash talk and run his mouth. That should be applauded. Still, you can’t please all the fans, all the time.

Rodriguez was also a very good amateur without quite getting to the level that Ward attained. He won a couple of US amateur titles and I believe he got stopped by Ireland’s Darren Sutherland on that 15 point outscored ruling at the (2005) World Amateur Championships in China.

I actually saw ‘La Bomba’ fight live in Monaco about eight months back. Afterwards, I congratulated him on his win and he told me that he really hated James DeGale and wanted an opportunity to knock him out. Apparently, they’d had some rivalry from the amateurs though I’m not sure if they ever boxed each other.

That night in Monaco, Edwin struggled and was taken the distance by some rangy Argentine (19-0 Ezequiel Osvaldo Maderna) who went ‘back foot’. That doesn’t augur well for his chances against Ward who’s several leagues above that Argie.

I also saw his recent first round kayo of Denis Grachev on the box. That was very impressive. Clearly Edwin’s very powerful and dangerous when he lands. He’s come through some really tough times. I understand one of his children was once on a critical way. Hats off to Edwin, he was very courageous. That shows he’s probably got the strength of mind to grit his teeth and battle his way through hard rounds.

Though he was a good amateur, Rodriguez seems pretty limited technically – he certainly doesn’t have the skill set that Ward has. He can also be a bit wild and over eager which doesn’t bode well against a precise counter puncher like Ward. Both are still undefeated but, when you analyze the fighters they’ve faced, Edwin’s opposition is leagues beneath that which Ward has beaten.

To give himself the best possible chance of winning, Rodriguez will need to try to drag Ward into a roughhouse war. There’s no way he can possibly defeat Ward by picking him off from the outside so he needs to nullify that type of fight. Ward likes to tie opponents up so Rodriguez needs to win the battle on the inside; clipping Ward with his big shots every time he tries to move back out of range.

Ward will most likely be sensible and try not to get involved. He knows Rodriguez will be especially dangerous early on so he’ll be conscious of avoiding those power shots. I expect he’ll try to slow Rodriguez down with body shots, pick him off with one-twos, before gradually picking the pace up in the later rounds.

The pattern of the fight will be largely dependent upon Rodriguez. It’s conceivable that he could be satisfied with being passive and losing widely on points but I don’t think that’s his way. He’s a warrior and I expect him to go for broke. It’s his only option but it’ll probably bring about his downfall.

It’ll be good to watch but, to be honest, I don’t expect it’ll be massively competitive. It’ll be whatever type of fight Andre Ward wants it to be. He’ll control the distance and tempo from the off. I expect he’ll hit Rodriguez with far too many accurate punches, probably have him over a couple of times with accumulations of shots, before stopping him in the mid to late stages. He’s just too good.”