Pound-for-Pound King? Andre Ward defeats Paul Smith by TKO

June 21, 2015

PHOTO CREDIT: Tom Hogan - Hoganphotos/Roc Nation Sports

Oakland, Calif. -- Showing few signs of ring rust, Andre Ward (28-0, 15 KO) was impressive in his first win after a 19-month layoff. As his opponent, Paul Smith (35-6), predicted, Ward would be looking for a knockout, and he got it at the 1:45 mark of the ninth round with a brutal combination that caused Smith’s corner to throw in the towel.  It was Ward's first win by stoppage since his 2012 victory over Chad Dawson.

From the seventh round onward, Smith was bleeding, battered, and barely hanging on, but the lopsided bout did not discourage those in the arena from thoroughly enjoying the festivities.

This was the fourth fight night promoted by Jay-Z’s Roc Nation Sports, and it brought out the celebrities, starting with Eritrean-American rapper and Los Angeles native Nipsey Hussle giving a brief performance before the main event which had some of the 9,016 fans up and dancing.

NBA MVP Stephen Curry then entered the ring carrying one of Andre Ward’s Championship belts, and Seattle Seahawk’s running back Marshawn Lynch was honored as Oakland’s third champion (after the Golden State Warriors and Andre Ward).

San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, made the mistake of coming to the fight and was showered with boos throughout the night from the East Bay locals. Boxing great Miguel Cotto, who signed with Roc Nation Sports, was also at ringside.

With the win, Andre Ward not only brushed aside questions of his layoff, but his performance also helped cement his claim to being the greatest pound-for-pound fighter above 154 pounds.

“We’ve been out 18 months and great teamwork won this fight," said Ward.  "It took some time to get the ring rust off.  I started with the jab.  I wanted to come out big bang and get a first round KO but I have a great coach and he told me to take my time and the knockout will come.”

Ward’s jab, especially to the body, allowed him to slowly break down Paul Smith, as his gold, blue, and red gloves found their mark despite Paul Smith’s defensive efforts.

Smith was game, but never was really in the fight. Smith weighed in 4.4 pounds over the weight limit on Friday, and Ward felt he weighed 190 pounds by the time of the fight. Ward was huffing and puffing on his stool after the first two rounds, but became more comfortable as the fight went progressed.

PHOTO CREDIT: Tom Hogan - Hoganphotos/Roc Nation Sports

By the fourth round, Ward was finding Smith’s flabby mid-section with ease, and a la Lennox Lewis or Muhammad Ali, was holding out his left as a range finder while he threw punches.

In Round 6, Smith had his best moment of the fight when he momentarily stunned Ward with an overhand right. Ward’s offense briefly ebbed for the rest of the round, but in Round 7, blood was flowing freely from Smith’s face as Ward again continued to break him down.

By that point, Smith had long given up on stalking Ward, but he nevertheless continued to fight in true English style, employing a tight guard and refusing to clinch. He blocked many of Ward's shot with his guard, and it is likely the cut over his eye was aggravated or perhaps caused by Ward repeatedly slamming Smith’s own gloves back into his face.

At the end of the eighth round, a bloodied Smith and Ward appeared to exchange words.

"We kind of had a stand off and there are moments in a fight, a lot of little battles in the midst of the big battle,” Ward said, dismissing the incident with his trademark smile at the post fight press conference.

Ward continued to batter Smith in the ninth round before a crumbled white object floated into the ring: the towel.

Smith’s brothers -- all boxers themselves -- had been loudly yelling at his trainer to throw in the towel for at least a round.

In the post-fight press conference, Ward took a moment to reflect on what this week has meant for the City of Oakland.

It is “unprecedented to win a championship and have fight in the same week,” said Ward of the winning quinella.  “We don’t get a lot of respect and they want to look over us.”

The Undercard

While some have criticized Ward for fighting in the Bay Area (roughly 8 times) and having the fight on BET, such criticism is unjustified.  In doing so, Ward is helping to expand the reach of boxing and open up new markets.

A Roc Nation Sports representative said more fans turned up for this undercard than any of the previous Roc Nation Sports fight nights. The Bay Area, thanks to Ward, will remain an important market for boxing, but across the Pacific, China is emerging as an important market for boxing.

Macau also is emerging as a major destination for fighters, much like Las Vegas.  Evidence of such development in the sport can be seen in the rise of fighters from places not traditionally known as boxing hotbeds, such as Chi Feng, Inner Mongolia, China, the hometown of cruiserweight Meng Fanlong.

PHOTO CREDIT: Tom Hogan - Hoganphotos/Roc Nation Sports

Fanlong gave Stockton’s Albert Avina (0-4) a bloody nose in the second round of the fight, throwing a huge flurry, half of which didn’t land, but the referee still saw fit to stop the fight at the 31 second mark as Avina had ceased to return fire.

“China is a huge market and growing right now," Fanlong told DSH after the fight.  "Fans are just learning what boxing is.”

Fanlong wants a rematch with southpaw Brazilian Cruiserweight Yamaguchi Falc√£o, who defeated him in the 2012 Olympics. “If I get a rematch, I’ll [expletive] knock him out!”

Falcao is 7-0 after fighting four times in the U.S under the Golden Boy promotions banner.

China’s other fighter on the evening’s card, Junior Welterwieght Wang Zhimin, easily knocked out Jose Luis Guzman of the Bronx, whose flashy gold, white, and silver trunks were no match for the relentless Zhimin.  Zhimin dropped Guzman three times en route to a first round KO at 2:35 in a non-televised fight.

In a televised bout, featherweight Antonio Nieves (12-0-1) took on Stephon Young (13-0-2). Nieves’s corner featured a man wearing Cleveland Cavaliers gear, prompting repeated boos from the pro-Warriors crowd.

Young was wobbled with 30 seconds to go in the first round, but rallied in the third when he let his hands go on the inside and rocked Nieves. Although Young had a better fourth and won that round,  the Daily Sports Herald had the fight 78-74 for Nieves and was puzzled by the draw, as the judges scored it 77-75 for Nieves, 78-74 for Young, and 76-76, a draw. Perhaps the judges, much like the rest of the arena, became distracted when Stephen Curry entered the ring in the seventh.

In another key undercard fight, Super Middleweight Aaron Cooley improved to 10-1 as a professional with a unanimous 60-54 decision over Cuba’s Yosmani Abreu.

Abreu had one moment in the first where he appeared to rock Cooley. After the fight, Cooley told the Daily Sports Herald, “It takes more than one shot to be buzz me.  He threw a good right hook, but that’s it.”

Cooley wobbled Abreu in both the first and second rounds, and easily dominated Abreu with his pure athleticism.  He is in no hurry to get back into the ring because according to Cooley, "I got no promoter, Dre (Andre Ward) hooked me up with this one.”

By Joseph Hammond
Contributing Writer for TheDailySportsHerald.com

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