By David Robinett
Photos: Big Joe Miranda
Less than two months away from returning off the longest layoff of his professional career, 2004 U.S. Olympic gold medalist and current WBA Super Middleweight Champion Andre “S.O.G.” Ward held court with reporters Saturday afternoon a few miles from the Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. vs. Brian Vera card in Carson, California, scheduled for later that evening. Ward, (26-0, 14 KOs), and Goossen Tutor Promotions were promoting his fight on November 16, 2013, to be held in nearby Ontario, California, against undefeated contender Edwin “La Bomba” Rodriguez, (24-0, 16 KOs), on a card dubbed, “The Return,” to be televised live on HBO World Championship Boxing.
Ward’s opponent was also in attendance to help promote the fight, and the young upstart was not at a loss for words when it came to describing his opportunity.
“I’m a young fighter who’s going to be fighting a great fighter, trying to become great,” explained Rodriguez. “This is my fight to do that. This fight brings out a lot of emotion and motivation in me to do better and to be better than I’ve ever been before because, quite frankly, Andre Ward’s a very good fighter, and I never had to be at my best before. But coming straight to camp for this fight I know I have to be at my best. I have to be better than I have ever been.”
If Rodriguez believes his best is yet to come, then Ward might be in for a stiff challenge, as in his last bout, Rodriguez blitzed the highly regarded Denis Grachev for a first round TKO in the final of the “Monte Carlo Million Dollar Super 4″ tournament in Monaco in July.
“I have never been so motivated for any of my fights,” continued Rodriguez. “Fighting a guy like Andre Ward, who is recognized as pound-for-pound number two, nobody is giving me a chance, having never been in this spot before. Denis Grachev was a good fighter, but I didn’t have to be at me best to beat him. Now Andre Ward? I know I have to be at my best and that’s what I’ll be on November 16th.”
Ward, meanwhile, wasn’t buying into Rodriguez’s bravado.
“I know Edwin and his team thinks they’re catching me slipping. They think they’re catching me off of a year layoff and think it’s the right time to get me. That’s good, it brings more intrigue to the fight and we’re gonna see who’s right on November 16th” reasoned Ward. “He’s got some momentum coming off his one round knockout, but with all due respect to that guy [Grachev], I’m not that guy. I’m not going to stand there and take 14, 15, 16 unanswered punches. It’s another level, and I think people will see that on November 16th.”
Ward then turned the tables on the youngster, delivering some pre-fight gamesmanship every bit as smooth as his movement in the ring. While talking about his own fitness and conditioning, Ward casually slipped in some observations about his opponent.
“I saw Edwin in Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago and it looks like he’s been enjoying his time off,” Ward noted, with a good-natured smile. “I know he just got to camp, but we’ve been working, I don’t have to get off 20-25 pounds. If they think that I’m taking them lightly, that’s the furthest thing from the truth. I’ve done my homework on Edwin for the past two or three years. I know about the sparring sessions with [chief sparring partner] Cornelius White. I know about the weight issues in camp and wearing the plastic. I know about all that stuff because if I see a guy that’s remotely in my weight class, a guy that I could potentially fight? I got my ear to what’s going on, I know about those things. So it’s not like it’s a young guy on the rise, and all of a sudden he’s going to catch me by surprise.”
Despite the stinging comments, Rodriguez remained poised and continued to express his confidence going into the biggest fight of his career.
“Going to Monaco, fighting a guy that was 19-0 [Ezequiel Maderna], who was a former Olympian, you know, I didn’t get to go to the Olympics so fighting someone who went to the Olympics, getting a win over him, and the knocking out Grachev in the first round after he went twelve rounds with Lucien Bute did boost my confidence. But I’ve always been a confident fighter. I know what I bring to the table. I believe in myself, I have a strong will and ain’t nobody breaking that.”
Before the fighters and their respective teams concluded the meeting to make their way to the Chavez Jr. vs. Vera card across town, Rodriguez’s promoter Lou DiBella offered the following insight, which even drew a laugh and some praise from Ward sitting nearby.
“Edwin’s nickname is ‘La Bomba,'” DiBella began, “and there’s a line in that song that goes, ‘Yo no soy mariner, soy capitan’ [roughly translated: I’m not a sailor, I’m a captain]. And for years now, Andre Ward has been the captain of the 168-pounders, arguably the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. But on November 16th, Edwin is going to prove to the world that he’s not a sailor, he’s the captain.”
Andre Ward vs. Edwin Rodriguez, “The Return,” is being presented by Goossen Tutor Promotions in association with S.O.G. Promotions and DiBella Entertainment, on November 16, 2013, from Ontario, California and televised live on HBO beginning at 9:30 p.m. ET/PT.