The extended hiatus of one of the top five boxers in the world will finally come to an end June 20 when Oakland’s Andre Ward will fight at his hometown Oracle Arena.
"It must be something big that I get a 'congratulations' just for having a fight date to announce," Ward told The Times in his first interview since the bout -- without an opponent or a broadcast partner -- was announced Thursday.
The 31-year-old Ward (27-0) hasn’t fought since successfully defending his World Boxing Assn. super-middleweight belt with a unanimous decision over Edwin Rodriguez on Nov. 16, 2013, at Ontario’s Citizens Business Bank Arena.
A contract dispute with then-promoter Dan Goossen, who died of liver cancer in September, kept Ward sidelined until an undisclosed settlement was reached and Ward joined rapper Jay Z’s Roc Nation Sports promotion team this year.
"Feels great, long time coming," Ward said of the coming bout.
During his hiatus, Ward served as a commentator on HBO boxing broadcasts.
"Happy to be back to business and being back for my fans -- my hometown fans and those all around the world. So thankful to them for being so patient. My fans are truly my friends. This is sort of a thank you to them."
Ward said why he put his career on the shelf at its peak in search of the right deal is "a great question."
"I'm a big person when it comes to doing what you believe in," Ward said. "I just want my career to be ran a certain way. When you get the sense it’s not, that your voice is not being heard, then, unfortunately, you have to do certain things to make a stand to fight what you believe in, even if you do have to sacrifice time.
"I had to sacrifice more than I thought."
Ward said he takes solace in the fact he remained active in the gym, "stayed motivated, stayed disciplined.
"Did I have rough days? Days I didn't want to train? Days I thought my career would never get back off the ground and possibly be over? Absolutely," he said.
"But I stayed motivated. And now that the day is set, I feel I'm in great shape and I'm ready to get going. I've been sparring … it's good that I stayed focused. I don’t have to make up for lost time."
Ward said Roc Nation is "working on" the opponent and television deals, and both might be set by early next week.
He said, "to a degree," the return bout will be a check to ensure the cylinders are still clicking.
"I'm not out to cheat the fans, but I do have to be realistic about the time off," he said. "I'll get the right person."
Ward said he’s out with his promoter to ultimately seek a major bout, naming Gennady Golovkin, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Carl Froch.
"I know my status in the sport and I'm going to stand my position," Ward said. "Guys still want what I have. I’m ready to take on all comers."
Follow Lance Pugmire on Twitter @latimespugmire