In boxing, you never know what you are going to get.
Andre Ward beat Edwin Rodriguez on Saturday night at the Ontario Citizens Business Bank Arena, and you got Greco-Roman wrestling.
Ward, the WBA super-middleweight champion of the world, was given an obvious unanimous decision. The three judges had it 118-106, 117-107 and 116-108. Ward hadn’t fought in 14 months, healing from a shoulder injury that required surgery.
And this comeback for the star from Oakland, while a lopsided victory, was a tedious night. Rodriguez was bigger — he tried to come down to the 168 pounds needed for a title shot and couldn’t make weight, costing him $100,000 and turning Ward’s $1.9-million payday into $2 million. He was also extremely awkward.
The fight featured more hand-holding than a junior prom. Both fighters accused the other of initiating that kind of style.
“You just have to learn to fight those kind of guys,” Ward said, adding that Rodriguez clearly wasn’t trying to win rounds, merely trying to land one big shot.
“He’s a strong guy,” Ward said. “He’s a guy trying to win the lottery.”
Both entered the fight undefeated. Ward went to 27-0 and the future for the highly regarded former Olympic champion seems unlimited. Rodriguez, formerly of the Dominican Republic and now living in Worcester, Mass., went to 24-1.
For him, the matchup was an unlikely longshot from the start. The weight was always going to be a stretch, and when he weighed in at 170 Friday, and was given two hours to try to lose the last two pounds, a member of his team reported that “he couldn’t even spit.”
For Ward, the fight was less of an opportunity than promoter Dan Goossen might have wanted to showcase the boxing skills that have put Ward near the top of most boxing experts’ lists of top pound-for-pound fighters.
Rodriguez’s approach was more bull-in-a-China closet than sweet science. He lunged and held, then did it again. Ward did show an astoundingly quick left hand, snapping Rodriguez’s head back time after time with rattlesnake-attack speed. If nothing else, that allowed Rodriguez to show that he had a great chin.
The rugby-scrum-like action became more than referee Jack Reiss could take in the fourth round. As Reiss tried to untangle the pair, Rodriguez grazed him with an inadvertent left. Reiss, obviously angry, stopped the fight, collected himself and then made the highly unusual decision of penalizing each fighter two points.
“I wanted to get them settled down,” Reiss said. “It was like football — offsetting penalties. I wanted to get them cooled off so we could have a good, competitive fight.”
That would be instead of what was going on, a combination “Dancing With the Stars” and mud wrestling.
Reiss also said that he gave each the two-point deduction because one more for either would mean disqualification. He knew that they knew.
And so, after that, it was merely a matter of whether one of Ward’s lunge left leads would put Rodriguez down. Many of them connected — he landed 217 of his 526 punches for a startling 41% — but none of them put the game Rodriguez on the canvas.
Most of the talk of what might be next for Ward centered on a match sometime next year with emerging superstar Gennady Golovkin of Kazakhstan. Also on the list are Mexico’s son-of-the-great-one, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., and Argentine star Sergio Martinez.