If ever there was a word to describe Andre Ward inside a boxing ring, it would be "dominant."
Every fight recap over the past few years has included that word. It was the case when he blasted out Chad Dawson in 10 rounds and when he defeated Carl Froch, Arthur Abraham, Sakio Bika, Allan Green and Mikkel Kessler during his run to the Super Six championship. Heck, Ward hasn't lost a fight of any kind since he was a pre-teen.
Another word that can describe Ward, at least as of late, is "inactive." Injuries and promotional issues have limited Ward to just one fight since December 2011 and he is coming off his second consecutive career-long layoff, this time 14 months. At age 29 he is at the later stages of his prime but one has to wonder what all the time off has done to his considerable skills.
If anyone can help conjure an answer, it is Edwin Rodriguez. Rodriguez is a hungry, ambitious volume-punching specialist who carries a 24-0 (16 KO) record and a million-dollar check following his one-round blowout of Denis Grachev in July. The Dominican bomber is eager to prove that he is among the best fighters in one of boxing's best divisions.
Statistical factors that may shape the outcome include:
Doing More With Less: The average super middleweight throws 54.3 punches per round, and in his last six fights Ward only exceeded that output twice -- 54.6 against Arthur Abraham and 56 against Mikkel Kessler. Otherwise, Ward prefers to take his time, pick his spots and strike only when the opening presents itself. The result is impressive and efficient, if not always crowd-pleasing.
In his most recent fight against Chad Dawson, the then-reigning WBC light heavyweight titlist who was coming down to 168, Ward won every second of every round, dropping Dawson in rounds three, four and 10 in registering the stoppage. Ward averaged only 41.8 punches per round but landed 37% overall, 31% jabs and 40% power. He out-landed Dawson 155-29 (overall), 43-7 (jabs) and 112-22 (power), numbers that further reflected his dominance (there's that word again).
In beating Carl Froch for the Super Six title, Ward averaged 47.8 punches but landed 42% of his overall punches and power shots as well as an impressive 43% of his jabs, fueling connect advantages of 243-156 (total), 107-47 (jabs) and 136-109 (power) despite throwing 110 fewer punches overall and 88 less power punches.
In decisioning Bika, Ward averaged only 36.2 punches per round but again the percentages were high (45% total, 37% jabs, 50% power) and the connect leads decisive in two categories (194-146 total, 64-25 jabs, 132-121 power). The formula also applied against Green (49.2 per round, 43% overall, 50% power) and Kessler (56 per round, 43% overall, 50% power). Only Abraham's high-hands defense kept Ward from repeating the blueprint against him (he threw 54.6 per round but landed 27% overall, 22% jabs and 38% power), but "King Arthur" defeated himself by throwing just 28.2 punches per round and failing to penetrate Ward's defense (23% overall, 9% jabs, 33% power).
Gumming Up Opponents: Ward's offensive shrewdness is a product of his tight defense and his counter-punching ability forces opponents to think twice before committing. Dawson was no ball of fire entering his bout with Ward, but the drop-off from 46.9 punches per round in his five previous fights to 18.1 is incredibly precipitous. Froch, who averaged 77.2 against Glen Johnson, 77.6 against Abraham and 80.1 against Kessler, threw just 56.9 against Ward. Kessler, who averaged 103.7 vs. Mehdi Bouadla, 71.3 against Librado Andrade and 56.8 vs. Froch, threw just 36.7 against Ward.
Those output drops were amplified by Ward's defense, which held Dawson to 16% overall, 12% jabs and 17% power, Froch to 23% overall, 19% jabs and 25% power and Kessler to 34% overall, 19% jabs and 36% power. If a fighter knows his punches will likely not land, he throws less. That plays right into Ward's hands. Ward's CompuBox plus/minus rating in his last six fight is +14 (offense 38%- defense 24%), good for a #3 ranking behind only Floyd Mayweather (+24) Leo Santa Cruz (+16) and Erislandy Lara (+16). One has to also consider Ward's quality of opposition in his last six fights , which arguably has been second to no active fighter today.
A Punch-Counter's Dream -- Or Nightmare: Rodriguez's high-octane attack has produced a historic imprint on the all-time CompuBox rankings. Rodriguez holds six of the top 11 single-round outputs among super middleweights, including the top three spots (144, 144 and 143 vs. James McGirt Jr.) and in his last fight, a one-round blowout of Denis Grachev at a 171 1/2-pound catchweight, his 70 connects ranked fifth all-time among light heavyweights while his 59 power connects earned him the number six spot.
Even when he's not unleashing a super-charged offense, Rodriguez still manages to exert full control in his matches. In beating Maderna in the Monaco tournament's semi-final, Rodriguez's relatively modest 62 punches per round and so-so accuracy (28% overall, 22% jabs, 32% power) still managed to keep Maderna to 48.4 per round and produced connect gaps of 172-119 (total), 59-52 (jabs) and 113-67 (power) en route to a 96-92 (twice), 95-92 decision. Rodriguez showed a bit of frustration as he lost points for a low blow in round eight and a rabbit punch in the ninth.
Against the sieve-like Jason Escalera, Rodriguez (67.1 per round) produced canyon-esque connect gulfs (231-95 overall, 195-65 power) and connected on 43% overall and 58% power and did the same to the tough Donovan George (71.8 per round, 215-156 overall, 136-77 power, 45% power).
For someone who throws a ton of punches, Rodriguez's defense has been solid. In his last five fights against opponents with a combined 81-2-3 record (.942), he has been struck by a combined 28% overall, 22% jabs and 35% power, all of which are below the super middleweight norms of 31%, 22% and 38%.
Prediction: This fight is intriguing because Ward's rust may knock him down a notch or two while Rodriguez is coming off the high of the Grachev blowout. Also, Ward wanted to come back against an easier opponent but HBO put its foot down and demanded more of their occasional color commentator.
Whoever imposes his style and pace will win the fight and the guess here is that the far more experienced and savvy Ward will find a way to tame Rodriguez's frenetic pace. Although an upset is certainly within the realm of possibility given Ward's back-to-back long layoffs, the most likely result is a Ward decision victory. Will he dominate? Maybe. Maybe not. But will he win? Yes.