andre-ward1This Saturday night at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, California sees the return of local hero Andre Ward as he faces England’s Paul Smith. The fight, which is Ward’s first fight in more than eighteen months, is pacted at a catch-weight of 172 lbs over twelve rounds and is set to air on BET in the United States. The fight sees Ward a huge (-7000) favorite over Smith, who is returning at (+3000). When last we saw Ward (27-0), he was considered one of the best pound for pound fighters in the world. Ward is the last American to win a gold medal, and he has not lost a fight since his teens, however he has not been able to cross-over into mainstream popularity, and that resulted in a contract dispute with his promoter, Goossen, that contributed to the long layoff. Ward’s return is centered around his new promotional contract with Jay-Z and his company Roc Nation Sports. Ward is hoping to get his career back on track with this fight, which as a return fight is against an opponent he is expected to beat. He defeated Carl Froch in December of 2011 and has only fought two times since then. When he beat Froch and he was one of the top ranked pound for pound guys in the world, he was 28 years old and entering his prime. Since then, he has fought just twice, enduring two layoffs of over a year and another layoff of roughly ten months, and he is now 31 years old. He has always been one of the top conditioned athletes out there and takes care of himself well, but you cannot help but get the feeling that he let 3 years of his prime fade into the past. It will be interesting to see what Ward looks like on the plus side of thirty. Ring rust and a potential to have less speed are both factors he will be facing. Smith (35-5) is a solid yet safe opponent. Though Smith has been KO’d in the past, he has proven sturdy. In his last two fights, he fought WBO World Super Middleweight champion Arthur Abraham twice, extending the hard-hitting German the full 12 rounds both times. Smith has been on the British scene winning regional titles for a long time, so he is tested. His losses come to James DeGale and George Groves, so he has had his career trajectory stopped by solid fighters. He worked his way back to a title shot against Abraham with five wins in a row, and he fought the fight of his life against Abraham in the first outing. Though the judges gave the decision to Abraham, Smith’s performance earned him a rematch in his next fight. For that fight, Abraham, who has been a world champion and a top super middleweight for a long time, stepped up his performance and he defeated Smith soundly. Abraham out-boxed and out-slugged Smith to a rather wide UD. Back in May of 2011, Abraham absorbed a loss to Andre Ward, who outclassed him on his way to a UD that saw Ward win almost every round. The bottom line on this fight is that it is not enough for Ward to win, especially by unanimous decision. In the past, Ward has been criticized for a style that is not appealing to the common fans, as he tends to be defensive and methodical and does not take risks. The style is not only bought up by the likes of the vanquished Carl Froch, but it is commonly seen as the reason Ward is not a breakthrough star in boxing. He is going to have to do something impressive in this fight, where the line shows he is clearly expected to outclass Smith. If Ward is not 100 percent and he gives Smith a chance, Smith will gamely make a fight of it. And that would be a bad sign for the returning Andre Ward.