If Saturday's performance in Ontario, Calif., was any sort of barometer, maybe Andre Ward should take a year off between every fight.
Thankfully for fans, that's unlikely, especially now that Ward -- who had been out 14 months, in part because of shoulder surgery -- is healthy, and also considering how little damage he absorbed in a thorough floor-wiping of Edwin Rodriguez. In a chippy but one-sided scrum, Ward emptied his toolbox to show the ringside judges all they needed to see in a unanimous decision win (118-106, 117-107, 116-108).
From the jump, Ward scuttled any notions about potential ring rust. And although he didn't often uncork his purported newfound right-handed power against Rodriguez, his footwork, defense, signature left hook and jab -- a serious poke that comes off like a boxing version of an MMA Superman punch -- ensured that Ward maintained total control of the proceedings from start to finish.
Key moment: Early in the fourth round, referee Jack Reiss called for Ward and Rodriguez, tangled up and falling into the ropes but still throwing punches, to stop fighting. Neither did, and Ward and Rodriguez kept at it even after Reiss tried to separate them by grabbing Ward around the midsection. After Reiss was able to pull them apart, he called timeout, sent the fighters to separate corners, docked both two points for unsportsmanlike conduct, immediately recommended to ringside officials that both be fined, then made it clear to Ward and Rodriguez that no more rules bending would be tolerated.
Reiss' warning had the desired effect: The wrestling and grabbing mostly ended and the fight was a clean one from that point on. But because Ward is the quicker, more dynamic fighter and is expertly effective at controlling distance, it also meant that any chance Rodriguez had at scoring an upset probably ended there.
We've got your number: 27-4. The number of punches landed by Ward in Round 6, compared to those landed by Rodriguez, according to CompuBox. The huge disparity was amplified by how cleanly Ward was connecting and the variety of his offense.
Last word: Any question about whether Ward would return after his long layoff as boxing's clear-cut No. 2 pound-for-pound fighter in the world was quickly, and pointedly, answered on Saturday. And although his super middleweight title was never at risk -- Rodriguez missed his opportunity to challenge for it when he weighed in heavy -- Ward had to feel some relief that, after all the down time, he was his old self again (and perhaps better). All that's left to figure out now is who to put in with him next -- Gennady Golovkin isn't nearly ready for 168 pounds -- and how soon Ward might dethrone Floyd Mayweather Jr. for the top spot on P4P lists.