Andre Ward is no stranger to long layoffs. The former super middleweight world champion has had a few in his day that have been both self-inflicted -- a contract dispute with his late former promoter Dan Goossen that failed miserably -- and caused by injury.
His latest layoff, nine months, was caused by swelling in his right knee. The bum knee caused him to pull out of what was supposed to be a light heavyweight fight against Alexander Brand in November on the Canelo Alvarez-Miguel Cotto undercard.
"For the November fight, you know, [it was] such a great opportunity that I got excited about it and I'm learning that I have to ease into these training camps," Ward said. "Even though I'm training I have to ease into them. I can't come off the block 100 miles an hour. That's what I did. I came out at 100 miles an hour and my body maintained that pace for three, four, five, six weeks and then I got to a point in week three where I just went off the ledge and I couldn't bring my knee back.
"It got inflamed and that's not out of the ordinary, but it got inflamed to the point where it was limiting my mobility and I couldn't move. And we battled that for about 10 days straight as aggressively as we could, icing around the clock, pulling back on the workouts a little bit."
When the knee did not respond, Ward said that trainer Virgil Hunter made the call to cancel the fight.
"It wasn't like a fresh injury," Ward said. "It wasn't anything like that but it was just something I couldn't overcome and I never want to put out a product that's not 100 percent."
But now Ward says he is healthy and is set to fight at 175 pounds for the first time against Sullivan Barrera (17-0, 12 KOs), 34, a Miami, Florida-based Cuban defector, in a world title elimination fight on Saturday night (HBO, 9:45 ET/PT) at Oracle Arena in Ward's hometown of Oakland, California.
"I feel fine," Ward said. "Nothing's ever perfect but I feel fine and I know I'm going to be fine and ready to go."
The Ward-Barrera winner will become one of the mandatory challengers for unified titleholder Sergey Kovalev, whom Ward already has a contract to fight in a major fall HBO PPV event as long they both win their bouts.
Ward could fight again this summer while Kovalev is planning a summer fight in his native Russia. Nov. 19 is the target date for Kovalev-Ward.
Ward (28-0, 15 KOs), 32, has not fought since he weighed 171¾ pounds for a one-sided ninth-round knockout of overweight Paul Smith (176½) last June. Ward has fought only three times since easily outpointing Carl Froch to unify super middleweight belts in the Super Six World Boxing Classic final in December 2011.