Steve Bunce on Boxing: Andre Ward has shown the style and class set to make him the world's No 1

The 'Son of God' was simply too good for Paul Smith last Saturday and it ended in round nine

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The Independent Online

The “Son of God” was full of compassion on Saturday night in a boxing ring in Oakland, California, and he made an equally kind gesture the following day.

Andre Ward, arguably the best active fighter in the world, borrowed a line from Galatians 3:26 when he took the “Son of God” sobriquet. He is a religious man, with a calling when not hitting people and was always going to take a rather different nickname.

Ward met Liverpool’s Paul Smith, a former British champion and veteran of 12 years, in an odd clash of boxing cultures in a super-middleweight fight on Saturday in his home town, the one place where he is jubilantly received.

For Ward, it was a welcome return to action after 19 months away from the business nursing the double curse of contractual disputes and injuries. He is now with Jay Z’s Roc Nation organisation, happy and suddenly injury-free.

Two nights before the Oakland fight and a long way from that gritty corner of California, at Bar Sport in Cannock, Staffordshire, Carl Froch was talking to the converted and Ward’s name was mentioned.

“I think he is unbeatable,” admitted Froch, who lost on points to Ward in 2011. Ward is now unbeaten in 28 fights, turned professional after winning gold in Athens in 2004 and, at 31, still has a lot of good years to come. He is fresh, unmarked and, for a rich man, still desperate to get the recognition he deserves.

On Saturday night, Ward was simply too good for Smith and it ended in round nine when Smith’s trainer, Joe Gallagher, threw a blood-stained towel into the ring at just about the right time; the towel landed at the point when Smith was close to being asked to go where no fighter should have to go and Ward was near to being asked to do stuff that no fighter wants to.

“His legs were getting wobbly,” said Ward. “I could see the big cut on his face and I think I broke his nose. I know my job is to finish guys off. But he’s got a family and a life and he needs to live another day so it was good they stopped the fight.” Ward was back in church less than twelve hours later.

“It was a war that we didn’t want to continue,” admitted Gallagher. “I did what I had to do. We had ideas about the fight, ideas about what Ward might do. Boxing is never simple and I made the right decision.” Gallagher and Smith are not the first partnership in boxing to underestimate an opponent, and criticism of their mistake misses the point – all fighters think they can win.

A crowd of 9,102 had paid to watch the return of their idol and they happily filed away from the Oracle Arena at the same time as two doctors applied swabs and a variety of stitches to Smith’s face; he has five stitches above his left eye to go with the broken nose. “There was too much blood, it was unbearable,” said Smith.

In victory Ward was magnanimous in handing back to Smith part of a financial fine that the Liverpool man had been forced to pay for failing to arrive at the scales at the agreed weight. Ward was paid $2m (£1.3m), Smith $225,000 (£145,000) for the fight and the latter then lost $60,000 (£34,500) because of the weight-making clauses. Ward is said to have handed back $37,500 (£24,000), his portion of the fine, but the rest will stay in the local boxing commission’s coffers.

Ward will now be at the centre of a bidding war with some big fights suddenly opening up for him now that his problems on the safe side of the ropes have been resolved. His inactivity has stopped him from becoming boxing’s No 1 fighter and that unfortunate exile is now over. The “Son of God” will be on a screen near you very soon and winning a fight, you can be sure.

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