And Edwin Rodriguez — then an aspiring Olympian — for one, was proud.
“In the amateur days, he was someone we looked at, and were like ‘Wow, we’re proud of this guy,’” Rodriguez said. “But this is a whole different level. This is about me trying to become great. And he’s in my way.”
Rodriguez (24-0, 16 KOs), an unbeaten yet largely untested 168-pound contender, will get his chance for greatness Saturday in Ontario against Oakland’s Ward (26-0, 14 KOs) — the super middleweight champion of the world.
“I feel like I’ve been ready for a while now,” Rodriguez, 28, said of his first title shot. “This is my time.”
It might be.
Despite being rightfully recognized as one of the finest prizefighters of this era, as he proved 14 months ago when he clinically battered then light heavyweight champ Chad Dawson over 10 punishing rounds, Ward, 29, will be coming off the longest layoff of his career — one that was spurred by an old tear in his right shoulder, dating back to his youth.
“I thought I was hungry before this happened,” Ward said. “But when something gets taken away from you against your will ... those things are going to make you stronger or you’re gonna fall by the wayside.”
Ward prefers the former.
“I’m able to do things with [my] right hand. And I have power in this right hand, that I’ve never had before,” he claims. “I’m coming to take something — even though I have the title — and that’s get another victory and defend my belt.”
But mended shoulder or no, power has never been Ward’s game. For the better part of a decade, Ward has mauled and clinched, thumped and roughed, all serving to defuse a foe’s assault.
“I’m not a reluctant warrior,” Ward said. “I love banging on the inside — it’s just going to be on our terms.”
And against Rodriguez, an opponent with a dangerous overhand right and a decent left that’s fond of finding the ribcage, Ward will look to fight on his terms.
“Who’s able to make the adjustments, implement the game plan and get the job done, under the lights with all the pressure when it counts the most,” Ward said. “That’s what I try to do.”