Tonight at 9:45 pm EDT on HBO and BoxNation (UK), Andre Ward makes his return to the ring in his first HBO-televised fight since 2013, headlining at his hometown Oracle Arena in Oakland in an official move to light heavyweight, where he'll face Cuba's Sullivan Barrera.
Ward (28-0, 15 KO) dominated the super middleweight division from 2009-13, winning Showtime's Super Six World Boxing Classic in 2009-11, and racking up clear wins over the likes of Carl Froch, Arthur Abraham, Mikkel Kessler, and Chad Dawson, among others. But promotional disputes led to a long period of inactivity, as he sat out most of 2013, all of 2014, and the majority of 2015, even after signing with Roc Nation Sports.
This fight with Barrera (17-0, 12 KO) will be a good gauge of where he's at now, and is the first step toward an already agreed-upon clash with Sergey Kovalev later this year.
In the co-feature, featherweight prospect Joseph Diaz Jr (19-0, 11 KO) makes his HBO debut against Jayson Velez (23-1-1, 16 KO). It's a step-up fight for Diaz, a 2012 U.S. Olympian, and a chance for Velez to get right back in the mix at 126 after a loss to Ronny Rios.
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Andre Ward def. Sullivan Barrera by unanimous decision (117-109, 119-109, 117-108)
Joseph Diaz Jr def. Jayson Velez by unanimous decision (100-91, 99-91, 98-92)
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ROUND BY ROUND
ANDRE WARD vs SULLIVAN BARRERA
Round 1: Big response for Ward, and a big "SOG" chant halfway into the round. Little happening so far. Ward landed a jab, most that's happened so far. He's being very patience, so is Barrera. Barrera trying a right hand, doesn't get there. Slow first round. Very much in Ward's favor. He slipped some shots, landed a couple. Ward 10-9
Round 2: Ward dictating the first half of this round, too. Barrera does land a right hand. Back to Ward's pace from there. Barrera pokes a jab, might've landed, doesn't really matter. Decent round for Barrera, actually. Ward with a couple good lefts late. Toss up round. Ward 10-9, 20-18
Round 3: DOWN GOES BARRERA HALFWAY INTO THE ROUND ON A LEFT HOOK! Good shot, and a clean knockdown. Ward throwing as soon as the action resumes, just in case he can catch him big and end it. Ward swinging hooks now, but misses that one. Right hand up top, and then a wild overhand right. Ward picks moments to be wild, even. Ward 10-8, 30-26
Round 4: Barrera coming out aggressive, which is probably about all he can do. He's not going to outbox Ward. He's just not. Decent hook from Barrera as they exchange, but Ward takes it fine and resets without trouble. Back to jabbing for Barrera, and he's not going to challenge Ward with the jab. It's not a good enough jab. Ward throws a clear late shot, which he will do. Ward 10-9, 40-35
Round 5: Ward upping his own output a bit to start this round, looking to fire off some powerful shots, and he's the guy coming forward now. Ward probing and poking with the jab to the body, basically hoping to bait for a counter, it appears. Ward's hooks landing again late. It's been the money punch tonight. Ward 10-9, 50-44
Round 6: Ward comes out with a right hand-left hook combo to start the round. Now working the jab. Right hand up top lands. Barrera with a decent body shot, but Ward right back with the hook, and then a right hand. Ward's taking a few shots tonight, but not anything substantial, really. I mean, considering he's barely fought since 2011, and Barrera doesn't stink, I think it's certainly forgivable. Ward 10-9, 60-53
Round 7: Honestly I think this is about a 75, 80 percent capacity Andre Ward tonight. And he’s doing fine. Barrera just isn't in his class, and Barrera's a perfectly legitimate contender at 175. Ward landing the hooks here and there. He's a little more aggressive, maybe not in output, but in his intent with his shots. Ward 10-9, 70-62
Round 8: Ward with a hook to the chest. Jim asks Roy if "that punch hurts?" That's where we're at now. Body shot from Ward, Barrera goes down, but referee calls it low, and it did look low on first blush. Raul Caiz takes a point for the low blow, saying, "That was a vicious low blow!" Barrera tries to get aggressive after, but with middling results at best. Ward 10-9, -1 for Ward, 79-71
Round 9: Ward getting nastier as this fight goes along. He's better and meaner. He's landing some good body shots this round, too. This isn't a bad performance by Barrera, really, he's just facing a better fighter. He's trying. Ward's just real good. Ward 10-9, 89-80
Round 10: Ward cut on an accidental headbutt. More of the same work in the round. Ward being Ward. Barrera can't really deal with that. Ward 10-9, 99-89
Round 11: Both guys land right hands in the first minute. Another Ward round. He's stayed sharp throughout the fight. Showing some minor fatigue but not anything really worth a discussion, I don't think. Doing well on the inside with bigger guy, showing he can hang in the trenches at 175. Ward 10-9, 109-98
Round 12: Ward moving well, still sticking in shots, still slipping shots. Just a relaxed, controlled performance. Nothing "special," just a complete performance. Ward lands a good right. Making Barrera miss more. Ward 10-9, 119-107
JOSEPH DIAZ JR vs JAYSON VELEZ
Round 1: Feeling out process in the first minute. Feeling out process for the first minute and a half. Both guys pawing with jabs a little bit, well, probing more than pawing. Left to the body from Diaz, then a little right hand up top. Velez to the body with a lead right. Body work again from Diaz, both hands. Left hand down the pipe from Diaz. Velez lands a nice right hand late in the round. Diaz 10-9
Round 2: Diaz has a small cut under his eye from the 1-2 at the end of that round. Right hand from Velez. He's looking a bit more confident starting this round, but Diaz is right there with him, too. Diaz strays a hair low to the body. Left to the body from Diaz. Right hand to the body from Velez, who is much busier this round. Diaz with a left to the head. This is heating up. Right hook and straight left from Diaz, and then another left. Nice pace pick-up, very suddenly. Good action here from Diaz! Straight left hurts Velez! Another one! Wow, Diaz looking sensational in the second half of this round. Diaz 10-9, 20-18
Round 3: Diaz's hand speed advantage really giving him the upper hand here. Velez looking to time his shots, but not finding much here. Body work from Diaz. Velez with a good shot, though. Diaz busier, landing more good, effective shots. Straight left lands again. And again. Diaz 10-9, 30-27
Round 4: Diaz back to the body with the right hook, and the left hands still landing up top. Velez lands a good right hand up top and Diaz gets shaken just a bit on that one. Showing some defensive lapses here and there. Still more to learn, obviously, and no one argued otherwise coming in. But he recovers well. Another right from Velez gets in. Good left from Diaz, and now back to the body. Diaz with more good shots to cement the round, despite eating a couple good shots. Diaz 10-9, 40-36
Round 5: Diaz whacking away with the left again. And then the right to the body. Velez is hanging in there but eating a lot of shots at this point. Body shots from Diaz again. Crowd cheering at something in the crowd. Someone has shown up, is it Steph Curry? Oh, no, it's Michael B. Jordan, apparently. Meanwhile the fight is still a lot of fun. Velez trying to match Diaz's intensity, but just not his style. Yeah, it was Steph Curry. I knew it. Diaz 10-9, 50-45
Round 6: Left hand up top from Diaz. Diaz with more good work to the body. He's getting caught here and there, but the rhythm is Diaz's, the fight's pace is his. Diaz starting to open a really wide lead, not just on the cards (probably), but in the momentum of the fight. He's quicker, sharper, and just better so far. Just a better fighter. Diaz 10-9, 60-54
Round 7: Velez still trying, but it's become a case of outclassing at this point. Diaz's power not special, either. Punches maybe look harder than they are, which happens. Velez pouring on the pressure this round, and Diaz showing a little fatigue, but throwing some wild shots, too. Might be counter productive for Diaz. Velez with a little right hand, Diaz back with a hard body shot, Velez felt that one. Left up top from Diaz. Diaz whacking away now. That body shot definitely hurt him. Closer round, but the harder shots again from Diaz. Velez 10-9, Diaz 69-64
Round 8: Roy thinks Diaz "broke" Velez at the end of the 7th round. Diaz is starting to look a little more resigned to a loss. Right hook to the body from Diaz, that one stuck there a moment, then a left up top grazes Velez. Good little exchange with a minute left. Think Velez took this round, too, but close again, and could've gone the other way. Velez 10-9, Diaz 78-74
Round 9: Velez working his ass off trying to find a way into this fight. Maybe if he gets some friendly judges, this is closer than I think. I feel like I'm being fairly generous toward him, but I've seen crazier. Anyway, he's starting this round well, too. Diaz definitely showing some fatigue down the stretch here. And he's cut near the eyelid, too. Velez 10-9, Diaz 87-84
Round 10: Diaz with a good start to this round, pushing Velez back again. Velez taking shots again this round, Diaz really closing nicely here. About a minute left. Velez trying anything he can think of, and getting cracked in response. Good left from Diaz wobbles a wide open Velez. Another hard left up top. Good final round. Closed the show. Diaz 10-9, 97-93