Andre Ward took either the first or the final step toward a fight with top light heavyweight Sergey Kovalev tonight in Oakland, beating the IBF's No. 1 ranked contender Sullivan Barrera by wide decision. The ringside judges had the fight 119-109, 117-109, and 117-108 for Ward. BLH had the fight 119-107 for Ward, who was fighting on HBO for the first time since 2013.
Ward (29-0, 15 KO) didn't look his very best tonight, but was able to pretty handily outfox Barrera (17-1, 12 KO), a Cuban contender who was coming off of a knockout win over veteran fringe contender Karo Murat late last year.
Ward, 32, had fought just once since 2013, a win last summer over Paul Smith at the same venue, but was still plenty good enough to get the better of Barrera, who looked outclassed at times, and generally a bit slow and predictable, in part because Ward made him look that way.
Ward delighted a big, vocal crowd at Oracle Arena -- which included not just Kovalev, but Golden State Warriors stars Stephen Curry and Draymond Green -- with a third round knockdown of Barrera, catching him with a well-placed left hook counter shot:
WATCH: Ward puts Barrera down with a big left hook in Round 3. #TweetReplay #WardBarrera https://t.co/UH0yRoK5gW— HBOboxing (@HBOboxing) March 27, 2016
From there, it was mostly smooth sailing for Ward, who seemed to fight more and more like his old self as the bout wore on. Barrera, 34, didn't have a bad showing, really, it was simply the fact that Ward remains one of the craftiest, best fighters in the sport today, and will look to stake his claim at the top pound-for-pound slot at some point this year. He's tentatively slated to fight Kovalev in November, though he's said this week that he does hope to have one more fight before then to make sure he's totally ready.
Asked what grade he would give himself, Ward said, "Probably a B-, because, you know, I told you guys at the fighter meeting, I wouldn't use the layoff as an excuse at any level, but the reality is, the more you fight, the sharper you get. There's certain things I want to do that I didn't do tonight. But it just shows that even not at my best, we can still get it done the way we want to get it done. He was tough and hungry, and so was I."
Kovalev (29-0-1, 26 KO), who was booed lustily by the Oakland fans when he was shown on the big screen mid-fight, was brought up by HBO's Max Kellerman after the fight, with Ward replying, "You know me. It's never a problem. You look at my track record, I wanna fight the best. I've always fought the best. Me and Sergey Kovalev, he's a great champion, he's the man at light heavyweight. It's not a matter of 'if,' I just think it's 'when.'"
Asked if it would be next or two fights from now, Ward said, "I'm gonna let my team work that out. I've been focused on Sullivan Barrera. There is no second fight, there is no shot at the title if I don't handle business tonight. This is done, so we'll put our focus toward that now."
For the fight, CompuBox had Ward landing 166 of 463 punches (36%), a very Ward-like pace overall. Barrera was busier, throwing 722 punches, but landed just 111, for a paltry 15% connect rate.