(Photo credit: Tom Hogan – Hoganphotos/Roc Nations Sports) Andre Ward resurfaced after a long absence and steamrolled British super middleweight Paul Smith at the Oracle Arena in Ward’s native Oakland, Cal. Ward spent two of his best years away from the prize ring due to legal and promotional disputes. He came back as shiny as new and kept his opponent in the crossfire for 9 rounds before the bloodied Smith was bailed out by his corner.
If there was any ring rust, it was shadowed by the skill differential which gave Ward full convenience. Coming from a 19 month layoff he was not expected to choose a tough challenge although Smith was no push over. The Brit went the distance twice with Arthur Abraham in his last two fights. This probably legitimized him as an opponent for Ward who did much better than Abraham. The American was on a different level and had an indecently easy time against his tough but over-matched foe. Ward exhibited his boxing talent and his speed allowed him to do whatever he pleased in the ring. There was a catch though, the catch weight clause.
The fight was contracted at catch weight, a recurrent trend that attracts well-deserved criticism. Catch weight would make sense in cases when there is a size/weight class difference and it serves as an equalizer of sorts allowing inter-division “dream matches” to take place. In this case both fighters had been super middleweights prior to their meeting and the purpose of catch weight needs to be clarified. There are outrageous recent examples of mainstream titles being defended at catch weight without any reasonable grounds other than tipping the odds in the “champ’s” favor.
Ward was inactive for almost two years and making 168 lbs could have been troublesome. Catch weight sort of defeats the purpose of having weight limits; it allows the “draw” to twist arms and extort privileges. A couple of pounds may be unnoticeable for the audience but make a huge functional difference especially at top level, it’s not just excess luggage. Two pounds can be the difference between being fighting fit and being dehydrated and weight-drained. Overweight clauses practically allow boxers to show up overweight when the entire penalty is a fine that amounts to an insignificant portion of their purse.
Weight control has become a key issue in professional boxing. A championship fight is a show business enterprise which requires a lot of resources and preparation. There is too much at stake and the insiders know it takes more than a couple of pounds of “excess luggage” to jeopardize the investment. Teams realize they can get away with a lot and they know the weigh-in scandal will go away, the fight result will remain.
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