ONTARIO, Calif. (AP) - Andre Ward returned from a 14-month ring absence with a lop-sided unanimous decision over Edwin Rodriguez on Saturday night, defending his WBA super middleweight title.
Ward (27-0) won nearly every round in a dominant effort against the previously unbeaten Rodriguez at Citizens Business Bank Arena. The judges favored Ward 118-106, 117-107 and 116-108 over Rodriguez, who failed to make weight for the bout, thereby missing the chance to win a title.
''It's not always going to be a spectacular performance, but a win is a win,'' Ward said. ''I felt like I did great (after) being off for 14 months, and I'm happy to be back.''
Ward outclassed Rodriguez (24-1) from the opening minutes, using his jab and inside fighting to control the pace and direction of each round. Rodriguez responded with increasingly desperate tactics, punching Ward in the clinch and in the back of the champion's head.
Referee Jack Reiss became angry after an exchange in the fourth round, taking away two points from both boxers for hitting on the break.
Ward continued to punish Rodriguez, who grew increasingly desperate with inaccurate punches against Ward's superior defense.
''No disrespect to Edwin, but he didn't really come to win, he came to get lucky,'' Ward said. ''He wants to hold and make it ugly, and hopes he catches you with something big. You've got to learn how to fight those kind of guys.''
Ward hadn't fought since September 2012, when he stopped former light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson in arguably the most impressive performance of his pro career.
The U.S. Olympic gold medalist rose to prominence with a victory in the Super Six 168-pound tournament before beating Dawson to join the world's top pound-for-pound fighters.
But Ward spent the last 14 months out of the ring. He had surgery on a torn right rotator cuff before getting into a spat with his promoter, Dan Goossen, and struggling to find a suitable opponent for his comeback fight.
Ward settled on Rodriguez, an unbeaten 28-year-old getting what would have been his first major title shot. Instead, Rodriguez missed weight by 2 pounds on Friday, costing him a reported $200,000.
Rodriguez, born in the Dominican Republic and fighting out of Massachusetts, irritated Ward before the fight by missing weight and criticizing the champion.
''I was in here with a bigger man,'' Ward said. ''I use all the little things leading up to the fight, all the talk and all the different things he said as motivation. It's not personal, but I run the extra mile, I spar that extra round when I hear guys talk like that.''