Ward penciled in for March 26 fight

Andre Ward will probably make his return on March 26 at home in Oakland, Caliifronia. Reuters/Action Images/Andrew Couldridge

Former super middleweight titlist Andre Ward is expected back in the ring to headline an HBO-televised card on March 26 at the Oracle Arena in his hometown of Oakland, California, a source with knowledge of the plan told ESPN.com this week.

Ward, who signed an exclusive contract with HBO in October, vacated his 168-pound world title earlier this year as part of a plan in which he is moving up to light heavyweight and expected to challenge unified titleholder Sergey Kovalev in a fall 2016 showdown, assuming they win their interim bouts.

Ward (28-0, 15 KOs), 31, was due to fight Alexander Brand on Nov. 21 on HBO PPV on the Miguel Cotto-Canelo Alvarez undercard but withdrew two weeks before the fight because of a right knee swelling.

There is no opponent set for the March 26 fight, but the target is Sullivan Barrera, who is a Kovalev mandatory challenger but unlikely to get the fight for at least nine months.

Ward promoter Roc Nation Sports and Main Events, Barrera’s promoter, are in discussions, but they are far apart on money.

Barrera (17-0, 12 KOs), 33, a former Cuban amateur standout who defected and fights out of Miami, looked good dispatching former world title challenger Karo Murat in the fifth round on Dec. 12 in the title eliminator to earn mandatory status for one of Kovalev’s belts.

After Brand (25-1, 19 KOs), 38, of Colombia, lost out on the November fight with Ward because of the knee problem, he was quickly scheduled for a Dec. 5 fight with Medzhid Bektemirov and won a 10-round split decision. However, he is considered a long shot to get the March fight with Ward.

If Ward wins on March 26, it is possible he would fight again in the summer before the fight with Kovalev (28-0-1, 25 KOs), 32, a native or Russia living in Los Angeles, who also will have interim fights. He is scheduled to defend his belts against former champion Jean Pascal in a rematch on Jan. 30 at the Bell Centre in Montreal and then is also expected to fight in the summer.