Super middleweight champion Andre Ward, out of action since last September because of a shoulder injury, will return to defend his crown against contender Edwin Rodriguez on Nov. 16, promoter Dan Goossen announced Friday.
The fight, in negotiations for months, will take place at the Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario, Calif., and headline an HBO "World Championship Boxing" card.
"I'm excited to get back in the ring on Nov. 16," Ward said. "The opponent is Edwin Rodriguez. He's a young, hungry, undefeated fighter who doesn't believe he can lose, and it's my job to change his mind. I think he and his team feel like they are going to catch me slipping coming off of surgery and the layoff.
"I try to live like a champion. I stay in the gym, eat well and don't abuse my body, and this rest that I got was needed. I don't feel like the layoff will hurt me. I feel like it will help me. It allowed me to rest mentally and physically, and I want to show the fans on Nov. 16 that I'm better than I was before I left."
Said Goossen, "It's nice to be able to get Andre Ward back into the ring. We have two undefeated fighters, both of them coming off great wins and very confident in their chances of winning. That normally results in a great fight. Being a fan of boxing, I want to see this fight."
The 29-year-old Ward (26-0, 14 KOs), who will be making his sixth title defense, won the Super Six World Boxing Classic tournament with a rout of Carl Froch in December 2011 before being off for more than eight months because of a hand injury and the birth of a child. Ward returned last September to hammer then-light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson, who had come down in weight to challenge for Ward's title, into a 10th-round knockout in a brilliant performance.
Ward has not fought since because of a shoulder injury that forced him to cancel a scheduled January defense against former middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik. Ward had surgery to repair a tear in his right shoulder.
During his hiatus, Ward not only dealt with his injury but also attempted to break his promotional contract with Goossen. However, he lost in arbitration. There was also a lot of difficulty making a fight for Ward, as his side and HBO squabbled over money and opponents. Rodriguez eventually became the target, but they continued to fight over money, with Rodriguez promoter Lou DiBella rejecting an $800,000 package, which he thought was too little with HBO paying $3.15 million for the fight.
Rodriguez eventually signed with adviser Al Haymon and appeared headed to Showtime, but the sides continued to negotiate and finally reached a deal. The Rodriguez side got more than $800,000, but DiBella would not disclose the terms of the deal.
"Hey, we got the deal done, and I'm pleased with the terms," DiBella said. "It's the right fight for boxing. Al let me make the deal. We knew it was the right fight for Edwin and for boxing, and we worked it out in a way that was fair for everybody.
"I commend Andre Ward. There are a lot of people who would come back against an ordinary fighter. Andre suffered a serious injury and had a long layoff, and he is taking on the best all-around offensive fighter in his division at the top of his confidence and in the prime of his career.
"I think the fans are going to win. Edwin knows what he has to do to win, which is to inflict hurt. He has to make the fight. I believe he will make the fight, and he will win the fight."
Rodriguez (24-0, 16 KOs), 28, of Worcester, Mass., and the No. 1 American contender at 168 pounds, is coming off his biggest victory, an unexpected first-round knockout of contender Denis Grachev on July 13 in the final of the Monaco Million Dollar Super Four tournament, for which he earned the $600,000 winner's share.
"Vince Lombardi once said, 'Life's battles don't always go to the stronger or faster man. But sooner or later, the man who wins is the man who thinks he can,'" Rodriguez said. "On Nov. 16, I know I will win."
Said Ward, "You have a young fighter in Edwin Rodriguez that feels like it's his time. You have a young veteran in myself that feels like it's still my time, and those ingredients will make for a blockbuster fight."