Super middleweight champion Andre Ward proved one more time on Saturday night that ring rust is an opponent that has nothing on him.
Apparently, neither does Paul Smith.
Ward (28-0, 15 KOs) returned from a 19-month layoff to systematically break Smith down before the England native's corner threw in the towel at 1:46 of Round 9 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California.
"We've been out 19 months and great teamwork won this fight," Ward said. "It took some time to get the ring rust off. I started with the jab. I wanted to come out with a big bang and get a first-round knockout, but I have a great coach [Virgil Hunter] and he told me to take my time and the knockout will come.
"I give myself a B. I'm a competitor and I love to get my hand raised, but I love this [pointing to his children]. I love to be with my family."
The victory was a homecoming for Ward, who walked to the ring with Stephen Curry of the NBA champion Golden State Warriors and made his long-awaited return following a lengthy court battle with his former promoter.
Curry took to Twitter afteward to offer his thoughts:
Ward, 31, who made his debut with Jay Z's Roc Nation Sports, bloodied Smith's nose and left eye and surgically picked him apart with one clean shot after another.
Smith (35-6, 20 KOs), who suffered defeats in a pair of title bouts against Arthur Abraham over the past nine months, closed out a disappointing weekend on the wrong end of a one-sided loss.
The fight was scheduled for a catchweight of 172 pounds, but Smith weighed in Friday at 176.4 and was fined 20 percent ($45,000) of his $225,000 purse by the California State Athletic Commission, with half going to the commission and half to Ward, who earned a purse of $2 million.
After the two camps worked out a deal for a Saturday morning weight check, Smith then came in over the agreed rehydration limit of 181 pounds at 184.4 and was fined an additional $5,000 for every pound he was over.
Inside the ring, Smith was just too slow to trap Ward long enough to mount a successful attack. Not only did Smith, 32, connect on just 18 percent of his punches, he was outlanded by a staggering 231 to 47, according to CompuBox.
"[Smith] is a tough guy," Ward said. "You could see he was much bigger than me tonight; he probably was about 190 tonight. That, and he is very durable. That's what you get when you get Paul Smith."
Ward entered the bout having fought just twice in the past 3½ years, yet despite the layoffs, he looked sharp in both outings, title defenses against Chad Dawson and Edwin Rodriguez. He did the same against Smith, connecting on 39 percent of his punches.
He used his stiff jab as a weapon in the opening rounds and began to assert himself more in Round 3, stunning Smith with a four-punch combination upstairs. Ward increased his output in Round 4, using his jab to set up a series of short right hands.
With his right eye beginning to swell and red puffiness around his face, Smith enjoyed his lone moments of success in Round 7, getting Ward's attention with an overhand right before trapping him in the corner with a pair of left hands.
"I know what he was trying to do. He was trying to lure me in and then hit me with the big right hand," Ward said. "He hit me with a couple of good shots, but he didn't hurt me."
Ward was just too quick and accurate down the stretch, opening up a cut above Smith's left eye in Round 8 and snapping his head back with a left uppercut. One round later, with Smith's face covered in blood from his nose and eye, referee Lou Moret waved off the bout at the advice of Smith's corner.
"His legs were getting wobbly. I could see the big cut on his face and I think I broke his nose," Ward said. "I know my job is to finish guys off but he has got a family and a life and he needs to live another day, so It was good they stopped the fight."
Ward, who weighed in just below the 172-pound catchweight for the fight, is undecided whether he will stay at 168 pounds to defend his title or move up to light heavyweight.
"If I go up in weight I can fight [Sergey] Kovalev," Ward said. "I could fight [Adonis] Stevenson, but there would be politics involved in that. I will go home and talk to Virgil and ask him what he saw and what we have to fix. Then we will go form there.
"I could get down to fight at 168. I weighed 170 in camp, and I could have lost another two. If I did that, I could fight [Carl] Froch or any other super middleweight."