Super middleweight champion Andre Ward will end his nearly two-year absence from the boxing ring with a nontitle fight against Paul Smith on June 20.
Sky Sports confirmed an intriguing return for Ward:
As reported by Dan Rafael of ESPN.com, the encounter will take place in Ward's hometown of Oakland at the Oracle Arena.
This is the first headline fight announced after Roc Nation Sports—who signed Ward in January—and television company BET agreed terms to work together. As such, Rafael reports the Jay Z-owned Roc Nation music label will provide one artist to perform during the broadcast.
Ward is looking forward to getting back into business, reported by Riath Al-Samarrai of the MailOnline:
I'm very excited to be coming back on June 20 at Oracle Arena in my hometown of Oakland, which has been a long time coming. I have an extremely tough fighter in front of me in Paul Smith, who's looking to pull the upset, but I can't let that happen. I have to be on my best game to turn Smith away and beat him the way I want to beat him.
Englishman Smith jumped at the opportunity to take on a man who convincingly destroyed Nottingham-born Carl Froch in 2011, per Al-Samarrai:
I cannot wait to get back in the ring and test myself against a class act like Andre Ward. I proved that I belong at the top level with my performances against Arthur Abraham and this is a challenge that I am relishing. Andre is a top pound-for-pound fighter and someone I respect a lot, but he has only boxed once in almost three years and I will give it everything I have got.
Ward's record stands at an excellent 27-0, per Boxrec. He last beat Edwin Rodriguez by unanimous decision in 2013, overcoming Chad Dawson and Froch before that. Smith's record stands at 35-5, but he heads into the toughest battle of his career after two losses against Arthur Abraham.
This matchup begs to be a challenging return for Ward and an opportunity for Smith to catapult his credentials. Ward is the obvious pick, but with such a long layoff, he could encounter unexpected problems against the Liverpudlian.