ONTARIO, Calif. (AP) -- Andre Ward has spent the last 14 months in surgery, in a broadcaster's tuxedo, in a nasty public spat with his promoter - just about everywhere except the ring.
Ward (26-0, 14 KOs) realizes that's no way to build a career. The U.S. Olympic champion's slow-moving star finally seemed ready to soar when he stopped Chad Dawson in September 2012, providing a signature win for his formidable talent.
The 168-pound kingpin still is widely considered one of the world's top pound-for-pound fighters - when he's actually boxing instead of doing nearly everything else.
''It's very difficult. You never want to be off,'' Ward said. ''You never want to be on the sidelines, especially against your will.''
After having surgery on a torn rotator cuff and reaching a tentative peace with promoter Dan Goossen, Ward returns to the ring Saturday night against fellow unbeaten Edwin Rodriguez in Ontario's Citizens Business Bank Arena, an hour east of Los Angeles.
Ward hasn't fought since he trounced Dawson in front of a cheering hometown crowd in Oakland. His surgery scuttled a proposed bout against Kelly Pavlik, and he struggled to find a suitable opponent for the right price tag when he got back into fighting shape.
He eventually reached a deal with Rodriguez (24-0, 16 KOs), an up-and-coming contender taking a large leap forward in competition quality. Ward is among the world's most intelligent, defensive-minded fighters, but still has enough power to knock back any opponent - particularly somebody with Rodriguez's lack of world-class experience.
Although some might wonder if Ward will have ring rust, he isn't worried.
''The silver lining is that I've been in this sport 20 years,'' Ward said. ''I'm a max effort type person when I train and prepare, so I think my body thanked me for it. My body got a chance to relax from the combat, even though I was still working. That was the silver lining. It's very difficult, but it's my story.''
While Ward was sidelined, he attempted to get out of his contract with Goossen, going into arbitration before reaching a settlement that kept them together for now.
Ward's beef with Goossen largely boiled down to his dissatisfaction with the promoter's staging of his fights. When Ward traveled around the East Bay before his fight against Dawson, he didn't see enough billboards or promotional materials to entice fans in the busy Northern California sports market to catch his bouts.
Ward already has a bigger public presence for this fight in Southern California, with billboards outside Staples Center and other attractions. He's also still in a showcase spot on HBO, which has further promoted Ward's career by employing him as an analyst.
But Ward realizes it's up to him to attract fans with big victories that could set up a profitable 2014. With health and determination on his side, Ward is ready to get past Rodriguez with an eye on the future.
''For some reason, when you're dominant for a certain period of time, people think you haven't been tested,'' Ward said. ''People think you haven't gone through anything. I'm locked in. I take this sport real seriously, and he's going to find that out.''
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