Back in the ring Saturday night for the first time in more than 14 months, Andre Ward thought he was going to be defending his WBA super middleweight title against Edwin Rodriguez.

But in a shocking development Friday, Rodriguez did not make weight. He tipped the scales at 170 pounds -- 2 over the 168-pound limit -- meaning a title is off the table for Rodriguez even if he wins the fight.

Ward, on the other hand, will be credited with successfully defending his title if he wins and will remain champion if he loses. The 12-round bout at Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario (HBO) pits two unbeaten fighters -- Ward is 26-0 with 13 knockouts and Rodriguez is 24-0 with 16 KOs.

Ward also gets an extra $100,000 added to what was supposed to be a $1.9 million purse. Rodriguez, who was to be paid $1 million, is being fined $200,000 for being overweight. Half goes to Ward, the other half to the California State Athletic Commission.

Until this latest development, most of the talk about this fight was about Ward's 14-month layoff.

"They think they're catching me at the right time. They think the layoff, the injury, I'm ripe for the picking," the 29-year-old Oakland-based fighter said. "But they're going to have a rude awakening."

Ward will be coming off the longest break of his boxing career, which was triggered by Jan. 4 surgery on his right shoulder to repair a muscle that he originally tore as a 12-year-old amateur, then reinjured while training to face Kelly Pavlik.


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In the meantime, Ward lost an arbitration case to free himself of promoter Dan Goossen, was stripped of his WBC title and fought off doubts about regaining the form he showed in a 10th-round TKO of Chad Dawson on Sept. 8, 2012.

The shoulder is now as strong as ever, Ward said, but there were days during rehab when he felt alone and vulnerable.

"There were no cameras, no lights, no fans around these last 14 months," he said. "It was me and my family. Grinding away, just hoping I could get back to where I was."

Along the way, he acknowledged, "You've got to be honest, there are days when things don't feel right. I've definitely had days where I wondered if I'm going to be the same."

Ward said his faith and the confidence of his long-time trainer Virgil Hunter sustained him.

"Virg always told me the shoulder is going to get healed," Ward said. "He was right."

Despite a resume that includes a 2004 Olympic gold medal and the No. 2 pound-for-pound world ranking by Ring Magazine, Ward finds himself staging "The Return" in Ontario rather than under the brighter lights of Las Vegas.

Mike Tyson told HBO that Ward's squeaky-clean "Son of God" image makes him a tougher sell to the boxing crowd.

"Andre Ward is an awesome fighter. You have to be a real fight enthusiast to appreciate him," Tyson said. "When you hear him talk he's always talking about a higher power. He believes in being a good guy.

"In order to be a good guy and be really successful, you have to beat a lot of bad guys. We live in that era ... where we always remember the bad guy. So if anybody beats these guys, he's big, too. But we still remember the bad guy."

Despite what happened on the scales, no one calls Rodriguez a bad guy. The 28-year-old from New England hoped to fight at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but put his career on hold when his fiancee gave birth to twins that were 16 weeks premature.

Rodriguez turned pro and in 2010, according to Yahoo Sports, found himself in the gym one day sparring with Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the Boston Marathon bombing suspect who died following a shootout with police in April.

Rodriguez has fought three times since Ward last stepped into the ring.

As for Ward, he said, "It has been forever. I'm extremely hungry. When something you love is taken away from you, it does something to you."

Robert Morales of the Los Angeles Newspaper Group contributed to this report.