ANDRE WARD almost retired during his 19-month layoff, but insists Paul Smith is in for a shock when they fight on Saturday night.

The unbeaten super-middleweight has not fought since outpointing an overmatched Edwin Rodriguez in November 2013.

He makes his return to the ring on Saturday night in his hometown of Oakland, California against two-time world title challenger Smith at a catchweight of 172lbs, but admits he almost left the sport for good.

“The layoff was very devastating to the point where I really wanted to walk away. I didn’t want to walk away but was on the verge of doing it because I didn’t see any light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.

“I literally wrote two retirement speeches because I didn’t want it to end on anyone else’s terms but my own.

“All I can do is what I could do which was dedicate myself, focus and as you look at some of the greats like Floyd Mayweather and Muhammad Ali, who took three years out, it’s been done before.”

Ward, who still holds the WBA ‘Super’ world title despite his inactivity, feels Smith is wrong to assume the hiatus will affect his performance.

“I love that Eddie Hearn and his whole team, they’re banking on that. But if that’s their game plan, they got the wrong game plan come June 20.

“I’m glad he started talking this week because I was getting a little worried. I hadn’t heard anything coming out of the UK.

“I think he’s in for a rude awakening come Saturday night because I’m going to be very sharp. I’m going to be hitting harder than I think he realizes. I’m going to be stronger than I think he realizes.”

The Olympic gold medallist has struggled to garner the support his considerable talent should warrant, but believes the problem is other fighters not wanting to face him.

“It’s always about ultimately getting the best fight, but the reality is I can’t make these guys fight me.

“All I can do is be in a position to be ready and the only thing I believe stopping me from pay-per-view is just having the right dancing partner.”