OAKLAND, Calif. – Andre Ward is 28 and hasn't lost a fight since he was 12 years old. The way things are going, he may not lose another one for another 16 years.
Ward took on the biggest challenge of his career Saturday when he met light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson for the WBA and WBC super middleweight belts at Oracle Arena.
He made it look easy, much the way Floyd Mayweather Jr. did in 2001 when he knocked the late Diego Corrales out in 10 one-sided rounds.
The similarities between that fight and Saturday's bout are eerie. Both matched the two best fighters in their class and two of the finest in the entire sport. And both were one-sided beatdowns that ended with 10th-round finishes.
Ward knocked Dawson down in the third, fourth and 10th rounds and thoroughly dominated one of the best fighters in the world. Dawson surrendered in referee Steve Smoger's arms at 2:45 of the 10th, giving up after absorbing a brutal beating from boxing's next great star.
"I did everything I had to do in camp to prepare for this fight," Dawson said before being taken to a local hospital for examination. "He was a lot faster than I thought he was. He's strong, too. I can't take anything away from him. He really is the best."
Two days before the fight, Ward was surrounded by a group of reporters who were grilling him about his lack of finishes. He entered the fight with only 13 knockouts in 25 bouts and hadn't had one in more than three years.
Ward beamed and said not to be surprised if he stopped Dawson. And then on Saturday, he went out and did it.
It prompted baseball legend Pete Rose to lean over to promoter Dan Goossen and say, "He's the new hit king."
Indeed he is. Ward landed 155 of 418 punches, connecting at an extremely high 37 percent. More impressive, perhaps, was that he held Dawson to just 29 overall connects and just seven jabs landed.
It was the type of performance that lends itself to folks calling him the best in the world. Neither Ward nor trainer Virgil Hunter were willing to go that far, but former world champion Shane Mosley said Ward might be No. 1.
"Considering what he's been doing and who he's been fighting, he might be," Mosley said.
Ward chopped Dawson down primarily with the left hand. A left hook reminiscent of a prime Joe Frazier landed squarely on Dawson’s chin and dumped him in Round 3. Ward nearly finished him then, but showed the patience that Hunter had been preaching throughout camp.
Ward had tried to downplay his lack of knockouts, but it was clear it was on his mind.
"I tell people you can still entertain without getting a knockout," Ward said. "You can still be entertaining to people without knocking somebody out. But, a knockout is always great and that's the last piece of the puzzle in my game that I'm working on.
"It's not something you can teach. It's all instincts. When you buzz a guy, you hurt a guy, you wobble a guy, you drop a guy, you just know how to get him out there. That's the last piece of the puzzle and this was the first step toward that tonight."
Given that Ward disposed of Dawson in such a one-sided manner and that Dawson is, other than Ward, by far the best fighter at either super middleweight or light heavyweight, there may be plenty more knockouts ahead.
He hurt Dawson repeatedly through the fight, making the bigger man's legs wobble numerous times. It was a sight that Dawson promoter Gary Shaw never thought he'd see.
"I am telling you, Andre Ward is one of the best fighters I have ever seen," Shaw said.
He's unquestionably one of the best in the game today. Given Manny Pacquiao's less-than-dominant performances the last few times out, it's clear that Ward has surpassed him. Only Mayweather might still be ahead of him and there remains a question about even that.
Hunter didn't want to make that point, though others did. Asked how far along Ward is in his development, Hunter estimated 85 percent.
It's hard to imagine Ward being much better, but he’s a serious student of the game who is very diligent in training. He has no bad habits – he's the epitome of a goody two-shoes – and he's always in brilliant shape.
Clearly, Ward knew what the fight meant to him. Dawson entered the bout with a 31-1 record and was the linear light heavyweight champion.
He was never remotely in the bout, however.
"This was huge. This was big," Ward said. "I didn't want to go home without my belts. I take nothing away from Chad Dawson. … There are a lot of repercussions for a loss in boxing. It's not like other sports where you can your time and recover and play the next game and everything will be OK. There's a lot at stake."
Ward, though, has answered every question but one. He's never had to answer the one about how a defeat feels.
He's 26-0 and looks like he could remain that way for a long time.
If you're looking for boxing's next great star, look no further than Andre Ward.
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