In one of the most highly anticipated fights of recent years, undisputed, undefeated super middleweight champion Andre Ward (26-0, 14 KOs) handed a one-sided thrashing to undisputed light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson (31-2, 17 KOs).
Fighting in front of a wildly enthusiastic hometown crowd at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, the 2004 Olympic gold medalist and 2011's The Ring Fighter of the Year turned in what has to be regarded as the greatest performance of his career. After two close feeling-out rounds, Ward dropped Dawson with a quick, compact lead hook to the jaw near the end of Round 3.
Ward followed up by dropping Dawson with a nearly identical punch just seconds into the fourth. Ward pressed hard, looking to finish. Dawson, though clearly hurt, hung tough and even landed some solid countershots to help him survive the onslaught and make it to the bell.
From there the fight settled into a steady pattern of Ward pressing relentlessly, landing with deadly accuracy to Dawson's cut right eye; CompuBox totals showed Ward successfully landed 83 total punches to the area.
Dawson remained game and kept fighting, but Ward's masterful control of distance and stellar footwork managed to completely remove Dawson's normally effective jab from his arsenal.
Even at his best, "Bad" Chad Dawson really doesn't have the style to win a come-from-behind fight. Ward became even more aggressive as he pulled ahead, camping on Dawson's chest and punishing him with brutal uppercuts.
With the fight under control and all but won, Ward managed to land another crushing hook in the 10th, wobbling the Connecticut resident. Ward pounced, landing another combination and forcing Dawson to take a knee.
Referee Steve Smoger waved the fight off 2:45 into the round.
It was a stunning performance from the fighter nicknamed Son of God. At 28, Ward continues to get better with each fight. In Dawson, he defeated the larger fighter with his own elite resume and victories over future Hall of Famers.
It is true that Dawson was coming down to 168 for the fight. But that was a weight he had fought at for the first part of his career, and he was steadfast in maintaining that the cut had not been difficult for him.
When I interviewed Dawson by phone a little under two weeks ago, he told me he was already down in the low 170s, so he shouldn't have had to do a ton of draining and last-minute drying out. In his post-fight interview, Dawson was unwilling to make any excuses over the weight, insisting that he didn't want to take anything away from Ward.
At the same time, Ward seemed entirely unconcerned with Dawson's power, so it is possible the drop in weight weakened him overall. If Dawson is able to return to 175 and continue his dominance there, a rematch with Ward a couple of years down the road could once again be an intriguing prospect.
In the meantime, Ward might have trouble finding another opponent worthy of his ever-burgeoning reputation. The top-10 ranking at super middleweight is either full of guys he has already beaten easily, or guys who have lost to guys he has already disposed of easily.
Based on tonight's performance and his run through Showtime's Super Six tournament, I would put S.O.G. firmly at No. 3 in my own pound-for-pound rankings.
A week from today, middleweight champion Sergio Martinez will face No. 1 rival Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. Martinez also appears in nearly everybody's top five pound-for-pound rankings, but in my opinion, the former welterweight and junior middleweight would simply be too small for Ward.
With an upset win or even an impressive performance in defeat, Chavez could also be a possibility. He is enormous for the 160-pound division and clearly needs to move up at some point. Coming off a great showing against Martinez would be an ideal time for him to step up and challenge Ward. Of course, if Martinez blows him out, there won't be much interest in that fight, either.
In a sense, Ward might be about to become a victim of his own emerging greatness. He's cleaned out his own division and blown out the top man in the world in the division above him.
Andre Ward was already as technically solid as just about any fighter in the sport. Tonight, he showed an ability to be exciting and dangerous against world-class talent. The sport has its newest superstar, just now entering his prime.
All he needs now is a new opponent.