By stopping Chad Dawson at the Oracle Arena in Oakland on Saturday, Andre Ward punctuated a sequence of victories that has seen him largely dominate and dismantle the elite class of the super middleweight division.
Dawson (31-2, 17 KO), of course, is still the current lineal light heavyweight champion and was moving down in weight, a fact that speaks to how thoroughly Ward (26-0, 14 KO) cleaned out his competition during the Super Six World Boxing Classic.
Dawson was supposed to be Ward’s toughest test to date, but despite being the bigger man, “Bad Chad” was dropped three times and smartly conceded defeat in the 10th round.
Ward’s game plan and execution against Dawson was the stuff of genius, and the victory should firmly secure him a No. 3 spot in any sensible pound-for-pound list. Having already defeated a murderer’s row of opponents, Ward’s domination of Mikkel Kessler, Allan Green, Sakio Bika, Arthur Abraham, Carl Froch and Dawson has left him in a precarious position.
While fans and pundits undoubtedly recognize the magnitude of Ward’s achievements, one wonders if his greatest run of victories has already happened. If this is the case, Ward’s achievements sadly did not garner the mainstream attention they deserved while they were unfolding. It is easy to lavish praise on Ward now, but has he been taken for granted?
The concern with Ward is that at this juncture of his career he now lacks the elite, mega-fight-worthy opposition to challenge his sublime skills and put his prime years to proper use.
At 28, it could already be said that Ward has laid the foundation (and then some) for a Hall of Fame career, but, given his youth and consistent improvement, he should be at the stage where he is only fighting opponents that surpass or match the likes of Dawson and Froch.
Herein lies the dilemma: Can anyone at super middleweight still offer those types of legacy-building fights, or will Ward suddenly be, say, 31 before another truly worthy and viable challenger emerges?
While Ward has the skill-set and style to fight at an advanced age, now is the time for him to be matched in bouts akin to the Dawson fight (on paper at least). Considering the excitement surrounding the Super Six, there suddenly seems to be a chasm between Ward and the rest of the super middleweight division.
While someone like Carl Froch (29-2, 21 KO) has gained momentum with a clinical 5th round stoppage of previously undefeated Lucian Bute (30-1, 24 KO) to claim the IBF title, a rematch with Ward makes little sense.
In the Super Six final, Ward comprehensively outboxed the determined and iron-chinned Froch in what amounted to a lopsided fight. Were the two to meet again, the result would likely be exactly the same, which is a credit to Ward as opposed to a knock on Froch.
Before losing to Froch, Bute seemed like a viable candidate to fight Ward given that he was undefeated, the then-IBF champion and should have been an easy selection to participate in the Super Six.
However, after being stopped in five rounds in Nottingham, the claims that Bute was a protected champion gained more credence, and he is currently working towards rebuilding his credibility. Should Bute win his comeback fight and somehow impressively defeat Froch in their rematch, he could win the Ward sweepstakes. But that scenario is laced with “ifs.”
Someone like Arthur Abraham (35-3, 27 KO), despite wresting the WBO title from Robert Stieglitz in his most recent fight, simply hasn’t proven he can hang with the true elite at 168 pounds, not to mention the fact that Ward already dismantled him. Mikkel Kessler (45-2, 34 KO) is coming off of a sensational knockout over Allan Green, but again, Ward has already outclassed him.
One of the more intriguing options for Ward is his former Olympic teammate and 2004 bronze medalist Andre Dirrell (20-1, 14 KO). This fight was supposed to happen during the Super Six, but Dirrell was forced to withdraw from the tournament due to a head injury sustained from an illegal foul during his fight against Arthur Abraham.
While Dirrell can match Ward’s speed and athleticism—and perhaps surpass him in certain respects—he certainly does not possess Ward’s intangibles, ability to adapt to any style and championship experience.
Furthermore, since the Abraham fight, Dirrell has only scored a second-round knockout of Darryl Cunningham in Dec. 2011. Before a Ward-Dirrell fight could be made, Dirrell would need to increase his activity and shake off some serious ring rust.
Looking at the list of highly ranked super middleweights, names like Thomas Oosthuizen (20-0-1, 13 KO) and Adonis Stevenson (18-1, 15 KO) are intriguing but lack viability or name-recognition, while someone like Kelly Pavlik (40-2, 34 KO) brings money to the table but would likely offer little resistance come fight night.
Furthermore, British prospects George Groves (15-0, 12 KO) and James DeGale (12-1, 9 KO) are simply too inexperienced, and it seems unlikely that they would be offered up to Ward.
Ward might simply have to press on and bide his time for a true mega-fight. An eventual move to light heavyweight is likely, but even at 175 pounds it is hard to fathom Ward losing. He’s just that good.