OAKLAND -- Boxer Andre Ward will renew his ongoing quest Saturday night to vanquish the best competition in the world and make fans around the globe sit up and take notice.
Ward has done the former exquisitely. The 2004 Olympic gold medalist -- the most recent from the United States -- is 25-0 as a professional (13 knockouts) and a multiple title-holder in the super-middleweight division (168 pounds). After winning the Super Six tournament with a convincing unanimous decision over Germany's Carl Froch in December, he was named Fighter of the Year by the Boxing Writers Association of America.
But as Ward, 28, meets perhaps his toughest foe yet, world light-heavyweight champion Chad Dawson, in a 12-round title bout at Oracle Arena, he continues to combat assertions that he isn't flashy enough to excite the casual boxing fan and lacks the knockout power to be a future pay-per-view draw.
Ward, who lives in Dublin and trains in Oakland, admitted he may need to muster more of both to achieve superstar status.
"That's the last piece of my game, I believe, is just becoming a great finisher," said Ward on Thursday at the final pre-fight press conference. "You can't teach that. It just comes."
A dominating performance against Dawson (31-1, 17 KOs) could be Ward's ticket to a much larger audience. While the fight is not expected to draw a particularly large live gate on a busy Bay Area sports weekend, it will be the feature bout on a HBO
"This is the type of fight that's going to push Andre Ward to that next level," said Ward's promoter, Dan Goossen.
Dawson, 30, has held the WBC light-heavyweight title for the better part of five years. He surrendered it in his only career loss, to Jean Pascal in 2010, when he was forced to retire in the 11th round following a nasty head butt, though Dawson also was behind on
"He's the most naturally gifted and skilled fighter that I've faced," Ward said. "He's also the best American ... and the biggest American."
Dawson is dropping down in weight to meet Ward. As a result, he's a 3-to-1 underdog. But Dawson presents a risky challenge because he is a tactical fighter who possesses a 5-inch reach advantage and is left-handed.
"Chad can box, and initially he's going to come out and try to punk me," said Ward, who hasn't lost in the ring since he was a 12-year-old amateur. "That's what we call it. He's going to try to set the tone of the fight. But I'm not having it."
Quite likely, it'll be a fight that goes the full 12 rounds. Dawson hasn't scored a knockout since 2007, while Ward's last four fights have all gone the distance. His last stoppage came in 2009.
Dawson, like Ward, also has had trouble gaining the kind of respect in the boxing world that he craves, though both are ranked among the top 10 pound-for-pound boxers in the world by Ring magazine. That's why Dawson wanted Ward.
"I'm looking to take my career to the next level, just like he is," Dawson said. "I just think that it makes for a great fight -- the best two fighters in their divisions fighting each other. The state boxing is in, we need a great fight like this. "
"This is the best fight HBO has ever put on free TV," added Dawson's promoter, Gary Shaw.
Ward-Dawson will be preceded by another title bout on the undercard. WBC lightweight champion Antonio DeMarco (27-2-1, 20 KOs) will take on John Molina Jr. (24-1, 19 KOs).
The 6:45 p.m. HBO telecast (tape delayed on the West Coast at 9:45 p.m.) will open with a same-day telecast of heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko's title defense against Manuel Charr.
Oracle Arena starting at 5 p.m.
Andre Ward vs. Chad Dawson
Antonio DeMarco vs. John Molina Jr.
TV: 9:45 p.m. on HBO (taped delayed)