OAKLAND -- Welcome to superstardom, Andre Ward.
Setting an exciting tempo early with vicious left-hook knockdowns in the third and fourth rounds, Andre Ward successfully defended his WBA and WBC super-middleweight title belts Saturday night with a 10th-round knockout of Chad Dawson at Oracle Arena.
The 28-year-old Ward, often criticized for fighting tactical, occasionally dull bouts and not showing much penchant for power punching, dashed all of those assertions by staging the most impressive and action-packed performance of his against the much-respected WBC light-heavyweight champion.
Yes, it was still tactical. But this time, Ward was tactically devastating.
"Finishing guys off is the last piece of my puzzle, and we are on our way to doing that," said Oakland's Ward, who ran his record to 26-0 with 14 knockouts, but his first KO since 2009.
Ward, making his first live title fight appearance on HBO (it was tape delayed on the West Coast), gave a national audience a sensational show. He found a weakness in Dawson's defense early on, pummeling him with short left hooks in the third and fourth rounds to drop his taller opponent to the canvas. Dawson quickly recovered after taking standing-eight counts, but much of the fighting spirit had been taken out of him.
Ward controlled the fight through the middle rounds and then opened a cut over Dawson's right eye with a roaring uppercut during in-close fighting against the ropes
After examining the wobbly Dawson following another standing eight-count, referee Steve Smoger waved the end of the fight at 2:45 of the 10th. It was a stunning conclusion that had the crowd of 8,500 on its feet for its hometown hero.
The real key, however, may be that Ward elevated his national and international status dramatically
Instead, Ward went for checkmate early with his pair of knockdowns and finally the knockout.
"That's what we needed," Ward said. "In boxing right now, everybody's knockout hungry. I tell people you can still be entertaining without knocking somebody out. But a knockout is always great. It's not something you can really teach. It's all instincts. You buzz, you hurt a guy, you wobble a guy, you drop a guy. You just know how to get him out of there. That's the last piece of the puzzle."
Dawson (31-2) had suffered his only prior loss in 2010 on a bout stopped due to a head butt, but this was a clear wipeout, and he quickly noted he wants to no part of Ward again -- he's heading back to the 175-pound division.
"He was a lot faster than I thought he was," Dawson said. "You can't take anything away from him — he is the best. Andre Ward is a hell of a champion."
In the WBC lightweight title fight undercard, champion Antonio DeMarco made quick work of John Molina, scoring a technical knockout 44 seconds into the first round.