Andre Ward defended his WBA and WBC titles with a 10th round knockout of Chad Dawson. (Jeff Chiu/AP)
1. This was a boxing clinic -- Chad Dawson is the undisputed top dog at light heavyweight and a recognized top-ten fighter in the world. And Andre Ward made him look pedestrian. Ward threw rights and lefts, fought inside and out, showcased power and speed; against an opponent who has beaten virtually everyone at 175-pounds (some twice) Ward submitted a brilliant performance. He literally beat Dawson into submission: When referee Steve Smoger checked with Dawson after he was knocked down -- for the third time -- in the tenth round, Dawson appeared to tell Smoger he was done.
Any fears this fight would be a technical snoozefest were dispelled in the third round, when a short left hook put Dawson on the canvas. A looping left put Dawson down again in the fourth and Ward never looked back. Ward punished Dawson with left hands that Dawson seemed not to see coming, leaving the sturdy, 6-foot-1 Dawson noodle-legged for most of the fight.
Ward cautioned everyone before the fight not to rule out a knockout, comments most dismissed. As good as Ward is, he has never shown punishing power; his last knockout was back in 2009. Yet against a strong chinned opponent in Dawson--who has stood up to Tomasz Adamek, Antonio Tarver and Glen Johnson, among others--Ward showed a killer instinct few knew was there.
"In boxing everyone is knockout hungry," Ward said. It's the last piece of the puzzle. It's not something you can teach."
2. Is Ward the best fighter in boxing? -- This will be a hot topic for debate as writers cobble together their pound-for-pound lists over the next few weeks. My opinion: Ward is no worse than the No. 2 pound-for-pound fighter, ahead of Manny Pacquiao and Sergio Martinez, just behind Floyd Mayweather, and you can make a compelling argument that he deserves the top spot. Ward has cleaned out the super middleweight division and has now beaten the best light heavyweight in the world. Mayweather is coming off an impressive win over Miguel Cotto last May but doesn't have the same bounce in his legs and is clearly, if only ever so slightly, on the decline. If Ward isn't No. 1 now, he is nipping right at Mayweather's heels.
More scary: Ward's trainer, Virgil Hunter, says Ward has only reached about 85% of his potential.
3. So ... what's next? -- Where does Ward go from here? He beat all the top super middleweights (Carl Froch, Mikkel Kessler, Arthur Abraham) in the Super Six and with Lucian Bute tied up with a scheduled rematch with Froch in 2013, there aren't many compelling options in the rankings. A rematch with Kessler has been floated, but that won't move the needle much and getting Kessler to come back to fight in the U.S. will be challenging.
One name to keep an eye on: Kelly Pavlik. Pavlik's personal issues have derailed his career and he hasn't looked all that impressive since making the jump up to super middleweight last year. But he is still a household name who can do a strong rating on HBO. If Pavlik can pick up another win before the end of the year -- and hopefully look good doing it -- a Pavlik-Ward fight could mean big business.
-- Chris Mannix