Last night the 8,500 fight fans in attendance at the Oracle Arena of Oakland, California expected a tough, gritty, and most likely ugly battle between two highly regarded talents. What they got instead was a showcase performance from Andre “S.O.G. (Son of God)” Ward who, in deceptively simple fashion, broke down “Bad” Chad Dawson en route to retaining the undisputed super middleweight title.
Two more-or-less competitive rounds were followed by eight episodes of utter domination. Throughout the fight, Ward proved to be the stronger, faster, and–perhaps more importantly–smarter fighter. It took Ward little more than six minutes to figure out how to hurt Dawson, and from then on, he proceeded to methodically exploit the vulnerabilities Chad presented. “S.O.G.” threw perfectly timed left hooks that landed hard and often on the head of Dawson, scoring two clean knockdowns with that shot in rounds three and four.
As the match progressed, it seemed as if “Bad” Chad didn’t even belong in the ring with Ward, regardless of his status as undisputed light-heavyweight champion. The ease with which Ward disposed of Dawson speaks to Andre’s superior ring smarts, his unwavering dedication to his craft, and sheer talent. The physical attributes are there, obviously, since he managed to hurt and drop a bigger, stronger foe three times in total. But what counts even more in explaining his dominance is Ward’s almost uncanny sense of anticipation of how his rival will react to what he does, coupled with flawless execution.
For instance, look at the way he set up the left hook that resulted in the first knockdown of the fight. With about 40 seconds to go in the stanza, Ward is moving to his right, away from Dawson, throwing shy, measuring jabs, when all of a sudden he jumps in to close the distance with a right lead to the stomach of Dawson, quickly followed by the left hook upstairs that lands right on the button. It happened so quickly and unexpectedly Chad never saw it coming.
Or look at the way he defended against Dawson’s occasional, even anemic, offensive bursts. Relying on acute reflexes, he saw Chad’s left crosses coming from a mile away, giving himself plenty of time duck out of the way, only to then jump inside and deny Dawson the distance a follow up punch would’ve required. This did not, however, impede Ward capitalizing on the opportunity: when tied up after a failed Dawson attack, he would connect with strong uppercuts, further sapping Chad’s confidence.
In short, Ward was able to display the whole of his brightly polished pugilistic arsenal while reducing Dawson to a retreating, gun-shy, embarrassed-looking amateur, stumbling in the dark in search of answers to questions he didn’t even understand. The only consolation for Chad is that he had the good sense to end the fight on his terms. After he suffered the third knockdown in round ten, referee Steve Smoger asked him if he was done, to which Dawson responded in the positive, thus putting an end to the affair. There was no point in pursuing a fight in which he was hopelessly behind on the scorecards and had no chance of ever landing the significant blows necessary to try and turn things around.
Dawson immediately gave all credit to his conqueror, citing the deficit in speed as critical in determining the outcome. But despite how good Ward was, more was expected of Dawson. Last night he had no back-up plan and simply retreated into a defensive shell after Ward floored him. The determination and bravado that he showed against Bernard Hopkins were nowhere to be found. Perhaps coming down in weight affected him more than he expected it to, or maybe he was shocked by the challenge Ward presented.
Regardless, we hope Dawson will find a way to rebound, even if it means taking a fight or two against lesser competition in his own weight class. In the meantime, the questions surrounding Andre Ward after his victory in Oakland address two specific issues: where does he rank on the infamous pound-for-pound lists? And who’s next? The answer to the first question is simple: very high. Against Dawson he showed up in perfect physical form, demonstrated both astonishing technique and startling power, plus he never stopped pursuing his diminished opponent the way he stepped off the pedal in the championship rounds against Carl Froch.
The answer to the second question is not obvious, but “S.O.G.” is in a commanding position, and did not rule out moving up to light heavyweight in search of a worthy foe. Seeing how he earned his victory last night, it’s hard to think of a serious challenge for Ward at the moment, but the hope is he will keep taking on all comers, augmenting his legacy, and adding to his already impressive accomplishments.