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Prepare for the Andre Ward Era

by Hamilton Nolan

In front of a chaotic hometown crowd in Oakland, California, Andre Ward (26-0) made a rather irrefutable case for himself as boxing's most unbeatable fighter with a domineering tenth round TKO of light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson (31-2).

Dawson, who had dropped down to 168 pounds to meet Ward for the super middleweight belt, was a larger fighter who clearly possessed more raw strength. But after a two round feeling-out process, Ward brutally and methodically asserted his volition. He knocked Dawson to his knee for the first time in the third round with a fast, efficient left hook to the temple, and again in the fourth round with the same punch. From that point on, Ward controlled the pacing of the fight and drove the bigger man backwards at will. In the tenth round, Ward again landed his left hook to Dawson's temple, causing his legs to wobble like a flapper dancer at a Prohibition-era gin joint. Ward rushed in and knocked Dawson down again; he rose, but his legs, swaying drunkenly side to side, told the story of just how much punishment he had taken. The referee called it, and Oracle Arena exploded with cheers of "S.O.G!"

Dawson, a southpaw, possesses all of the physical tools one could hope for in a fighter, but has always suffered from a lack of assertiveness. It killed him tonight. Here is how Andre Ward won: he kept his lead left hand above Chad Dawson's lead right hand. And Dawson, who prefers to carry his lead hand low, let him. This allowed Ward to turn his left hook into Dawson's temple with ease. Ward won the fight using only two punches: the left hook, which eventually knocked Dawson senseless, and a straight right to the belly, which he planted whenever Dawson decided to pull his elbows out of his gut and try to protect his skull. Ward neutralized Dawson's killer straight left with his feet, simply by circling to the outside. He took away Dawson's right hook by keeping his hand above it and batting it down whenever Dawson deigned to unleash it, which was rarely. That left Dawson with nothing except Ward's left fist on his mind.

It's easy to fault Dawson's game plan and temperament. But the truth is that Ward has no weaknesses to target. "I took a risk by fighting the bigger man. he had me in height and in reach, but he sacrificed the weight (by coming down to 168)," Ward said. "I was surprised he wasn't as fast as he looked on tape. I saw everything coming from the start."

The popular media narrative coming into the fight was of trepidation that these two "boring" fighters would provide a defensive-minded technical yawnfest that average fans-- Saturday night TV viewers looking for a thrill, the swing voters of boxing, so to speak-- would be unable to enjoy. That proved to be completely wrong. And even if the fight hadn't been as offensive-minded as it turned out to be, it was an odd fear. Andre Ward is the single most talented pound for pound fighter in boxing. Mark that down. As Floyd Mayweather ages out of that spot, Ward is the only man in the sport with the experience, talent, and tactical brilliance to claim that crown. Like Mayweather, Ward knows not just how to hurt people, but how to win. He combines Mayweather's precision with Bernard Hopkins' ring savvy and willingness to walk (but not cross) the line of dirty fighting in order to beat more physically gifted fighters. Dawson, perhaps, can be pigeonholed as a fighter who is too careful; but Ward is a chameleon, versatile and smart enough to vary his style based on the demands of the moment. He fights inside well enough to have been labeled as a boring inside fighter after beating Sakio Bika, only to demonstrate dazzling outside skills and footwork against Arthur Abraham. He can turn his aggression on and off, as necessary. He is not one of those "fundamentally sound but unexciting" fighters enjoyable for intellectual reasons alone-- rather, he is a fighter masterful enough to have transcended all set styles, whose style, as Bruce Lee put it, is "water," taking any shape it needs to. There is no more complete boxer in the world today. To fret over Andre Ward being "boring" is to admit that you don't really like boxing all that much.

After the fight, Ward respectfully called Dawson a "monster." And he is. But Andre Ward is something more than that: he is unbeatable. Cast your eyes through Ward's weight class, as well as the class above it. There is no one better than Dawson in either division. Prepare for the Andre Ward era.

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The undercard was quicker than matchmakers would have expected. John Molina Jr. (24-2)-- no slouch of a lightweight, a man who has beaten the likes of Hank Lundy, and who has 19 knockouts to his credit-- lasted less than one minute against reigning lightweight champion Antonio DeMarco (28-2-1). DeMarco, a southpaw, spent about 20 seconds circling before blasting Molina backwards with a straight left, his very first punch of the fight. As Molina staggered back into the corner, he ate another hard straight left, and began sinking further and further down into a squat position as DeMarco pounded him with flurries.

Had Molina simply sat down, he would have suffered only a knockdown, and had a chance to recover. But as it was, he was trapped in the corner, gloves up, with nowhere to go and nothing to do but to absorb punishment. The referee stopped the fight after only 44 seconds. "John should have taken a knee and gotten an eight count," said trainer Joe Goossen, "but it's hard to think when you're in a position like that." Indeed.

A fight like that can be a turning point for both men. Molina must now face down not only defeat, but humiliation, making his road back to big time TV fighting that much harder. DeMarco, on the other hand, expressed a desire for a fight with young superstar Adrien Broner. "I'll fight him tomorrow," said DeMarco. And he could.

Ward victory

Posted 12:00 AM | Sep 8, 2012

Andre Ward vs. Chad Dawson

HBO WCB: September 8, 2012 at 9:45 PM ET/PT

Antonio DeMarco vs. John Molina Jr.