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Andre Ward Stakes His Claim

The world of boxing is in a lull at the moment. Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, who have dominated the sport in recent years, are still great but are on the downslopes of their careers. Who will succeed them as boxing’s top fighter? After last night, the number one contender is Andre Ward.

Ward, at 28, is in his prime. He won a gold medal as a light heavyweight in the 2004 Athens Olympics. He achieved renown as a professional by winning the Super Six World Boxing Classic, where he defeated such formidable opponents as Arthur Abraham and Mikkel Kessler to capture the WBA Super Middleweight Championship. Going into last night’s fight against “Bad” Chad Dawson, Ward was 25-0 and universally regarded as one of boxing’s top talents.

If Ward had a flaw, it was the perception that he is boring. Not as a fighter–he is no Winky Wright–but as a personality. The current Sports Illustrated has an article on Ward that suggests he doesn’t enjoy the popularity of a Mayweather because he is a Christian and a law-abiding citizen. Boxing fans, supposedly, just don’t go for that image.

They will now, I suspect. Chad Dawson is an excellent fighter, a light heavyweight with a record, going into last night’s bout, of 31-1, with 17 knockouts. He was coming off a win over the great Bernard Hopkins. The fighters agreed to a 168-pound weight limit and fought for Ward’s Super Middleweight titles. Both boxers took risks: Ward had to fight an opponent who is significantly bigger, a difference that was obvious in the ring, and gave up a five-inch reach advantage. Dawson, on the other hand, had to fight below his usual weight.

Going in, the fight looked like a pretty even matchup, and some thought it would be a dull, tactical bout. Instead, Ward put on a brilliant performance, dominating throughout and knocking Dawson down three times. Ward’s defense was flawless and he went after Dawson from the opening bell. The last knockdown came in the 10th and led to a TKO, as Dawson was unwilling to continue:

When interviewed after his big win last night, Ward began by thanking his lord and savior, Jesus Christ. Sports Illustrated seems to think that sort of thing will limit his popularity, but I’m not so sure. It doesn’t seem to have hurt some other athletes (Tim Tebow) and coaches (Tony Dungy). More important, Andre Ward appears to be on his way to demonstrating that he is the best fighter in the world. A few more performances like last night’s, and boxing fans won’t care whom he thanks.

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