OAKLAND, Calif. -- There has never been a knock on super middleweight champion Andre Ward's ability. He was a 2004 U.S. Olympic gold medalist and the 2011 fighter of the year, he hasn't lost a fight since he was a 12-year-old amateur, and he is as skilled as they come inside the boxing ring.
If there was one area of issue, it was simply that for all his enormous talent, Ward hadn't scored many knockouts or made enough exciting fights.
Until Saturday night, when he took care of both.
Ward, in what was expected to be the toughest fight of his career, dominated light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson, knocking him down three times and battering him into a 10th-round knockout at Oracle Arena as the 8,500 on hand in Ward's hometown loved every minute of it.
"I love to win, and everybody is asking me what's the missing piece of the puzzle," Ward said. "Finishing guys is the last piece of the puzzle, and we are on our way to doing that. With better competition, I rise to the occasion. I raise my game. It might have looked easy, but Chad Dawson is a monster."
The performance from Ward was staggering. Potential-all-time-great staggering. This was as good as Roy Jones Jr. routing James Toney or Floyd Mayweather Jr. crushing Diego Corrales.
"He's an excellent champion; he deserves to be where he's at now," Dawson said. "I'll give him that credit."
Said Ward: "These kind of fights, you have to take risks or else it can be a snoozer or something crazy can happen and you can lose your title to a guy of this caliber."
Dawson had made the unusual decision to drop down in weight from his 175-pound division to 168 pounds, where Ward is the king. Dawson looked strong at the weigh-in despite the weight loss, and he looked much bigger than Ward in the ring.
But Ward cut him down to size. In the process, he left open a question: Who can fight him to give him even a competitive match?
Ward rolled through the Super Six World Boxing Classic, winning two world title belts and barely losing a round against the elite of the super middleweight division, including Mikkel Kessler, Arthur Abraham and Carl Froch.
Coming off the Super Six tournament victory, Ward now has blown out the light heavyweight champion in his encore. Dawson has been a pound-for-pound list stalwart with a huge résumé, including a lopsided win against the great Bernard Hopkins in their April rematch.
But he was no match for Ward, who drew blood from over his right eye in the second round and never let up.
Ward (26-0, 14 KOs), 28, simply could not miss with his left hook, which he landed on the button to drop Dawson in the third round for the first time in the fight, sending the crowd into a frenzy.
In the fourth round, Ward again plastered Dawson with a left hook. They both went down, but Ward hit the deck because he stumbled, while Dawson went down from the full force of a solid punch.
Dawson, who earned $600,000, was badly hurt this time, and referee Steve Smoger took a close look at him. He was hanging on, and Ward was teeing off. Ward rocked Dawson with a booming right later in the round.
In the eighth round, Ward, whose purse was $1,367,500, continued to put on a clinic, smashing Dawson with an uppercut when they were in close along the ropes, and the blood went flying from Dawson's face.
It was very clear that Dawson (31-2, 17 KOs), 30, of New Haven, Conn., was going to need something big to get back into the fight. His trainer, John Scully -- and everyone else -- knew it.
"Forget everything! You need to hurt this guy," Scully barked at Dawson after the eighth.
But Dawson could do nothing.
Finally, in the 10th round, Ward unloaded a four-punch combination -- textbook left, right, left, right -- and Dawson meekly went down to a knee.
Although he beat the count and Smoger gave him every opportunity to continue, it looked as though Dawson mouthed the words, "I'm done, I'm done," and Smoger stopped the fight at 2 minutes, 45 seconds.
He was, and Ward -- who was ahead 90-79, 89-80, 89-80 on the scorecards at the time of the knockout -- and his fans celebrated a monumental victory that should send Ward up several notches on most pound-for-pound lists.
"I carried the weight in the ring of being champion," Ward said. "Dawson was a dangerous opponent. I took a risk by fighting the bigger man. He had me in height and in reach, but he sacrificed the weight. I was surprised he wasn't as fast as he looked on tape. I saw everything coming from the start. [Trainer] Virgil [Hunter] kept telling me to turn it up, and that's what I did."
Ward now will have to mull his next move. He has cleaned out the super middleweight division. The other fighters with major belts are Froch and Abraham, who collected them after being whipped by Ward in the Super Six. And Dawson also has now been vanquished.
He could consider light heavyweights such as titlist Tavoris Cloud or former champ Jean Pascal, who had handed Dawson his only previous defeat.
"I've gotten spoiled with the Super Six, having my opponents set out in front of me," Ward said. "It's weird not knowing what's next. A move to light heavyweight is not out of the question, but I don't know what's next because all I did was focus 100 percent on this fight."
Dawson gave Ward the credit he deserved.
"I wanted to fight the best; I fought the best. I'm not going to hang my head," Dawson said. "I'm still the light heavyweight champion of the world. I'm going to go back to 175 and take my reign there and decide what I'm going to do next.
"I did everything that I had to do in camp to prepare for this fight, but he was a lot faster than I thought he was. And he's strong, too. I can't take anything away from him. He really is the best. Andre Ward is a helluva champion."