OAKLAND, Calif. -- All that was missing for Andre Ward as he swept through the Super Six tournament and earned fighter of the year award was a knockout punch.
Against Chad Dawson he delivered it.
Ward knocked out Dawson in the 10th round with his third knockdown punch of the night to defend his WBC-WBA super middleweight titles Saturday and delight his hometown crowd.
"That's what we needed," Ward said. "A lot of people in boxing are knockout hungry. Everybody wants the knock out. I tell people you can still entertain without a knockout. But a knockout is always great. That's the last piece of the puzzle in my game that I want to keep working on. This is the first step toward that tonight against a top of the line opponent."
Ward (26-0, 14 KOs) knocked down Dawson (31-2, 17 KOs) late in the third round and early in the fourth to take control of the fight and finished him off with a combination at 2:45 of the 10th.
Dawson, the WBC light heavyweight champion, moved down a weight class from 175 pounds to 168 to take on Ward. Dawson also was willing to fight in Ward's hometown of Oakland, where an enthusiastic crowd had previously cheered Ward on to four wins.
But Dawson proved to be no match for Ward, who punished the challenger repeatedly with his strong left hand.
Ward, the reigning fighter of the year by the Boxing Writers Association of America, ran through a strong field in the Super Six super middleweight tournament, capping it with a decision over Carl Froch in December that made him the undisputed champion of the weight class.
Ward also is the last American to win an Olympic gold medal, doing it in Athens in 2004, and is widely considered one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the sport. He showed why against Dawson.
But this may have been one of his most impressive bouts.
"I took a big risk fighting the bigger man," Ward said. "He had the advantage in height and reach but he sacrificed the weight. In boxing you have to take a risk to get the prize."
While both fighters are supremely talented and have accomplished careers, they are not known for knockouts or showy fights. Dawson's last knockout came in 2007, while Ward had not had one since beating Shelby Pudwill in 2009.
"We showed that we can do more than win decisions," Ward said. "I have another gear. I'm in my prime. I feel like I'm coming into my own at a championship level."
The fight started that way with both fighters feeling each other out rather than punching in the first round. Dawson got a cut over his right eye in the second round and then things really heated up in the third, with both fighters opening up.
In the final minute of the round, Ward floored Dawson with a hard left hand. Dawson staggered around for the finish of the round and then got knocked down again by a left hook early in the fourth to the delight of the fans who were pleading for a knockout.
Ward was in control the rest of the way, landing 155 power punches to just 29 for Dawson, according to Compubox. He won all nine rounds on one card and eight of nine on the other two before finishing Dawson off with a vicious combination in the 10th round.
"He's a lot faster than I thought he would be," Dawson said. "He was strong too. I can't take anything away from him. He really is one of the best."
Dawson rebounded from his only career loss in 2010 to Jean Pascal to beat Bernard Hopkins in a unanimous decision in April to become champion once again. After winning that, he called for a bout with Ward and was willing to go on the road and down in weight to get that chance. It didn't pay off and he said he will go back to 175 pounds for his next fight.
"I want to tell you as Chad Dawson's promoter that Andre Ward is one of the best fighters I've ever seen," Gary Shaw said.
In the co-feature earlier in the night, WBC lightweight titleholder Antonio DeMarco (28-2-1, 21 KOs) of Mexico beat John Molina Jr. (24-2, 19 KOs) by technical knockout in the first round.
Among the celebrities on hand for the fight were career hit king Pete Rose, Los Angeles Dodgers star Matt Kemp, Lakers forward Metta World Peace, and boxer Shane Mosley.