The first knock down came in a flash, a lightning bolt on a clear night, one Andre "Son of God" Ward punch and "Bad" Chad Dawson fell to the canvas.
Dawson was more stunned than hurt. But any notion that the knock down was a fluke dissolved seconds into the next round, when Ward sent Dawson back to the ground with another left.
S-O-G! S-O-G! S-O-G!
After that, Ward would not relinquish command.
He hadn't been known for these kind of fireworks. Ward, who won Olympic gold in 2004, has tended to control fights with guile, sliding around contact, battering the body, and picking his spots with crisp flurries. Knockout power had been the single missing piece in his otherwise flawless repertoire, the one thing seemingly keeping him from the pay-per-view mega-fights reserved for elite tier of boxers.
"In boxing right now, everybody's knockout hungry," he would say after the fight. "Everybody wants a knockout. I tell people you can still entertain without a knockout. But a knockout is always great."
And here he was, on the biggest stage of his career, on primetime HBO against perhaps his most talented opponent yet, chopping down the best light heavyweight in the world.
Dawson's no chump. The WBC 175-pound titlist, he dropped down a weight class to challenge Ward, the WBA and WBC 168-pound champion. Through the sixth and seventh, he battled back with sporadic thudding hooks, halting Ward's momentum and silencing the audience. Ward was too fast, though, countering each Dawson offensive with precise three-punch combination.
Jab -- rocking Dawson's head back. Then another jab. Rights and lefts to the torso. Then two more jabs followed by straight right.
By the eighth, the body blows, mixed with Ward's ring waltzing, had worn down Dawson's legs. As they jockeyed on the inside, forehead to forehead, Ward unleashed a string of vicious uppercuts that shot bloody snot from Dawson's mouth, like rocks in a mine blast. The light heavyweight champ shuffled around flat-footed, knowing only a knockout could earn him a win, angling for openings that never came.
"Step it up," trainer Virgil Hunter told Ward in the latter rounds. "You got another gear."
He hit that gear late in the 10th, buckling Dawson's knees with a chopping left hook. Then he closed in for a machine-gun-quick seven punch rally, capped off by a straight left and a right hook. Dawson collapsed to a knee.
"I'm finished," Dawson, blood dripping from a gash above his right eye, told referee Steve Smoger. "I'm done."
The Compubox numbers displayed the dominance: Ward (26-0) landed 155 power punches to Dawson's 29. Dawson (31-2), well-known for his constant and stiff jab, landed only seven of them all fight, a testament to Ward's footwork. Ward won all nine rounds on one judge's score card, and eight on the other two.
He climbed the corner post, arms in the air, a smile soaking in the jubilation and camera flashes. An hour or so later, in the near empty parking lot, three men leaned against a pickup truck's bed, sipping on beers left over from the tailgate.
"Can't mess with Oaktown, baby! Can't mess with that," said one.
"We're the champion, boy!" screamed another.