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Andre Ward stops Chad Dawson, but can he be a star?

OAKLAND – Manny Pacquiao’s best days are behind him. So are Floyd Mayweather’s.

But a shortage of talent in their sport has kept these aging and slowing former greats on the top of boxing’s pound-for-pound list.

Andre Ward offered himself as a viable alternative Saturday night at Oracle Arena.

Ward was spectacular in defending his super middleweight title, scoring a 10th-round technical knockout of light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson in what was arguably his career-defining fight to date.

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Ward did everything. He negated the taller and longer Dawson’s jab. He brutalized Dawson in close quarters. He moved away when necessary.

The 2004 Olympic gold medalist even displayed something he has rarely shown in his eight-year professional career: power.

Ward dropped Dawson in the third round and again in the fourth. He clubbed Dawson on the top of the head with an chopping left hand in the 10th round, starting a sequence of events that ended with Dawson asking referee Steve Smoger to stop the fight.

Of the undefeated Ward’s 26 victories, this was only his 14th by knockout.

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“A knockout is always great,” Ward said. “It’s the last piece of the puzzle in my game.”

Unlike Pacquiao and Mayweather, who are essentially bloated lightweights fighting as welterweights, Ward is fighting at what appears to be his best weight. Unlike the 33-year-old Pacquiao and the 35-year-old Mayweather, the 28-year-old Ward is in his prime.

“I just want to keep fighting and keep winning,” he said. “If I’m called the next star, that’s fine.”

But not a priority, even though his sport is starved for marquee attractions.

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Of course, skills don’t always translate to stardom. Ward still hasn’t fought in Las Vegas, and his victory over Dawson came in front of a hometown crowd of about 8,500 fans — solid numbers for a regional promotion, but not exactly Oscar De La Hoya figures.

A self-proclaimed man of faith, Ward isn’t a particularly colorful personality. He won’t draw viewers by running his mouth the way Mayweather has.

And while he does everything well and might be the most tactically sophisticated fighter outside of Mayweather, he isn’t particularly flashy in the ring, either. He’s fast, but not lighting fast the way Roy Jones Jr. used to be. He hits hard enough to stop opponents from advancing, but lacks the paralyzing power that Pacquiao once possessed.

“It’s a process,” said Dan Goossen, Ward’s promoter. “Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather went through it for many, many years. They weren’t what they are today. It took them eight or nine years.”

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What ultimately turned Pacquiao and Mayweather into fighters who transcended their sport were their respective fights against box-office darling De La Hoya.

There is no De La Hoya today. The most visible boxer who fights at or near Ward’s 168-pound weight class might be the grossly overrated Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.

Chavez’s promotional outfit, Top Rank, is unlikely to ever let Chavez anywhere near Ward — that is, if Chavez isn’t flattened Sept. 15 by Sergio Martinez.

But Goossen was convinced Ward’s splendid display Saturday advanced their agenda.

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“Tonight was a big calling card in saying we’re at that next level,” Goossen said.

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