Chad Dawson: When a win is not enough
May 11, 2009 – By Scott Kraus - On Saturday night, Chad Dawson retained his IBF Light Heavyweight title by doing what no man had done before – he beat Antonio Tarver in a rematch. In a mostly one-sided performance, Dawson preserved his undefeated record and made a victorious debut on HBO.
Article posted on 12.05.2009
On paper, it was as good a night as Dawson could have hoped for in a fight he did not really want and few in the boxing world wanted to see. In reality, Dawson failed to accomplish his one true goal for the evening, the goal of every championship-level boxer without a devoted local following or an Olympic pedigree: to generate excitement, develop buzz, and inspire fans to invest themselves in his career..
HBO did not broadcast Dawson-Tarver II because they anticipated an action-packed brawl. HBO aired Dawson-Tarver II as the first fight of a two-fight deal with Dawson, part of a widespread effort at the network to promote the next generation of boxing stars. At 26 years old, Dawson has already won six title fights at light heavyweight, including victories over current world cruiserweight champion Tomasz Adamek and veteran former titlists Glen Johnson and Tarver. As one of the most accomplished fighters in his age group, Dawson fits logically alongside Paul Williams, Juan Manuel Lopez, Victor Ortiz, and the other young guns featured prominently on HBO in the last year.
However, while Dawson brings a lot to the table in terms of in-ring success, he brings none of the intangibles necessary to translate success in the ring into popularity with the fans.
Dawson was born in South Carolina and resides in New Haven, Connecticut, neither boxing hotbeds. He does not boast a fervent following of nationalistic fans like John Duddy with Irish-Americans in New York or Adamek with Polish-Americans in New Jersey. Although he enjoyed some amateur success, he was not an Olympian and did not enter the professional ranks with the level of attention paid to US Olympic medalists like Jermain Taylor, Andre Ward and Andre Dirrell.
As a professional, Dawson has compiled a very impressive resume in workmanlike fashion. Dawson is a technically solid fighter. He has fast hands for his weight division and boasts a high work rate for a fighter his size. He is very sound defensively and rarely gets hit flush, utilizing subtle head movement and a solid guard. He features a good jab and can both initiate action and counterpunch.
What he does not feature is the one asset that attracts the most attention from casual fans: power. In his four fights against world-class opponents (Adamek, Johnson, and Tarver twice) Dawson has won by decision each time. Although he dropped Tarver to the canvas in the 12th round of their first fight, Dawson has not seriously hurt any of his top opponents.
Compare Dawson’s power to the trio of young stars mentioned earlier. Williams boasts knockout wins in title fights against Carlos Quintana (a first-round demolition) and Verno Phillips. Lopez won his WBO super bantamweight title with a first-round blitzkrieg of Daniel Ponce de Leon, and followed that with first-round knockouts in his first two title defenses before becoming the first to stop Gerry Penalosa via tenth-round TKO. Ortiz is still only a contender, but he boasts eight consecutive knockouts against increasingly better competition, with four coming inside the first two rounds.
Without the inherent gifts of a superstar, the hope for Dawson in his quest to become a big-name fighter is that he can entice a big-name opponent to face him in a high-profile bout. “…[W]e wanted to get this out of the way so if an opportunity came up to fight Bernard Hopkins or Joe Calzaghe, or somebody like that, we wouldn't have this fight with Tarver staring us in the face,” Dawson promoter Gary Shaw told Dan Rafael of ESPN.com after the rematch with Tarver was signed. “We'd like to fight Hopkins, Calzaghe, [super middleweight titleholder] Mikkel Kessler, Jermain Taylor, any of them. Whoever wants to fight at 175 pounds, Chad will fight."
As willing as Dawson may be, none of the fighters Shaw mentioned are likely to meet him in the ring any time soon.
Hopkins, the number-one light heavyweight in the world according to Ring Magazine, has said that he has no interest in facing Dawson, recently calling out Tomasz Adamek and Carl Froch instead. At 44 years old and with outside interests like Golden Boy Promotions and broadcasting consuming more of his time, Hopkins is a long, long shot to ever face Dawson in the ring.
Calzaghe is retired and looks like he will stay that way. While many other fighters change their minds about retirement as often as they change their hand wraps in training, Calzaghe has not been lured back to the ring despite being called out by numerous fighters, most notably Dawson and Froch. Dawson-Calzaghe has even less chance than Dawson-Hopkins of ever being made.
Kessler’s post-Calzaghe resume of safe fights in Denmark and Germany against Dimitri Sartison and Danilo Haussler, interspersed with long periods of inactivity, calls into question his desire to fight world-class opposition, let alone his desire to move up in weight to do so, which he would have to do to fight Dawson. Taylor’s 12th-round KO loss to Froch in April takes him out of the equation, and Froch does not have the following or accomplishments to elevate Dawson to a new level. As for the remaining contenders at light heavyweight, only Roy Jones and Glen Johnson have any name recognition, and a fight with Jones makes little sense financially or competitively.
Dawson could grant a rematch to Johnson, who lost a close, spirited decision to Dawson in April 2008. While an attractive matchup for fight fans, Dawson-Johnson II is a high-risk, low-reward fight for Dawson. Another win over Johnson would do little to enhance Dawson’s standing in the sport, while a loss would significantly set his career back and possibly cost him his newfound status as an HBO fighter.
To establish himself as one of the cornerstones of the next generation of boxing on HBO, Dawson and his team may need to get creative. Dawson could attempt to unify the light heavyweight titles to further establish Dawson as the premier fighter in his division. Though none of the other current titleholders (Hugo Hernan Garay, Adrian Diaconu, and Zsolt Erdei) are major players in the sport, by wiping out the division Dawson could force bigger-name fighters to take notice.
Dawson could also seek to capitalize on the popularity of other fighters. Lucian Bute, the IBF super middleweight titlist, is incredibly popular in Canada and regularly packs a full house into the Bell Centre in Montreal. Dawson would need to drop down to super middleweight to fight Bute, but the potential reward, and the dearth of other significant fights, may prompt him to do so. Bute-Dawson would have the added advantage of being the most attractive stylistic matchup Dawson could make.
By defeating Tarver twice, Dawson confirmed his status as one of the best boxers in the sport today. HBO can only hope that his next fight will establish him as a bankable star, as this one failed to do.
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