Light Heavyweight Love Triangle: Hopkins-Dawson & Pascal
By Zachary Alapi: With the immanent approach of the Bernard Hopkins vs. Chad Dawson showdown for light heavyweight supremacy, it is important to remember the intertwined circumstances atop the division that have led to this fight. Before even determining a possible winner to Saturday’s bout at the Staples Centre, both fighters’ relation to Jean Pascal (26-2-1, 16 KOs) must be considered.
Article posted on 11.10.2011
First, let’s start with Chad Dawson (30-1, 17 KOs). As a native Montrealer, I had the privilege of attending Pascal-Dawson and Pascal-Hopkins II. For all of the excessive complaining put forth by Gary Shaw, his promotional outfit, and Dawson himself (who was, to be fair, a bit more stoic and reserved), there was little to point to when it came to supposedly poor officiating, Canadian bias (give me a break), or the ludicrous claim that Dawson had Pascal completely reeling in the 11th and was literally on the verge of a knock out before the fight was stopped due to cuts. The fact remains that for 10 and a half rounds Dawson was comprehensively outboxed and outhustled. Pascal continually beat him to the punch, throwing flashy combinations and landing his dangerous right hand in key spots. For Dawson backers who cry foul, there seemed to be minimal emphasis on Pascal’s dominance of the late-middle rounds (7-9 specifically), where Dawson was nearly out on his feet and only remained standing because he grabbed Pascal’s quadriceps after eating a flush shot that had him tumbling forward. Considering that using Pascal’s body to prevent touching the canvas is essentially the same as using your glove, the sequence should have been ruled a knockdown. Throw in the fact that the referee that night, Michael Griffin, is Canadian, and any cry for foul play seems like a case of sore losers realizing they overlooked a dangerous opponent.
In his fight against Pascal, Dawson did far too much posturing, waiting for the perfect moment to time his aggressive opponent with a crisp counter. The problem was that Pascal befuddled the surprisingly robotic Dawson with constant movement (head and body) and punches from awkward angles. When Dawson fights, he almost seems intent on being perfect, or trying to. For someone so skilled and physically gifted, it seems as if he’s constantly aware of how he’s looking when he fights instead of just fighting. Against Pascal, an unwillingness to let his hands go with capable flurries gave his equally fast and skilled, albeit erratic, opponent free reign to assault him from all angles. For every punch Dawson threw, Pascal answered with three, or so it seemed.
Adopting Hall-of-Fame trainer Emanuel Steward for his comeback fight against Adrian Diaconu, unfortunately, led to more of the same. Steward, one of the best trainers of all time, is known for pressing his fighters to step on the gas pedal and go for knockouts when he thinks they’re capable. How this never registered with Dawson when fighting the gritty but limited Diaconu is beyond comprehension. Despite possessing a four-inch height advantage, as well as better speed and skills, Dawson was content to cruise to a decision behind a stiff jab and a few well-placed straight lefts. Solid defence and a purposeful jab are nothing new in Emanuel Steward-trained boxers, but the willingness to coast and limit himself in a fight where he should have made a statement was surprising. Based on performance alone, it is a wonder that he even secured a bout with Hopkins. This has merely to do with the division being top-heavy in terms of big money fights. HBO had little option but to pit Dawson and Hopkins against each other, if only because Chad had been vocal about the fight for a long time. But back to the Diaconu fight. Diaconu is a solid fighter, top contender, and former interim champion. Nevertheless, Dawson had an overwhelming advantage in skill and speed, yet it never felt as if he threatened to stop the Rumanian. In fact, Diaconu was the one who pressed the action and was even able to steal 3-4 rounds (objectively) on the scorecards. It was as if Dawson was simply trying to outfox him, counter him properly, and outbox a foe who perhaps could have been overwhelmed. Again, it was an unwillingness to throw combinations and move forward from Dawson that made this fight underwhelming. After the bout, most people in the audience around me preferred to discuss how Diaconu had acquitted himself well given Dawson’s advantages (granted we were in Diaconu’s adopted hometown). No one was impressed with Chad. Nevertheless, tough fights against the likes of Antonio Tarver (29-6, 20 KOs) and Glen Johnson (51-15-2, 35 KOs) might have Dawson better prepared for a fighter of Hopkins’ experience level than Pascal was at the time of his fights with “The Executioner.”
This now brings us to how Hopkins (52-5-2, 32 KOs) acquitted himself against Pascal. Obviously, the simple answer is that he won the second fight and was thus better. A more subtle analysis might suggest that Pascal’s style and reckless aggression played exactly into Hopkins’ endless bag of tricks. Hopkins, a master tactician and fundamentally sound, preyed on the erratic Pascal’s awkward lunges, predictable attacks, and suspect stamina with perfectly timed counter punches and calculated aggression. While Dawson did land some counter shots against Pascal, Dawson failed to match Hopkins’ controlled aggression. Hopkins knew exactly when to move forward and was economical yet consistent with his offensive output. As a Canadian and Pascal fan, I can confidently say Hopkins perhaps deserved to even win the first fight, and Pascal’s kryptonite was essentially the same as it was when they met for the rematch. The difference was that Hopkins was more aggressive and in sensational shape (those push-ups between rounds were something special), allowing him to close strong and push forward in the championship rounds to secure a close win in a title fight in his opponent’s backyard.
How Hopkins and Dawson faired against Pascal is en excellent indication of how their fight could likely play out. Both tried to counterpunch Pascal with some degree of success, though Hopkins was certainly more effective. Whereas Dawson didn’t go on the offensive until the 10th and 11th rounds of his fight with Pascal, Hopkins was measured in his approach and consistently moved forward. While Dawson is a better conventional boxer than Pascal, his tendency to posture and limit his own repertoire could play into Hopkins’ hand. If Dawson tries to simply time Hopkins and fight from the outside, Bernard will counter him and pick his moments for bursts of in-fighting to steal rounds. It could also make for a lot of posturing and a boring fight. If Dawson moves forward and is aggressive it will force Hopkins to open up and engage. The bottom line is you cannot outfox Hopkins. This is tried and true. If Dawson wants to win he needs to make Hopkins fight, and fight for three long minutes. It seems unlikely that Dawson will do this. I foresee a tactical bout with Hopkins’ experience and newfound aggression being enough to win a close unanimous decision. His veteran tricks will frustrate Dawson, as will the inability for Chad to time the cagey veteran cleanly.
If Hopkins wins, there isn’t much left for him to accomplish (though it seems like we’ve been saying that for almost a decade). A rematch with Pascal seems unlikely, even though it would probably be his biggest payday within the division, especially with crowds being so big in Canada (but why would Hopkins come back to fight Pascal again?). The more intriguing option is what happens if Dawson wins, which is where Pascal fits more directly into the equation. A unification fight with Tavoris Cloud (23-0, 19 KOs) is something the networks might buy but the majority of fans, especially casual ones, couldn’t care less about. A rematch with Pascal, because of his drawing power in Canada and charisma, is Dawson’s best option. If Dawson wants to be the marketable star he claims, he needs to suck it up and defend his title (should he win) on the road against someone who knows how to bring in a crowd and actually entertain them. A rematch with belts on the line would draw well over 15,000 to the Bell Centre in Montreal and would be a huge even in the city. HBO has also shown a willingness to travel to Canada, which is a positive thing because Montreal is one of the world’s best fight cities.
So what does Pascal have to do in the meantime? Well, for starters he needs to win his comeback fight on December 10 in Montreal. It would also be nice to see him in the ring with a quality opponent like Zsolt Erdei (33-0, 18 KOs), or even a possible paper title showdown, eventually, with Beibut Shumenov (12-1, 8 KOs) or the aforementioned Cloud, though titleholders will be less likely to travel to Canada despite the money to be made. With Hopkins near the end of his career, a possible unification fight between Pascal and Dawson down the road would be the ideal grudge match. Hopefully Nathan Cleverly (22-0, 11 KOs) will eventually be brought into this mix, especially as his style gains exposure with American audiences and as long as he keeps his WBO strap. The bottom line is that as Hopkins and Dawson get set to meet, their paths have met through the crossroads of Jean Pascal, and, frankly, they (and by they I mean mostly Dawson) owe much of the hype and excitement to him. Ultimately, the three fighters, regardless of Saturday’s outcome, will be at the forefront of big fight discussions within the division.
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