Zoom around the boxing news/commentary sites and for the two winners in Saturday night’s double-header, you’ll find raves that border on the hyperbolic as well as surprising disses. For the two losers, you’ll find generous souls extending the benefit of the doubt alongside dismissals of their entire careers.
So, in light of this, in the parlance of Congress, I intend to revise and extend my remarks about the weekend’s bouts before moving on to other business this week, especially the great big 170-pound showdown between Kelly Pavlik and Bernard Hopkins (in advance of that bout, ESPN’s E:60 is featuring Pavlik Tuesday evening, so another score for boxing’s public profile thanks to Pavlik’s unique marketability).
Via my comrade-in-arms Sean: What Klitschko did “could be described as a virtuoso performance.”
David Haye, speaking of both Klitschko brothers: “Give me Wladimir first, then I’ll take on the older brother. Neither of them has the speed I can show them, and they are both vulnerable.”
Klitschko’s performance is the most universally praised of the four Saturday night, with ESPN’s Dan Rafael comparing it to historical big-fight drubbings of years past such as Winky Wright-Felix Trinidad. But there are some knocks on Klitschko out there. That is that maybe, despite the consensus that he looked like he hadn’t missed a day in the ring after coming back from nearly four years of injuries, he had slowed down some and just caught an opponent who didn’t fight worth a damn. Catching an opponent who doesn’t fight worth a damn is surely the easiest way to look fantastic, after all.
But, as I’ll elaborate on in a minute, Klitschko is the main culprit in Klitschko looking so spectucular Saturday night. He’s just really good at what he does. Former heavyweight Chris Byrd, who has fought both Klitschko brothers, explained it this way: “I know I got beaten by Wladimir, and I won when I fought Vitali, but I can tell you, Vitali has a harder style to face. It’s tough to get close to him and hit him.” Unlike his little brother, Vitali controls distance without clinching, and that makes him far more interesting to me than Wladimir. I also think that despite my eyes telling me he’s better than Wladimir — he can take a punch, Wladimir can’t — that Vitali is appropriately ranked #2 now by Ring magazine behind his brother. Vitali doesn’t have but one comeback fight, so his ranking should be more precarious until he gets a couple under his belt. Fighting fellow top-5er Nicolay Valuev and winning would go a long way toward doing the trick — better Klitschko than Evander freaking Holyfield — but Klitschko has a mandatory defense against Juan Carlos Gomez to take care of, too. I am not too familiar with Gomez, admittedly, but the only heavyweight I’ve seen that I even give a remote chance of beating a healthly Vitali is Haye, because of Haye’s speed.
Which brings me to my verdict: This was an excellent performance, and I favor Sean’s interpretation over what little criticism there is of Vitali.
From Maxboxing.com’s Doug Fischer: “Geez, I miss the good ole days when a fighter who got beat by a quality boxer simply lost to the better man. Nowadays, the loser must leave town no matter what. It’s win or get tossed to the scrap heap. Hey, Peter’s never going to remind anyone of even the lower top 15 heavyweight contenders of the ‘60s and ‘70s (heck, the often overweight/coked-up dregs of the ‘80s like Tony Tubbs and Pinklon Thomas would have EASILY out-classed the painfully raw and one-dimensional Nigerian), but if a heavyweight’s only two losses are to the Klitschko brothers in this era, that’s nothing to be ashamed of in my opinion.”
From pal SC over at BadLeftHook.com: “Peter was never in the fight. He was horrible.”
I lean more toward Fischer on this one. It’s because I’ve still yet to hear anyone who was down on Peter — and there were plenty of folk who were — say what he could have done differently to win that actually would have worked. He found out in the very first round he was in out of his depth. Some have said he didn’t use his jab; he did, but when he threw it, it didn’t even come close to landing, whether he doubled it or not, because Klitschko was too far away and Peter had neither the size nor speed to compensate. Some have suggested he should have bullrushed Klitshcko; when he did, though, he got a crushing counter left hook for his trouble and/or Klitschko caught Peter’s trademark overhand right simply by shrugging his shoulder upwards. People can complain about his inability to dodge a jab or whatever, but frankly, anyone who thought coming in that Peter was a good defensive fighter has seen something I haven’t. In order to beat Klitschko, in my opinion, he would have had to be a completely different fighter — considerably taller, signficantly faster, infinitely more technically sound — or hope for a Klitschko injury.
I think you can knock Peter for coming in out of shape. Maybe, if he was in better shape, he would have been faster in the jab/bullrush departments. But I don’t see it. Even if he had landed on Klitschko more, Klitschko, unlike his little brother, has a hell of a chin, so unless Peter landed a LOT more punches, Klitschko doesn’t get knocked out in that fight. I think you can knock Peter a little for quitting, but Fischer said it was the right move if Peter wanted to retain his health. His corner should have stopped that fight, and Peter shouldn’t have had to ask. Klitschko thinks he psyched out Peter even before the fight started, and maybe he did, but I don’t know what the evidence is of that. I think Peter got psyched out once the fight commenced and he realized he was in for a long ass-whupping.
Peter can make some good fights with fellow shortish heavyweight sluggers like Chris Arreola. He can work on slipping the jab. He’s 28. Maybe the Klitschkos retire in a couple years and then he can try to make a bid then for best heavyweight alive. His career goes a couple different directions from here, but only some of it is up to him.
Ring magazine’s William Detloff: “Chad Dawson did everything right, pretty much, against Antonio Tarver. My only question is why does he just take off whole rounds at a time?”
Yahoo!’s Kevin Iole: “[Floyd] Mayweather said Dawson ‘is the best pound-for-pound fighter in boxing,’ and there weren’t many who witnessed his precise destruction of Tarver who could dispute that.”
OK, here, what little criticism has been offered of Dawson on the point of whether he could have put the foot down on the gas pedal is accurate. If he tried hard enough, Iole would undoubtedly find many people “who witnessed [Dawson’s] precise destruction of Tarver who could dispute” Mayweather dubbing Dawson the best fighter in the world, but Dawson’s performance was eye-opening, even from someone like myself who’s been a fan for a long, long time.
First, the good stuff. Off this fight, I move Chad Dawson up to #12 on my pound-for-pound list from #20, well short of #1. He really was that dominant against a fellow top-5 light heavyweight (175 lbs.), such that he is now ranked #1 by Ring magazine in the division, which is where I would put him. Would you pick against Dawson versus any opponent on his wish list — Roy Jones, Bernard Hopkins, division champ Joe Calzaghe, even Pavlik? Maybe Glen Johnson or Mikkel Kessler, not on his list, would complicate his ascendancy. I suppose Adrian Diaconu offers an interesting style match-up, and if Dawson’s Wikipedia entry is to be believed, clearly and humorously written as it is by a Diaconu fan, Dawson’s scared of Diaconu. Surely it wasn’t that Tarver offers a bigger payday, right? Diaconu was a mandatory challenger to the alphabet title belt Dawson through away to fight Tarver, and while Dawson’s dissing of the value of that belt was commendable, it was also an argument of convenience since Dawson had appealed to keep the belt, but whatever, that’s neither here nor there.
The fact is, Dawson looked so good against Tarver it’s hard to see why he didn’t look even better. He did take whole rounds off. He did fight with caution. Because of his chin problems, I think Dawson might, from here on out, concentrate on winning rounds rather than winning by stoppage, and I guess it’s hard to blame him. Alternately, it can be chalked up, per Fischer, to Dawson still being young and an expectation that one day he’ll know better when he can take risks to go for a stoppage and when he can’t. It’s not ideal if it’s the former, but as long as he keeps winning and is entertaining enough in doing so, I’ll tune in. The question is whether he’ll lure any other big names into the ring with him with that style and risk/reward ratio. That brings us to Tarver.
ESPN’s Rafael: “By the way, Tarver didn’t fight a bad fight. In fact, he’d probably beat most other light heavyweights judging by his performance. But he just didn’t have enough bullets in his gun to handle a young, determined fighter entering his prime.”
Young light heavyweight Tavoris Cloud: “Chad did a good job of taking out Antonio Tarver even though I felt like his (Tarver’s) age was showing,” Cloud said. “His time is up and I’m actually glad to see some youth taking over.”
This is a matter of degree. Everyone agrees that youth served Dawson well Saturday night, but how much Tarver’s age — 39 — had to do with it is another question. Some have gone as far as to wonder whether Tarver wasn’t always overrated. There’s a secondary question of how much credit Tarver deserved for fighting a young, hungry cat like Dawson, and admitting defeat gracefully.
I say Tarver’s career is not overrated. He’s a borderline Hall of Famer who once stood very near the top of the pound-for-pound lists. He looked good against Clinton Woods after a dismal stretch, but some of that was due to the aforementioned phenomenon of Woods just looking bad and Tarver benefiting from the contrast. Tarver might very well have beaten other top light heavyweights with the effort he put forth Saturday night.
But I don’t think he deserves that much credit for fighting Dawson, because I don’t think he had much of a choice. All the other people he wanted were busy, and Showtime wasn’t going to keep hosting his mismatches indefinitely. I think he would have avoided Dawson forever, without a combination of Tarver needing any big fight he could get and Dawson looking more vulnerable than usual against Glen Johnson. For acknowledging defeat with class, though, Tarver gets not only my begrudging respect but probably my year-end “Most Surprising Development of 2008” award. I honestly think Tarver can wring another big fight or two out of his career, and that both he and Dawson owe rematches to Johnson. Tarver beating Johnson a second time would put him in position for one more profitable bout against the division’s elite, because he’d prove he earned it. Tarver does have a rematch clause with Dawson, but he’d be wise not to exercise it.