Heading into tonight, we had two fighters — Antonio Tarver and Vitali Klitschko — whose age made them, rather than familiar and consistent rocks of the sport, unknown quantities. In the end, one of the two came up roses. The other fell to the fresher, younger fighter.
I commend you to Sean’s take on the Klitschko-Sam Peter fight first, immediately below, then to my take on both fights. In it, I respond to the commenter who listed his name as Mauricio Sulaiman, son of WBC president Jose, and his defense of¬ the organization’s ridiculous championship policies in re: Klitschko-Peter. (Trust me, Mauricio, the end doesn’t justify the means.)
ANTONIO TARVER – CHAD DAWSON
This was a dominant performance by a rising young light heavyweight (175 lbs.) in Chad Dawson with all the talent in the world, collecting a big-name win on his record against Tarver, who fought well but was way out of his league athletically. Dawson, 26, was worlds faster than Tarver, 39, on both offense and defense. I only gave Tarver two rounds, and in one of them, Dawson mysteriously seemed to be trying to prove some point that even if he didn’t punch, Tarver would be impotent to steal his shine. If that was the big idea, it worked. He won by wide margins on the official scorecards.
Seriously. Dawson was just that much faster. Any time he decided to freeze Tarver, all he had to do was throw some combos. I thought coming in that Tarver could freeze Dawson by counter-punching, but instead, Tarver took the lead all night long. That meant that Dawson could pick his spots to do stuff, and Tarver went into his defensive shell anytime he did. If you’re a judge the choice is between fighter A who doesn’t do enough and doesn’t land very much when he does and fighter B who does more and lands more if not everything he throws, it’s a pretty easy choice.
Between rounds in an interview with Showtime, Floyd Mayweather, Jr. deemed Dawson the best pound-for-pound fighter in the sport in his absence,¬ which is going way, way too far. But Dawson certainly has that kind of potential, and I think he’s creeping into consideration very soon for top-10 status among the best fighters in the sport regardless of size. He’s now defeated three very serious, highly-ranked opponents in Tomasz Adamek, Glen Johnson and Antonio Tarver, along with a few other decent light heavies like Eric Harding. Tarver may have another big fight or two in him, but it looked like he was wise to be avoiding Dawson for the past couple years before finally signing to do battle against the young stud.
Next for the winner: Right now, it’s rather obvious to me that Dawson is the #1 challenger to Joe Calzaghe, the Ring magazine light heavyweight champ. You could put Bernard Hopkins there, but he’s fought too many catch-weight bouts between 175 and 160 for me to put him in that place. Both Hopkins and Dawson have dominated Tarver, plus Dawson has beat a few more top light heavyweights than Hopkins has of late. As much as I’d like to see Calzaghe in against Kelly Pavlik, I think you can make the case that Dawson deserves him more. If that doesn’t happen, I really do think Dawson owes Glen Johnson a rematch. For a long time, observers — including myself — have been making the case that Dawson is the future at light heavyweight. I say the future is now.
Next for the loser: Tarver has a beautiful, beautiful wife, and they showed Denise Tarver as often as they could between rounds. He’s got a great movie credit for his role in “Rocky Balboa,” and presumably could make some more dough with an acting career. He’s got a borderline Hall of Fame resume. Presumably he’s made some decent change in his career. If he retires, he will do so with little to regret. Dawson was his best chance of pushing his career into the next level; but if he wants to hang around, the seniors tour at light heavyweight is pretty loaded, with a third fight with Johnson being the one I’d be most interested in seeing. If I were him, I’d go home to Denise, assuming I had my money right.
VITALI KLITSCHKO – SAMUEL PETER
When Sean and I were chatting about this fight beforehand, I opined that the key was that, if Klitschko is healthy, he beats Peter easily.¬ It was a big, big “if” for a guy who’d pulled out of fights repeatedly over the last four years. But clearly, Klitschko was healthy. And clearly, he beat Peter easily.
On one level, it’s great to have Klitschko back. He’s a more entertaining fighter than little brother Wladimir, even if his drubbing of Peter wasn’t particularly exciting. He doesn’t clinch endlessly; he doesn’t flash fear of God in his eyes when he gets hit; he doesn’t paw with his jab maddeningly. I honestly think that based on this one performance, he’s clearly still the best heavyweight you could consider “active,” even if I’d rank him a spot or two below little brother just because he’s not been as active against top opposition for the last couple years. And even though I was surprised to see Peter quit, I was shouting for it to be stopped by his corner around the round it was halted, the 8th. Showtime’s commentators were all over Peter for being “languid,” but never at any point did they say what Peter could do to rectify his situation. The reason is because there was nothing he could do. He wasn’t, and isn’t, good enough to beat a healthy Vitali. His best hope was a shattered hip or something.
On another level, it’s totally not good to have Vitali back. This brings us to Mauricio. He said we should do more “research” before criticizing the WBC. Well, here’s my research. I explained to three different people at my house to watch tonight’s fights how Klitschko was the “champion emeritus” and Peter was some kind of other WBC “champion,” and the circuitous path Peter and Klitschko took to get to this fight.Two of them were casual fans, and the other was a pure novice. All three laughed it off as totally dumb. Dumb beyond belief. None of them were impressed that the Klitschko brothers would serve jointly as “world champions” at heavyweight. This is not a welcome development at all. Since they will never fight each other, only one of them losing offers us a chance of ever having one real world champion, per Ring magazine policy. Vitali Klitschko beating Peter does not in any way prove that the WBC was wise to make him “champion emeritus.” That designation is stupid beyond belief no matter whether Peter lost. After retiring, Klitschko should have been forced to earn his way back up the championship ladder, period.
Next for the winner: Sky’s the limit… no, wait, it isn’t. Because praise Jebus that we finally have two brothers carrying heavyweight “world champion” belts, but we’ll never know who the best heavyweight is until one of them loses. (That’s sarcasm.) There’s an off chance this ends up being good for boxing, if reporters who don’t care about the “finding out who the best in the division is” angle of the sport get suckered into being charmed by the very intelligent and capable Klitschko brothers. I’ll cross my fingers. I’ll also cross my fingers that, whomever Vitali Klitschko fights next — and no matter who it is I would pick him to win if he makes it to fight night — the fight isn’t sidelined by his past injury woes.
Next for the loser: Face depuffication. Peter got all swelled up by Klitschko. I don’t know if face depuffication is an operation anyone can get, but it’s what he needs in the short term. Also, avoiding really tall heavyweights might be smart, long-term. I like Peter in against any sub 6’6″ heavyweight, but he just doesn’t have the exceptional skill that would be needed to get either of the Klitschko brothers to neutralize their height. As long as they’re around, he doesn’t get to be the best big man in the game.