The Reclamation, Or The Coronation: Tarver-Dawson Preview, Prediction

This, ladies and gentleman, is how you talk trash. Antonio Tarver and Chad Dawson have been jawing at one another hilariously in advance of their potentially very good light heavyweight (175 lbs.) fight with plenty of storylines — most notably, that of the older, bigger figure Tarver trying to claw his way back to the top of his division while the younger talent Dawson is trying to snatch some of the glory that would come with beating a movie star, one who snatched his own glory by being the first man to knock out Roy Jones, Jr.
A sample of the smack betwixt the two top-5 light heavies follows.
Tarver, questioning Dawson’s chin over at “‘You tell me, I mean, I don’t know if it’s soft (his chin) or not but we’re going to see,’ he would say last month during a press conference in Los Angeles to promote this light heavyweight grudge match. ‘I was thinking about getting Whitney Houston in here to sing the national anthem but I’m afraid that if she hit a high note, his ass might be stuck in the locker room.'”
Dawson, in a recent news release: “Drill baby, drill! That’s what I’m going to do to Anphonyo Tarver when I finally get that 14-carat chump into the ring,” said Dawson from his Las Vegas-based training camp. “At least I won’t have to go offshore to get my hands on him. Tarver’s going to need a financial bailout to pay for a new set of teeth. I just hope his dentist gets the cash up front because ‘Old Chapter 7’ isn’t the most reliable when it comes to paying off his debts.¬† Getting rid of Tarver is not just my mission, it’s a public service!”
It’s topical stuff, even ripped straight from the headlines a la “Law and Order” in Dawson’s case. But it’s also topical to some of the things that will be decisive Saturday night on Showtime. No, it is not, as Showtime has hyped it, “the most anticipated fight of the year.” Plenty of others take that cake well before Tarver-Dawson. But with Tarver looking sharp in his last fight after a couple miserable performances that raised questions about whether he was far too old, and with Dawson’s considerable physical assets offset by his heaping helping of vulnerability, it certainly stimulates some considerable anticipation in this particular boxing blogger.

It wasn’t always that way. Showtime chased Tarver-Dawson like it was the Holy Grail for two years, when it was more akin to a trinket you’d buy for a quarter out of a grocery store toy machine. That’s because Tarver got flat dominated by Bernard Hopkins four fights ago, which might not have been the end of the world if he hadn’t looked completely shot in lackluster wins over Elvir Muriqi and Danny Santiago. When you’re a loudmouth who earned a spot as the villain in the movie “Rocky Balboa” with just that loquaciousness, as Tarver did, but you keep talking like you’re God’s gift to boxing without backing it up, as Tarver did, the combination is a recipe for turning yourself into one of boxing’s most reviled men, which is… what happened to Tarver. Then, in his last fight, against Clinton Woods this spring, Tarver manufactured a reasonable fascimile of his old self. He kept up his work rate, landed plenty of his patented straight lefts and gave Woods too much of a moving target. Some of that may have had to do with Woods being lethargic — was he sick? — but some of it may have had to do with Tarver finally being comfortable at 175 again after blimping up to play a heavyweight for the movie role. At 39, that’s a neat trick to pull off, but since Tarver got a late start to his boxing career, it’s not implausible that he has fewer miles on his odometer than his age suggests.
Whatever the explanation, it is less of a foregone conclusion now that Dawson would stomp Tarver than it was before. Tarver lost his first fight to Glen Johnson, but he made it look easy when he got revenge in the rematch. Dawson went pretty much life and death with Johnson this spring in a close, disputed win. Tarver at the top of his game is a pretty good fighter, one that hovered not so long ago near the list of the best pound-for-pound boxers in the sport.
Dawson oozes equal parts athleticism and fragility. On the former, he is fast, strong and does things offensively in the ring that are breathtaking. On the latter, he is fragile physically, but has plenty of heart. Johnson had Dawson wobbling all around the ring, when Dawson wasn’t landing flashy combinations. And yet, Dawson pulled out the win. Two previous opponents have decked Dawson, only for the 26-year-old to get back up and dominate. Tarver argues that Johnson permanently damaged Dawson with the beating he laid down on him. That’s surely going too far. But there are elements of truth to the trash talk of both men. While Dawson’s right to wonder whether Tarver is ready for retirement, even after the Woods win, Tarver’s right to question whether Dawson has a glass jaw. Another question is whether Dawson is ready, mentally, for a pyschological, clever combatant like Tarver. Tarver’s a good counter-puncher, which is a potent antidote to Dawson getting too carried away with his offense. He is promising that he will neutralize Dawson’s quicksilver speed with timing. He also has, with his trash talk, left Dawson visibly steamed, according to media accounts of their press conferences. Dawson has come off as a little overly sensitive sometimes, and his string of abandoned trainers makes one even more curious about his mental approach outside the ring.
It may not turn into a classic, but Dawson’s youth and speed advantages pitted against Tarver’s savvy could make for a dramatic, tactically compelling seesaw battle. The winner emerges as a player in the pound-for-pound top 20 and can make an argument that he deserves a shot at divisional king Joe Calzaghe. Individually, a win for Tarver proves he’s all the way back, and a win for Dawson gives him his biggest scalp and propels him further along the road to superstardom.
My prediction: Dawson by decision. I think the key will be Dawson’s knack for body punching. If he can get inside on Tarver and rake him to the ribcage while Tarver goes into turtle shell defensive mode, he can hand Tarver an excuse to start acting his age. A stationary Tarver is a sitting duck for a decision loss, because if Dawson gets a chance to open up with some of his combos, the judges will take note of who’s doing something and who’s doing nothing.
Confidence: 75%. Tarver raises honest doubts about Dawson’s chin, but the power of Tarver himself is only serviceable. The punch that nearly ruined Jones was some kind of crazy Hail Mary, one that landed when Tarver wasn’t even looking; otherwise, he is not some KO artist. If someone knocks out Dawson one of these days, I doubt it’ll be someone who punches like Tarver. I think he’s more likely to beat Dawson by close and controversial decision than he is to truly test his chin.
My allegiance: Dawson, who’s one of my favorites, over Tarver, one of my least.

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board ( He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.