Chad Dawson Goes From Zero To Hero, And Boxing Fans Win As A Result [Updated x3]

After his rematch victory over Antonio Tarver this month, Chad Dawson’s shaky stock was no better, and, in fact, maybe worse. Many weren’t impressed with his performance, he’d sold less than 2,000 tickets total for both Tarver bouts and worst of all, he was actively proclaiming he had hoped to avoid Glen Johnson, the man who gave him his toughest and most exciting fight and who remained the best light heavyweight for him to challenge absent an extremely unlikely bout against Bernard Hopkins or an unretired Joe Calzaghe.

Fast forward to today. Dawson has done himself a LOT of favors with his skeptics now, I bet, with the dual news items that he and Johnson are on the verge of fighting again and that the fight was important enough to Dawson that he got rid of his alphabet title belt in order to make it happen. It’s a tribute to Dawson or the market pressures the fans and the television networks can bring to bear or it’s both. But it’s definitely a good thing. A really good thing.

First, here’s the news about Dawson-Johnson II. When word first started circulating that Dawson’s team had begun negotiating for a rematch with Johnson, despite being more pro-Dawson than not, I had the cynical thought that maybe this was a bait and switch. That is, Dawson and his people would make it look like he’d tried very hard to do the Johnson rematch, but in the process of negotiating the fight he’d insisted on something ludicrous, like proposing that Johnson would have to wear 32-ounce gloves. But there have been no such reports. The fight very much looks like a go, and only a date in the fall is missing.

Second, here’s the news about Dawson relinquishing his belt. You’ll recall that Dawson promoter Gary Shaw said that it would be up to HBO whether they thought it was important for Dawson to hold the IBF trinket. If HBO thought it was worth Dawson keeping, then Shaw would go forward with a mandatory challenge from Tavoris Cloud, a good fighter but not one as worthy of a shot at Dawson as Johnson. If HBO thought it wasn’t worth Dawson keeping, he would vacate the belt and move on. There is no news yet after the fact that HBO had a direct role here, but I’m going to look at the “if/then” proposition Shaw put forward and say it is more likely than not that HBO exerted some pressure on Dawson and team to get rid of his belt. And Dawson did. If HBO had a role in sticking it to the IBF, I give the network immense credit for that, because the alphabet sanctioning organizations need to be delegitimized by other powerful entities in the sport.

If you wanted to remain cynical about Dawson’s motives here, you should feel free. You wouldn’t be without an argument. Simply put, if Dawson wanted to keep fighting on HBO, if Dawson wanted to win over fans who thought he was being a chicken by ducking Johnson and thereby make himself a financial force capable of getting someone like Hopkins in the ring, if Dawson wanted any money at all to fight anyone in the near future, then a Johnson rematch was his only choice, and considering the IBF might have stripped him for picking Johnson over Cloud, he also had no choice but to dump his belt. That’s fine. It may very well be the case. I’m going to give Dawson a little bit of a benefit of a doubt and say he still could have ducked Johnson if it really was what he wanted to do; he would have paid the price, but Dawson did not HAVE to fight Johnson.

But even in that worst-case scenario, boxing fans win today if the Johnson rematch happens and the IBF — which, like all the alphabet sanctioning organizations, is only looking out for itself, even if it means standing in the way of the best fights or muddying the waters about the real champion of each division — is left out in the cold. Because if that happens, it is a good and meaningful fight that will come to transpire, and IT WILL BE BECAUSE OF US. Occasionally, I’ll write something and a commenter will say, “Well, give fighter A a break for not fighting fighter B, even though he’s the best available opponent; there’s no money in fighter A fighting fighter B, so why should fighter A fight fighter B?” No. I won’t give fighter A a break for not fighting fighter B, because fighter A SHOULD fight fighter B. And if enough fans clamor for it, then the fighter will know it, and the network will know it, and then, magically, there IS money in that fight. I’m not taking anything like significant credit for Dawson-Johnson II happening. But every boxing writer, and every boxing fan, is a drop in the bucket that collectively can add up to a flood. And our voices have been loud on Dawson-Johnson II.

Don’t stop screaming, everybody.

[UPDATE: ESPN has some additional important details here. First, HBO did indeed play an influential role. Second, for those who are out of their gourds by suggesting Dawson is actually ducking Cloud here — and there’s already some of that in the boxing world, I see — Dawson’s team says it offered Cloud a guarantee that he would fight on the undercard of Dawson-Johnson II and get Dawson next, but Cloud turned it down, making it so Dawson had no choice but to vacate. No response in the story from the Cloud camp, but bizarre if true. Cloud is now more likely to face Clinton Woods for the vacant belt, I read somewhere that I can’t recall.]

[UPDATE #2: Dawson promoter Shaw says the choice boiled down to Dawson fighting Cloud for $150,000 and keeping his belt, or Dawson fighting Johnson again for $800,000 and satisfying the wishes of those who want that rematch. Not a difficult choice, in my view.]

[UPDATE #3: I dislike both the tone of this article and the comments made in it, but it does add information. That is, HBO says it didn’t force Dawson to give up his belt, but it offered him less for Cloud than it did Johnson, which makes sense. I might as well address the remarks made in it: “To Mike Criscio, the manager of light heavyweight Chad Dawson, the [HBO/IBF choice] reveals how adrift the sport is. ‘Having a title doesn’t mean anything these days,’ he said. “Because it’s about the money and fighting on a network.’ …This is akin to the Yankees refusing to play the Oakland A’s because they could not find a cable affiliate to pick up the game.” Actually, Mike, titles don’t mean anything these days because there are four “champions” per division and each “champion” is ordered by the title-sanctioning organization to fight lesser opponents like Cloud rather than more meaningful opponents like Johnson. And there is nothing “akin” about this situation to the Yankees/A’s situation. Boxing doesn’t have a system whereby anyone is required to fight anyone else. If the Yankees turned down the A’s, they would suffer stiff penalties from Major League Baseball — from forfeits of games that would result in losses on their record to possible fines or evictions of their owners if the refusal to play the A’s was serial. In boxing, if a fighter wants to give up his “championship,” that’s his prerogative, and it’s happened since the dawn of man; the individual situation should determine whether the boxer is criticized for doing so or not, and here Dawson deserves commendation. Also, it’s kind of funny for Shaw to say HBO has “all” the power, when he practically owns every date Showtime has available. {h/t on the baseball info to friends of the site Alex and Phil.}]

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.