It’s lonely here on Pro-Chad Dawson Island, where at any moment we’re prone to being invaded by The Principality Of Anti-Chad Dawson. Whereas we few Islanders see an ultra-talented, young American star with considerable skills, a pretty deep resume and an offensive-minded boxer who doesn’t back down, The Principality’s many citizens see a boxer who hasn’t beaten anyone but old people, who struggled badly with one of those old people (Glen Johnson) and who is a waste of HBO’s money.
It’s hard to tell whether Dawson’s willingness to re-engage with Johnson Saturday night will encourage mass immigration to my little enclave, or instead will increase the likelihood of further hostile border incursions. I always give credit to boxers who are willing to step back into the ring with men who gave them ferocious beatings, as Johnson did last year to Dawson in a fight Dawson won on the scorecards. Dawson was kind of pushed in that direction by market forces, of course; it’s not like he was dying to fight Johnson again, but it still takes balls to get back into the ring with that fellow. And Johnson is the #3 light heavyweight, right behind Dawson, so we’re talking about the best available opponent Dawson could get — #1 man Bernard Hopkins has other plans.
No, the downside of fighting Johnson again is as follows: He’s still old, older even, one of the knocks on Dawson’s resume; and most importantly, there are only two ways to beat Johnson — ugly, or via controversial decision. Dawson has talked about using more of his boxing skills, so if he wins, it’ll likely involve a lot of evasive action and pitty-pat punches. And even if he wins by knockout, for some crazy reason, critics will say, “So he beat another old guy. So what?” And if he loses, the “We told you so”s are gonna be off the charts. I think some of these are fundamentally flawed propositions, but I’m outgunned on my metaphor-belaboring island.
I’d still like to knock down some of those propositions. Johnson, for starters, isn’t just some “old person.” He’s 40, so he is a little old. But people get hung up on age in boxing. I say, get hung up on who the fighter is. Does he look old, Johnson? If he’s lost a step since he was Ring magazine’s 2004 Fighter of the Year, a year in which he knocked out Roy Jones, Jr. and upset Antonio Tarver, I don’t much see it. Do you? He’s still an iron-chinned, volume-punching stalker with underrated boxing skill. Since then, he’s lost a controversial decision to Dawson; a controversial decision in a rematch with Clinton Woods; and he lost ugly in his rematch with Tarver, who decided to play keep-away and win almost via an amateur boxer’s strategy of scoring first, hurting never. But he also won plenty and was in fine form in his last bout, avenging an earlier unjust loss to Daniel Judah in February.
If you don’t think Johnson deserves his #3 ranking at light heavy, who does? If you think more than a few top-10 light heavyweights would stand a chance of beating Johnson, who are they? And what chance to you give even those men of beating Johnson without Johnson running them through his unpleasant crucible? It may very well be the case that the older Johnson gets, the greater his chances of aging overnight, as they say, the moment when a boxer just loses it all at once. But Johnson, last I saw him, still had it. He is vulnerable in some ways to that aging phenomenon in this fight. He’s vulnerable as well to losing a hometown decision to Dawson on his Connecticut soil, but don’t forget that Dawson beat Johnson in his home state of Florida last time around. Johnson probably needs a knockout, and I think he can do it. He hits hard enough, and Dawson’s chin is crackable enough, that the wobbles he gave Dawson last time can turn into full-blown unconsciousness.
Dawson hasn’t just beaten old people. One of his best wins was over a prime Tomasz Adamek, who since has gone on to move his career to an even higher level. If all he beat was old people, I think we’d see them go downhill after a loss to Dawson, right? As for Tarver, the man Dawson has beat twice in a row, he fits into the same mode as Johnson — old (40), but not acting his age. Tarver still deserves his top-5 rating in the division, even after two consecutive losses to Dawson. And, as most everyone observed, Tarver did better in the second decision loss to Dawson than he did the first. Clearly, there’s some boxing juice still in those bones. I’m not saying the rematch wasn’t a waste of HBO’s money, mind you. Even if HBO loves Dawson because it’s hooked on ultra-talented American boxers, paying more than a few pennies for Dawson-Tarver II was pointless. Nobody wanted to see the fight, and if the idea was to lure Dawson from Showtime, they could have done it cheaper than they did or waited until after the rematch.
But maybe it’s just a stylistic thing — I think Dawson isn’t as boring as people accuse him of being. Case in point, that Johnson fight was pretty good, yeah? In between, his uncanny speed and tendency to be aggressive on offense — even when moving backward — do it for me. No, he doesn’t punch all that hard, and that’s not going to change unless he moves down to super middleweight. If you’re looking for knockouts, Dawson may not be your kind of fighter. But if you’re looking for a display of athletic talent in combination with a focus on offense, Dawson can do it for you. He seemingly gets better with each fight, and while he’s not the #1 pound-for-pound man Floyd Mayweather deemed him recently (pre-Mayweather comeback, of course), he’s got the capability to be, with his abilities and the opportunity to face top opponents. His defense still could use some sharpening, he has a tendency to fade late in fights and he is prone to getting staggered at times, but he recuperates well and can work on the rest.
What tilts me to Dawson is that he’s better now than he was when he fought Johnson the first time, and Johnson isn’t likely to fight better. Dawson traded with Johnson too much in the first fight if winning was his only goal, rather than entertaining, too. Dawson can win by clinching more, but moving more, by jabbing more. Johnson, if anything, is likely to be sloppier, gunning for the knockout — although he says he won’t do that. We’ll see. Either way, I like Dawson by an easier decision, if not one where he doesn’t have to hang on for dear life once or twice.
And I want to see how it plays out, even if it’s ugly. This is a pretty significant fight, one that, in my opinion, should have been for the lineal light heavyweight championship of the world (I actually think Dawson should be ranked #1 and Johnson #3, and if I was Ring mag, I would have made it for the vacant belt). Moreover, it’s one more chance for Dawson to stake his claim as one of the best boxers in America, one where he’s doing everything he can to market himself in the Connecticut region to build up his stardom. And if Johnson wins? It’s only one of the most under-appreciated fighters of the last many moons getting a bit more of what should have been his so long ago.