Unwanted: Chad Dawson – Antonio Tarver II Preview And Prediction

The needle scratches on the record this weekend. Boxing’s 2009, less than halfway through, has been making beautiful music so far, giving fans quality match-up after quality match-up with nary a penny paid by HBO for an unwanted mismatch. No one wanted the rematch airing on HBO Saturday between light heavyweights Chad Dawson and Antonio Tarver, except Tarver, and HBO is only airing it because it apparently gives them a foothold in broadcasting future fights featuring Dawson, a tremendous talent and potential star. Dawson dominated Tarver with remarkable ease when they first met last year, when the idea of that fight actually had some heat. Not only will Tarver, 40, be seven months older to seven better for the young, fresh Dawson, 26, but in rematches in general, the winner of the first fight wins the second about 86 (based on one sample) to 90 percent (based on anecdotal estimates) of the time. If Tarver doesn’t have a rematch clause, this fight never happens, and Dawson moves on to better things. Making matters worse, HBO has reportedly heavily overpaid — $3.2 million in licensing fees — for a fight that didn’t make anyone money the first time around, and since the network recently refused to pay the approximately $1 million necessary to make a highly attractive fight between Glen Johnson and cruiserweight champion Tomasz Adamek, who knows how many other fights Dawson-Tarver II screwed us out of?

I suppose I could at least try to make the argument for it. Dawson is fantastic — I’ve been a fan essentially since I laid eyes on him on ShoBox. I like watching him ply his craft, although some find him less exciting. Tarver is master of the rematch, going undefeated in three major do-overs of fights he lost. If you tune in, you’ll get to see the rebroadcast of pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquiao’s unbelievable history-making performance in his knockout of then-junior welterweight champion Ricky Hatton. And forget the stats; in a number of rematches over the last year and a half or so, the seemingly decisive victor from the first bout has come back to either win the second bout or give the winner of the first bout significantly more hell than expected — Paul Williams-Carlos Quintana, Vernon Forrest-Sergio Mora, Paulie Malignaggi-Lovemore Ndou, Giovanni Segura-Cesar Canchila. And as decisively as Dawson beat Tarver the first time around, Tarver’s no chump, ranking #4 in his division according to Ring magazine.

So I’m not just going to ignore the thing. It’s a significant bout, even if, in an ideal world, it would be an orphan.

Dawson’s rising star is based, in no small measure, on the easy and classy way in which he dismissed Tarver. But it should not be based on that alone. He also beat Adamek with little difficulty, and Adamek has proven his own pound-for-pound credentials since. And although Johnson, in the eyes of some, beat Dawson when they fought, there can be no disputing that Dawson dug deep and showed great heart in that bout, one of the more exciting fights of 2008. When he was still retired, Floyd Mayweather, Jr. called Dawson the #1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world. It was an exaggeration, but I have him at #9, and I think if he were to get ahold of #3 man Bernard Hopkins, he’d win. I believe Dawson is for real, although the jury is still out on him in some quarters. He is extremely fast. He’s an excellent combination puncher — head and body — with good, if not superb, power, enough to have decked Tarver at one point in their first fight. He’s got good boxing skill and quick feet, and his defense shows sign of getting better, too. I think his only weakness is his chin, since Johnson rocked him a few times and Adamek knocked him down. But he’s got great heart, rebounding from those spots of trouble to win. And he’s only improving with every fight.

Tarver is a fairly well-preserved 40, having started late in boxing. He rose to acclaim with his miraculous one-punch knockout in 2004 of then-long reigning pound-for-pound king Roy Jones, Jr., itself a rematch of a bout he’d lost, and although Tarver lost to Johnson later that year, he avenged the loss in 2005. It was 2006 that didn’t go so well, when Hopkins completely owned Tarver to take his light heavyweight championship. After having showed signs of slippage following a loss to Hopkins — interestingly, Tarver looked like one of his problems against Hopkins was weight gain (for a role in the movie Rocky Balboa) the excuse Tarver dismissed when Jones explained his lackluster showing in their first meeting — Tarver bounced back very strongly against Clinton Woods for an impressive win. And, truth be told, I didn’t think he looked all that bad against Dawson. He had his moments, occasionally landing his patented straight left, and blocking a number of Dawson’s punches with his gloves. He’s not as fast as he once was, Tarver, but he’s a savvy veteran with some power in his left and decent speed, not to mention sharp defense, the ability to take a punch pretty well and a nice technical makeup.

The problem was that while Tarver looked pretty good for 39 against Dawson, Dawson looked very good for 26. Dawson would have been faster than Tarver if they were the same age, but the disparity was even more pronounced because of Tarver slowing down. And Tarver never has had that high a work rate, and that, too, has slowed. In the Johnson rematch, Tarver outhustled his man. Even though he knew he needed to up his work rate during his first meeting with Dawson, even though he was trying to force the action, he was 100 percent overmatched physically. I thought there was a chance Tarver could give Dawson some trouble because of his counterpunching skills, but every time Dawson through a combo, Tarver froze, and when he did finally try to counterattack, Dawson had already moved out of range or put his gloves up.

Tarver says he won’t be outworked this time. He said he just missed some of his big shots by inches last go-round, and he’s going to improve on that. I don’t see how he does either, unless Dawson is significantly out of sorts about having to do a rematch he doesn’t want. It would take Dawson being much worse, and Tarver being much better, for Tarver to pull off the win. And/or, maybe, an eyes-closed miracle punch like the one Tarver landed against Jones. I don’t envision Tarver landing one of those. Even if Dawson’s concentration has lapsed outside the ring as he trains for a fight that is a thorn in his paw, I think his concentration level inside the ring is much improved, as he showed by not letting land Tarver connect on anything big after letting Johnson and Adamek do so.

I do think, despite Dawson’s protests to the contrary, that he won’t have the “emotional energy” needed to improve on his last performance. I hope I’m wrong. Knocking out Tarver on HBO — something he didn’t do last time out on Showtime, drawing a little criticism given how overwhelming he was with seemingly so little effort — would be a real feather in his cap, big-time exposure for a fighter who hasn’t been able to get the fights he wants in part because he doesn’t bring enough money to the table yet. The live gate at Dawson-Tarver II should be terrible, since the first bout in Las Vegas had such a thin crowd and the economy has taken a dive and this bout has even less heat to it, so there’s a chance that no matter what he does, he still won’t get a big fight out of it. But an eye-popping peformance on his biggest stage obviously would enhance him more than a lackluster one. I see Tarver starting faster than and winning some rounds early, only to fade when Dawson doesn’t vaporize and lands his own counters, particularly to the body. I’ll take another decision win for Dawson, but a little closer than last time.

About Tim Starks

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