MONTREAL — One of the things that makes boxing so captivating is watching people do things I can’t do, probably never could do and probably never would want to do. Speed vs. speed match-ups cover the first two categories. Boxing is always about tiny adjustments, about minute amounts of space being the difference between consciousness or getting plastered with the perfect shot on the chin. When a quick boxer fights another quick boxer, those adjustments and spatial relations happen in such higher definition, in such finer tune, with such precision that they’re almost imperceptible.
The men who would be the legitimate light heavyweight king, Chad Dawson and Jean Pascal, have never fought anyone as fast as each other. Dawson, more often than not, has fought significantly slower, older fighters — not a critique of him so much as it is of the median age of the division at this point. Pascal is used to being the fastest guy in the ring. All that changes Saturday night on HBO, when I’ll be covering the fight at the Bell Centre.
The speed factor is only the predominant one in Dawson-Pascal. Dawson is more skillful; Pascal, more powerful. It’s an intoxicating mix of ingredients for a fight. It might not be the right mix for those who prefer to see two bombs-away sluggers, but Dawson and Pascal — especially Pascal — have been exciting in the past. And Dawson may have no choice but to be exciting, because Pascal’s speed might force him into exchanges.
[TQBR Prediction Game 4.0 begins now. The usual deadline has been extended to Saturday, 12 p.m., but remember the rules.]
Dawson has more going for him than being the faster and more skillful boxer, not that it isn’t a good foundation. He has some of the quickest hands in the sport, something put in stark relief by the fact that his highest-quality wins, over Tomasz Adamek, Glen Johnson and Antonio Tarver were either too naturally slow or too old or both to compete in that category. And with his skill level being what it is, it makes him very good — a pound-for-pound top-5 fighter in most books. He can drop his left cross at will, or punch in combination just about as well anyone in boxing today. He does beautiful things on defense, too, like in an excellent performance over Johnson in his last bout where he would duck punches and switch the direction he was circling effortlessly. He’s a deft, agile boxer.
He’s also going to be a good deal longer than Pascal. Listed at 6’1″ with a nearly 77″ reach, Dawson is going to come equipped with a ready-made assist (in addition to his superb jab and footwork) in keeping Pascal at a distance so as to avoid his power. Pascal is 5’10” and has a reach listed at 67″. Yikes. And Dawson is more experienced against top-notch opponents than Pascal. No one in their right minds would trade Dawson’s win over Adamek, two wins over Tarver and two wins over Johnson for Pascal’s two wins over Adrian Diaconu and a close loss to Carl Froch.
Pascal, to his credit, recognizes that he’s taking a step up in competition. And he has more than power over Dawson, not that it isn’t a good foundation. Pascal can turn the lights out at any time — his highlight real KO of Pablo Daniel Zamora Nievas came as Nievas trapped him on the ropes and Pascal suddenly exploded with a counter left hook. Pascal didn’t beat Froch, but he did wobble him, which at the time they fought was a pretty rare development.
The other thing about Pascal is that he can take a helluva shot. He’s been wobbled himself — by Diaconu and Froch — but he’s never been down that I know of, the way Dawson has. I think it’s a bit overstating the case to say Dawson has a terrible chin, but it is a vulnerability. His knockdown by Adamek came out of nowhere, but Dawson got back up and showed tremendous heart. Both men have a ton of heart, with Pascal warring it out and rebounding in difficult stretches in some of his fights. But if you’re comparing the two, Pascal is the one who’s shown less likelihood of getting hurt by big shots, and generally if you’re a fighter you want to be that guy.
Both Dawson and Pascal have their own hobgoblins to struggle with Saturday. This fight had to be pushed back to August as Pascal recovered from a shoulder injury. His team says he’s fine. Of course they do. Dawson is away from home, fighting not in Connecticut but Canada, not that Canadian judges are as notorious as U.S. judges or, say, German judges for favoring the hometown man (referee Marlon B. Wright is whole ‘nother story), but there’s always a hometown advantage in some way, shape or form. He’s also seemed a touch grumpy and out of sorts, complaining about how his last fight was promoted and such.
Adding up what Dawson has going for and against him, plus what Pascal has going for and against him, it’s clear why Dawson is the favorite. But boxing isn’t always as simple as all that. For the bulk of the fight, I expect Dawson’s speed, skill, length and experience will keep Pascal down on the cards. I just don’t expect Pascal to fully accept his circumstances. He’ll have enough speed to touch Dawson at times. He’ll be gritty enough to push through Dawson’s punches at times and touch Dawson. And when it touches him, it won’t be no love tap. If Dawson gets carried away with his success, he could find himself on the ground halfway through a combination.
I’m still going with Dawson, though. Pascal is a good technical fighter when he wants to be, but he rarely wants to be, and his hands-down defensive style puts him in a bad spot against a superior offensive fighter in a race to a decision. Pascal may have Dawson in trouble a time or two. Dawson will weather it. He’ll be the one at the end with his hands raised in a unanimous call, something like 116-112 or 117-111 across the board.