In a couple days, I’ll be in Montreal, which is rough compensation for my city of Washington, D.C. stealing the Expos and turning them into the Nationals, since Montreal will care about me being there about as much as they cared about the Expos being there. I’m looking forward to it not only because I’ve heard it’s a tremendous city, and not only because I’ll be taking a 14-hour bus trip with friend of the site David P. Greisman, but because there’s a boxing match I’m excited about that’s happening in a locale acquiring quite a reputation as a fight town.
Chad Dawson-Jean Pascal on Saturday is about as meaningful a bout as there is on the 2010 schedule. It offers Dawson, a strong contender for the best young American fighter there is today, and Pascal, a Canadian all-action highlight reel who very well could defeat Dawson. It’s being staged in the biggest city in Quebec, where they root loudly for their Canadian fighters but where the classy fans appreciate good performances by all. And it offers something that’s rarer than it should be: a chance to crown an honest-to-God, real division champion, in this case, the light heavyweight division.
In recent weeks, two of the best magazines in the English language, The Atlantic and New Yorker, brought up the proliferation of belts in boxing as a reason for the sport’s decline. It is a well-known contributor. Seventeen divisions, four major sanctioning organizations (WBC, WBO, WBA, IBF) plus a fifth that some like (IBO) equals 85 potential belts, not counting all the “interim” and “silver” and “regular” and “super” variations of belts that these organizations offer.
What they didn’t bring up is that there’s an organization, Ring magazine, that offers championship belts in the fashion closest to the days that preceed the proliferation of sanctioning bodies. And for all the critics of Ring’s championship policy, I advise you to look down the list on the left of this site’s homepage and tell me whether you dispute the championship credentials of any of the men holding Ring belts. Then, consider whether you can say the same of any other organization. No matter the criticism, the Ring championship remains the best gauge of who’s a real champion. You either take it from the man who had it, or you earn it with a tough vacancy procedure.
Ring’s policy holds that a championship vacancy can be filled if the #1 and #2 (or, in special circumstances, the #3 instead of the #2) boxers in a division square off. Dawson is appropriately ranked #1 at light heavyweight by Ring. Pascal is appropriately ranked #3. In between is Glen Johnson, whom Dawson has beat twice – the second time, definitively – and is likely to drop in the rankings after a close loss over the weekend to Tavoris Cloud. So Ring has declared that Dawson-Pascal will fill the vacancy at light heavyweight.
I could, and have, gone on and on touting the Ring belt policy and rebutting the criticisms of it. But the basic gist is, if you’re a boxer, you’re not going to get a belt easily – easy belts being a way of cheapening any “championship” – because somebody got stripped of it arbitrarily and it got handed to you. You have to earn the honor of being called champion. And that’s the whole idea of a championship: Proving you’re the best.
For a while there, as top boxers like Manny Pacquiao bounced from division to division fighting fantastic competition, some wondered whether there was any point to any belts whatsoever. I still think they’re helpful. If the lack of clear champions hurts the sport of boxing, then the creation of clear champions stands to help it.
In a 2010 where not much is happening, Dawson-Pascal is a start. The best ain’t fighting the best much this year, or else there’d be fewer Ring belt vacancies, or at least you’d hear about the top guy in a division moving up a division to beat the top guy in that division. Dawson-Pascal is the best fighting the best at 175 pounds.
I don’t know if it will be a fight everyone will enjoy. Pascal will do his part. He’s been in several candidates for Fight of the Year, and some of his KOs have been candidates for Knockout of the Year. Dawson has been in a Fight of the Year-style bout, too – his first bout with Johnson – but a lot of fans don’t appreciate his style. I, for one, do appreciate his style. I like speed, I like good technique, and Dawson is usually aggressive enough for my tastes. He says he’ll be aggressive against Pascal. We’ll see about that. Sometimes a technical boxer who says he’ll come forward into the zone of danger does so (junior welterweight Devon Alexander vs. Juan Urango earlier this year) and sometimes he doesn’t (Alexander vs. Andriy Kotelnik last weekend).
But what we’ve got, for sure, is a very meaningful bout during a drought of them. I happen to think it’ll be a good fight to my particular set of peepers, too, which will get to experience the fight as credentialed media. And throw in Montreal, and you can see why I’m looking forward to this field trip.