By: Kirk Jackson
Chad Dawson emerged victorious this past weekend over the aging legend Bernard Hopkins, to improve his record to 33-1 (17 Ko’s) and become undisputed Ring Magazine and WBC Light Heavyweight Champion of the world.
There was anticipation of this fight, mainly because of how their first fight ended and with there being an obvious dislike between the two fighters. Perhaps not expected to be a fight of the year, all-out war kind of bout by any means, this was expected to be a highly contested fight between two tacticians, with the younger, stronger, faster Dawson, expected to rise to the occasion being a 4-1 favorite.
Although possessing nearly every physical advantage heading into this fight, Dawson surely did not use this to his benefit or impose his athleticism consistently. There wasn’t a noticeable difference in hand speed, as Hopkins wrestled with Dawson and controlled much of the inside fighting, and seemingly initiated and lured Dawson into exchanges on the inside more frequently than what you would expect.
Hopkins is one of the craftiest, intelligent, defensively brilliant fighters in boxing’s long storied history, but for Dawson, your opponent is still 47 years old. You are 29, in the physical prime of your life, an athletic freak, one of the most athletically gifted fighters in the sport.
It’s one thing to get a knockout, which understandably is a daunting task, considering Hopkins’ credentials and skill level even at this age: the man has never been knocked out. But Dawson failed to dominate the fight or even look impressive. Despite the score card from HBO judge Harold Letterman, and the analysis from the HBO commentary team members who are mediocre at best, (with the exception of Roy Jones and at times Max Kellerman), the fight was actually closer than it should have been.
The first few rounds were slow, with each round going either way, but starting in the third round, Hopkins started imposing his style on the fight, in the third and fourth rounds looking like his vintage self. Dawson, grew visibly frustrated, exasperated with the unintentional head butt he received, leading to a cut. The head butt, whether it was intentional or unintentional is up for interpretation, but Dawson’s annoyance was evident.
With his emotions heightened, whether it was a lapse in concentration as a result of Hopkins’ mind games or whatever, Hopkins was able to capitalize at times and land some really good shots. Dawson would throw combinations, but they were often blocked or evaded altogether by Hopkins. Although they are of contrasting styles, you would think Dawson would attempt to emulate Joe Calzaghe’s strategy of high volume punching against Hopkins, because Calzaghe is a guy that had success against Hopkins, although he did not gain a clear-cut victory himself [That’s a matter of opinion – ed].
Dawson would pick up his punch output going into the middle rounds and later rounds as the punch output of Hopkins decreased, landing a few clean shots here and there amidst the combinations he was now beginning to throw. But Hopkins blocked and evaded much of the fire from Dawson, and landed quite a few clean shots on his end. That was pretty much the tale of the fight. The activity level from Dawson as the fight progressed won the fight for him, but he did not look too impressive. This was the perfect opportunity to make an impression on a big stage. Going up against an aging high profile fighter, who you strongly dislike, you have to take advantage and dominate.
With that said, I don’t think Dawson will ever live up to the expectations bestowed upon a few years back when he was rising to the ranks of boxing’s elite.
I remember observing Dawson when he engaged in his first high profile, significant, fight against Tomasz Adamek, and I watched in amazement at the noticeable skill set and the raw potential from Dawson: flashy hand speed, fluid combination-throwing ability, long reach, quick reflexes, and athletic, all-around gifted. Dawson has put on some good, gutsy performances over the past few years, against Adamek and also Glen Johnson in their first encounter; he also showcased his dominance against Antonio Tarver in their first fight. But he has put on some duds as well, against Tarver and Johnson in the rematches, against Jean Pascal in a technical decision loss and in a win against Adrian Dianconu, a guy he struggled against and should have dominated.
After running through every elder statesman in the division, hopefully Dawson will fight the younger talent and display his true potential. In his post-fight interview with Kellerman, Dawson mentioned fighting super middleweight champion Andre Ward. With a nagging wrist injury, Ward will probably be sidelined for a while. And besides that, as talented as Ward is, he is a super middleweight, a full weight class beneath Dawson, and more than likely has a date with Lucian Bute before he even thinks about Dawson if they eventually clash in the ring.
For Dawson, it would be nice to see him fight some of the younger guys in his division, guys like Gabriel Campillo, Tavoris Cloud and Jean Pascal, especially since 2008, Dawson has faced six opponents aged 39 or older.
Dawson is talented, but it seems like he lacks the fire to put it altogether on a consistent basis. Even a who’s who of trainers, which includes Floyd Mayweather Sr., Dan Birmingham, Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, Emanuel Steward and now John Scully, haven’t been able to draw it out either.
This is by no means an effort to discredit Dawson’s accomplishments as a fighter: being a multiple time champion, he has certainly amassed a lot in his career.
It’s just he is so talented, analyzing his fights the past couple of years and even in this recent performance, I’m left wanting more from Dawson. Or maybe my expectations are set too high.