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Wanted: A Light Heavyweight Renaissance

Posted on 10/31/2011

By Dan Cann

Now that the dust has settled on the Bernard Hopkins versus Chad Dawson world title fight fiasco boxing fans wait with baited breath for the often overlooked light heavyweight division to pick itself back up from the canvas.

The Hopkins v Dawson contest initially saw Dawson awarded the win and the WBC title (after Hopkins could not continue after injuring his shoulder when picked up and dropped to the canvas by Dawson in the second round) after consideration by the Mexican based governing body that decision was reversed and the WBC declared the bout a technical draw thus reinstating Hopkins as its champion.

Until or unless the California Commission reverses the decision when it convenes on 13 December the loss will remain on Hopkins record regardless of the WBC’s decision. Let’s hope we get clarity when they meet.

The whole sorry episode has elicited outrage, disbelief and disgust with contemporary boxing and many of us would like to put it behind us. I am relieved that the WBC eventually saw sense because the initial decision would have set a very dangerous precedent for the sport: it would be deemed acceptable (by the WBC at least) for a fighter to win a title by literally slamming opponents to the canvas whether accidental or not.

Thankfully clearer heads have prevailed with the Marquis of Queensberry rules being observed. The whole episode was an ugly one and PPV figures have revealed poor sales and interest in the bout anyway. The fact that it ended like it did unsatisfactorily and in confusion certainly did little to boost the sport in the eyes of the casual fans and the media.

Hopkins has been accused of gamesmanship in the past, notably in his bout with Joe Calzaghe when it appeared he wanted to look for the exit route rather than continue. When it was clear that avenue was no longer available to him he resumed going on to lose on points.

Against Dawson he decided he could not continue and there is nothing wrong with that but I cannot help thinking of other fighters that have sustained shoulder injuries in fights and continued for as long as they could: Vitali Klitschko continued for as long as he could against Chris Byrd before retiring in the ninth.

French middleweight idol Marcel Cerdan famously injured his shoulder as early as the first round yet continued as a one armed fighter against ‘Bronx Bull’ Jake Lamotta until he was forced to retire in the tenth. Finally Danny Williams suffered a dislocated shoulder against Mark Potter yet went on to win by a dramatic knockout in the sixth round. All of these boxers suffered shoulder injuries yet elected to fight through the pain and try to win. Hopkins did not.

I do not want to take anything away from Hopkins who I have huge respect and admiration for and he is rightly regarded as an all time great but I can’t help but wonder whether it is time for him to take a serious look at his career and what he hopes to achieve by continuing in the sport.

He will be out of the ring for at least nine months or more needing at least six months for the shoulder to heal properly before he can even contemplate serious training. He is 47 in January of next year and as we all know the human body takes longer to heal the older we get, even for exceptional super-fit athletes like Hopkins.

He is an intelligent and astute man and probably knows his limitations better than most. By not continuing in the fight he may have had the indignity of people questioning his heart (unfairly) but what he has managed in the long term is to preserve his career and hold on to the title.

With that WBC strap he has a major bargaining chip. Had the WBC upheld referee Pat Russell’s decision to declare no foul and award the belt to Dawson then Hopkins would have been left out in the cold.

I doubt there will be a clamour for Hopkins v Dawson II and with the old general out of action for nearly a year and the WBC belt put on ice, Dawson will have to turn his attention elsewhere if he is to remain in world title contention.

Despite the frustration and anticlimax I firmly believe that the next twelve to eighteen months can be exciting ones for the light heavyweight division.

Dawson can perhaps target a rematch with former conqueror (and former WBC champion) Jean Pascal. A fight that makes sense for both men as a win for Pascal puts him back on top and a win for Dawson gives him revenge.

Looking at the list of other champions at the weight and we have some potentially great match ups to savour provided promoters and television networks can put aside their differences and work together (We all know that money can ensure cooperation in times of mutual benefit).

The IBF champion Tavoris Cloud is tough, rugged, young and most importantly can punch. That equals box office. He has been dogged by inactivity: he has fought only once this year, (another inside the distance win against Yusef Mack in June) and must be chomping at the bit to get busier and more importantly make some big money.

Beibut Shumenov the teak tough banger from Kazakhstan is colourful and amazingly half of his twelve professional contests so far have involved a world title. His record already has impressive scalps (albeit foes that were slightly over the hill) in Montell Griffin, Byron Mitchell and William Joppy all beaten inside the scheduled distance. He is another young man in a hurry and a contest involving him against Cloud another puncher is a mouth-watering prospect.

Finally in Welshman Nathan Cleverly, holder of the WBO belt, we have a rangy boxer who can keep it at range and mix it up in close with his hooks and uppercuts. He has just come off a tough win against Tony Bellew (the two may yet contest a rematch) and his confidence must be soaring. He has already expressed a desire to unify all the belts.

So if you look beyond Hopkins, Dawson and Pascal there are other boxers who are hungry and eager to prove they are the best. We may not get a ‘Super Six’ style tournament but it would be very exciting if these boxers could battle it out the sooner the better.

Perhaps the shoulder injury was a blessing in disguise for Hopkins. Without it he could well have lost his title on points to a very slippery and capable foe. I for one picked Dawson to win on points. While unpalatable to watch, the fight has actually meant that Hopkins keeps his belt and can come back for a big fight later in 2012. He is in the luxurious and enviable position of sitting back and watching the competition before coming back for another big money contest. Time is not on his side and he knows better than anyone else that his next fight could be his last. He will therefore want each fight to be as lucrative as possible.

So why not unification contests in 2012? The last thing the paying public will tolerate is a fragmented division with champions making defences against hand-picked opposition and only fulfilling mandatory obligations when ordered to. The fans want and deserve the best meeting the best.

The situation post Hopkins v Dawson is pretty dire. Credibility is at an all time low. We need the division to come to life. For that to happen Pascal, Dawson, Cloud, Shumenov and Cleverly must all clash over the next eighteen months. If they are kept apart then public interest will wane, the cynics will say ‘I told you so’ and boxing will slip further into decline.

As a lifelong fan of the sport I am asking match-makers, promoters, governing bodies and television networks to pull out all the stops and deliver what the paying public deserve: exciting unification contests. It’s about time we had a renaissance period in the light heavyweight division.

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