by Cliff Rold
Chad Dawson (31-2, 17 KO) remains the Light Heavyweight Champion of the World. Too bad, as he prepares for his first defense of the lineal crown he wrested from Bernard Hopkins in April 2012, it feels like a consolation prize.
It might have something to do with a bad September night between Hopkins and Saturday’s showdown in Montreal with big punching Adonis Stevenson (20-1, 17 KO).
When the choice was made to drop down to 168 lbs. and challenge Andre Ward for the Super Middleweight crown, without putting the Light Heavyweight crown on the line as well, that was the risk that was run. It could just as easily have been done differently, treating 168 as both a limit and catchweight sort of like what happened years ago in the Sugar Ray Leonard-Donny LaLonde fight.
There have been plenty of post-facto reports, and some believable reports before the fight as well, that Dawson’s decision to move down in weight ended up a sucker bet. He may not have had his best stuff that night, certainly looked weaker than had been the case in the past, and took a beating for most of ten rounds.
Dawson had been vulnerable in the past. Eric Harding had him on the floor. So did Tomasz Adamek. Glen Johnson didn’t but he beat Dawson all over the ring in spots during their savage first encounter. That Ward, not known as a massive puncher, would score his first stoppage since 2009 wasn’t totally out of the realm of the possible.
Manhandling Dawson, with knockdowns in round three, four, and ten, was a bit of a surprise. It was a calculated risk to drop down in weight. The calculation turned out a poor equation.
Business wise, opting not to put his title on the line pays off this weekend. While his WBC and lineal claims to the title might feel a little hollow for the moment, they remain. Without them, he might not be on HBO this weekend.
Dawson has a chance to begin the restoration of credibility to his crown. It’s a strange position to be in. Hopkins win over Tavoris Cloud earlier this year, and the resultant hoopla about winning a belt from someone other than the guy he’d just lost one too, has put the old man back in the position of face of the class.
Dawson has to do something to make people care that the real crown is still his. In Stevenson, he might have a good co-star to work with. Stevenson doesn’t fight with tremendous polish. Dawson is a massive step up in class from the men he’s been fighting at his normal Super Middleweight limit.
But, whoa, can Stevenson punch.
Since being starched in two rounds by Darnell Boone in 2010, Stevenson has reeled off seven straight knockouts. As a point of caution for Dawson, he’s landed ending blows both early and late. There are two first round knockouts in the stretch, a ninth round finish, and a capper in round twelve as well. He’s avenged the Boone loss.
He’ll have the crowd as a regular in Montreal throughout his career. The confidence of a puncher will be there. The vulnerability of Dawson will as well. This has the makings of a very intriguing affair.
Dawson, despite the Ward loss and a previous narrow stumble against Jean Pascal, isn’t the Light Heavyweight Champion by accident. Floyd Mayweather didn’t once tab him as a potential mythical pound-for-pound heir for no reason. He hasn’t met those expectations but he’s posted a fine career even if he’s never seemed as willing to engage since the first Johnson affair.
His easy handling of Adamek, Johnson the second time, veteran Antonio Tarver twice, and former titlist Adrian Diaconu all speak to his talents. So does handing Bernard Hopkins the only loss no one debates about since 1993.
He’s tall, long, and clinical. He might not have much of a fan base to speak of (thus his fourth hostile road trip in his last six fights, both Hopkins affairs excluded). But he’s good.
Or at least he has been. Stevenson is the sort of puncher who can put a nail in a career coffin. Even vulnerable, Dawson showed in the past the ability to recuperate and endure in previous Light Heavyweight fights. After draining hard to make weight for Ward, and taking a lacing in that fight, do we have the same Dawson back this weekend?
And if not, is Stevenson the worst opponent he could possibly be facing?
A generation ago on HBO, Meldrick Taylor moved up from Welterweight to Jr. Middleweight to challenge Terry Norris in what was then a highly anticipated clash. Outmatched in size and power, Taylor was stopped in four. Julio Cesar Chavez often gets credit for ruining Meldrick Taylor, a partial mythology that ignores some of the good things Taylor did afterwards. He wasn’t finished after Chavez.
He was finished after Norris.
And the fight right after Norris made sure of it. Still holding a belt at Welterweight, Taylor didn’t have the luxury of any tune-ups to get his mind and body back to as right as possible. Instead, he faced the sadly forgotten but quite good Crisanto Espana. The massive southpaw had big power, plenty of technique, and at the end of the night as a co-feature to Lennox Lewis-Razor Ruddock he had taken Taylor’s belt and whatever remnants of his prime remained.
So far, Stevenson doesn’t appear to be as good as Espana but he presents a similar risk in terms of power and a chance to ask questions of a champion who may be teetering on the brink. Unless Dawson gets him early, Stevenson is likely to land at some point.
How Dawson responds will determine whether he can restore the luster of his crown.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]