By Ryan Maquiñana
This week in Northern California boxing was supposed to begin with a Tuesday press conference at Oakland’s Oracle Arena. The principals were homegrown super middleweight champ Andre Ward and light heavyweight king Chad Dawson, who will descend to 168 pounds for a Sept. 8 HBO-televised main event.
However, Dawson (31-1-0-2 NC, 17 KOs) was unable to attend due to a family illness, causing the presser with Ward (25-0, 13 KOs) to be postponed until a later date. Despite his absence, “Bad Chad” was still accessible for comment earlier in the week to start the wheels turning for a card titled “World Champions: Made in America.”
“That’s what boxing should be,” Dawson told BoxingScene.com/CSNBayArea.com about his upcoming contest. “In the Ward-Dawson fight, you got two of the best guys, two world champions in their divisions fighting each other. This right here should be the first step to bring boxing back to where it should be.”
As the sport approaches the dog days of summer, the past few months have been unkind to the sweet science in that the momentum from Floyd Mayweather’s thrilling battle with Miguel Cotto has been swiftly blunted by a variety of unfortunate occurrences.
Several high-profile scraps have fallen apart, and combined with Manny Pacquiao’s controversial loss to Timothy Bradley, boxing could use a shot in the arm to restore faith in the general public and mainstream talking heads that have universally denigrated it in recent days.
Dawson made his case. “It’s the best fighting the best,” he said. “It’s not like I’m the champion and I’m fighting someone who’s not even ranked or fighting the number eight contender. He’s number one in his division and I’m number one in my division, and that’s what it’s all about.”
On paper, he’s right. In this era of confusion when it comes to actual versus paper champions, and titleholders holding belts hostage, the fans want to see the best take on the best in their primes and clean out as many weight classes as possible. In the 29-year-old Dawson and the 28-year-old Ward’s respective cases, we have two men whose résumés speak for themselves in that regard.
However, in this instance, there are concerns. The first one is Dawson’s viability as a super middleweight. It’s been six years since the southpaw from New Haven, Conn., made the 168-pound limit, and the last thing the sport needs is another superfight gone awry because one of the combatants doesn’t enter the ring in optimal condition. Dawson dismissed such a notion.
“I feel like I can make the weight,” Dawson said. “I know I can make the weight. I’ve been watching Ward. I’ve been following him. I knew that eventually one day we’d be fighting each other. A lot of people didn’t think it would happen this soon, but I just beat Bernard [Hopkins]. I’m on top of the light heavyweight division. I always wanted to go back to 168 and campaign there. I feel like I can do that, and that’s what I’m going to do.”
In addition to the extra weight loss, Dawson and his promoter, Gary Shaw, have made another concession in the form of holding the fight in Ward’s hometown. With the question of getting a fair shake from the judges looming, Dawson was quick to address that issue as well.
“As a fighter, you gotta be confident in your abilities,” Dawson said. “I’m not going to make a big deal about where the fight’s going to be at. I just focused on getting the fight done. I know I’m confident in my abilities, and I know that Ward’s a great fighter, but I know I can beat Ward.
“That’s why the fight got done so smoothly. That’s why I didn’t make a big deal about where the fight was at because at the end of the day, it’s just us in the ring. I’m not going to cry about the officials, the ref and everything. We’ll handle that when it comes up. I’m ready to go, and me being a warrior, I think this will do a lot for my career and bring me to a whole ‘nother level.
Dawson then acknowledged not only the significance of the matchup to add another accomplishment to his legacy, but also the opportunity the bout will present in terms of building his brand as both spoiler and the next American pay-per-view crossover star.
“That’s what me and Ward are fighting for,” Dawson said. “We want to be in the lineup when they mention those names as far as who’s going to be the next pound-for-pound king. I think this fight will do wonders for me.
“A lot of people are looking at Andre Ward to be the next American great. They’re looking at him to be the next pound-for-pound champion after Floyd and Pacquiao. I’m looking to interrupt all that and be the one who does that.”
Of course, to the hardcore observers of the sport, the main misgivings regarding the clash have centered on whether the fight will be entertaining given the two champs’ propensity to box rather than brawl.
While the former is a scenario that elicits acclaim from the purists and is methodically effective, it does not necessarily bring out the same sentiment from those who come to see blood and want to see their heroes take risks.
“I think it’s going to be an exciting fight,” Dawson said. “I think we’re both young. We’re both at the top of our game, neither of us wants to go to the ropes, and we want this one very, very bad.
“I don’t think it’s going to be a snoozer; I think it’s going to be a war. I don’t think Ward wants to be hit, and I don’t want to be hit, so the first time one of us gets caught with something, it’ll open the fight up and spark something, and you’ll get a war.”
Dawson was then pressed to elaborate on how he vowed to change detractors’ perceptions on how they expect this tilt to transpire.
“Somebody has to be the bad guy in this fight,” he said. “Somebody has to be the aggressor. I’m looking to be both. I mean, I’m looking not so much to be the bad guy, but be the aggressor.
“I’m looking to press the fight. I’m not looking to go out there and make it a snoozefest. I want it to be exciting. I think Andre’s going to make it an exciting fight for me, and I’m going to make it an exciting fight for him.”
Tactically, Ward is one of boxing’s best ring generals today. The 2004 Olympian decided to campaign one division heavier than usual in Athens, but his intelligence and guile allowed him to win gold at light heavyweight despite fighting foes who outweighed him by up to 10 pounds.
The professional game has been no different, as the unbeaten Ward earned 2011 Fighter of the Year honors from the Boxing Writers Association of America for his dominant run to the Super Six tournament trophy that was capped by his ability to befuddle the talented Carl Froch over 12 rounds despite breaking his left hand midway through the bout.
Dawson was noncommittal to divulging a strategic blueprint this early in camp, but he still gave a response, as calculated as it was.
“Somebody like Andre, I really have to break him down,” Dawson said. “He’s got a lot of skills, but so do I, and I have a height advantage, too. I have to watch tape with [trainer John] Scully, and come September 8, we’ll do what we have to do to win the fight.”
For his part, Dawson can play sniper. He’s a brilliant combination puncher and has the blistering handspeed to match—when he decides to turn it on. His inconsistency in letting his hands go hurt him in 2010, as he found difficulty adapting to the ambushing style of Jean Pascal, the only man to deal Dawson a loss in the pros.
In all other instances, “fighting his fight” has been sufficient for Dawson, as evidenced by his majority decision over Bernard Hopkins to claim the 175-pound world title in April. Although Dawson arguably won more decisively than was reflected on the cards, many have downplayed the victory considering the fact that the future Hall of Famer was 47 at the time of their meeting.
Does Dawson feel disrespected by such criticism, or has “Bad Chad” received the credit he deserves for his accomplishments to this point?
“Uh, somewhat,” Dawson said with hesitation. “Sometimes I feel I do and sometimes I don’t. Bernard’s a great fighter. I did what I was supposed to do being the younger guy—throw more punches and land more punches. I thought I got a little credit for it, but this Ward fight, this is the big one. I’ll be getting the credit I deserve on September 8.”
Ryan Maquiñana writes a weekly boxing column for CSNBayArea.com. He is a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and the Ratings Panel for Ring Magazine. E-mail him at [email protected] , check out his blog at Norcalboxing.net, or follow him on Twitter: @RMaq28.