by David P. Greisman
We’d worried that the fight between Andre Ward and Chad Dawson would be Bernard Hopkins-esque.
It was. But not in the way we’d worried.
Ward and Dawson were seen as two boxers who epitomized the name of their profession, focusing more on not getting hit than they do on hitting. Ward, in particular, was seen as proficient in neutralizing what his opponents do best, even if that involved a liberal and unabashed application of grabbing and mauling mixed in with his boxing and punching.
Both had shown themselves to be very good. But being very good at negating can be very bad for those watching.
Ward, though, showed himself to be more than very good. He was great, putting forth a definitive, defining performance, shutting Dawson down, knocking Dawson down and then stopping him. Dawson was dismantled, then dismayed, then defeated.
It was a positively Hopkins-esque performance for Ward, a signature showing. It was beautiful to behold.
It was what Hopkins had done several times before. In many of his most important fights he could demonstrate just how great he was, showing that he indeed knew how to frustrate his foes without frustrating the fans, dissecting opponents who were otherwise capable competitors except on those evenings.
Hopkins did it to Felix Trinidad in 2001, to Antonio Tarver in 2006, to Kelly Pavlik in 2008 and to Jean Pascal in 2011.
Ward did it to Dawson this past Saturday.
They met where Ward was most comfortable. Dawson, the light heavyweight champion, had said he would come down to super middleweight, and that he easily could, dropping an additional seven pounds to challenge that division’s champion. Dawson, a native of Connecticut, had journeyed to Ward’s hometown of Oakland, where more tickets could be sold and more money could be made.
Dawson wasn’t there to make Ward comfortable, though. He came in at 185 pounds, gaining 17 pounds in the day since the weigh-in. Ward, meanwhile, was the smaller man, rehydrating to 176 pounds. In the opening round Dawson sought to exploit his advantages in size and reach — and what seemed to be a serendipitous advantage with the small ring size — coming forward behind his jab and southpaw left cross and forcing Ward back to the ropes. As the next round began, Dawson began to throw a right hook as Ward charged in.
For some boxers, the plan is to come in and use his strategy unsettle his opponent. This is what Dawson seemed set on: With his strategy, and his skills, he would take Ward out of his comfort zone and then take over.
That doesn’t work on fighters like Ward, who see the boxing ring the way that Keanu Reeves saw the Matrix, studying the world around them and then bending it to their will.
This is why fighters such as Zab Judah and Victor Ortiz could try to trouble Floyd Mayweather early, sometimes succeeding, only to see those opportunities closing and their chances of winning dwindling as those bouts began to transition past the opening rounds.
There’s a difference between making your opponent uncomfortable and making him pay. Ward wasn’t being hit much early — and he’d be hit even less later.
Ward studied what Dawson was trying to do in the opening rounds, then began to implement his own countermeasures. He sized up the situation, saw the challenge — and also the solution. Boxing doesn’t just boil down to what and how, but also where and when. Ward changed the where and when for himself and for Dawson, in turn taking control of the what and how.
Rather than charging forward or remaining at a distance, Ward stood in front of Dawson and put forth a mixture of jabs and feints, taking note of Dawson’s reactions.
Dawson bit each time, leaving himself stationary and in range for Ward’s jabs and hooks. Now it was no longer Dawson pushing forward, but Ward. Now it was Ward who was making Dawson uncomfortable, and when Dawson becomes uncomfortable, he often becomes inactive, as he had been two years beforehand against the attacks of Jean Pascal.
He couldn’t hit Ward, nor could he stop Ward from doing what he wanted.
One of the combinations boxers are taught is the jab, followed by the right hand, followed by the left hook. Ward was able to score a knockdown with that combination despite only one of those punches being designed to land hard.
With less than a minute to go in the third round, Ward circled to his right and feinted with a left jab. Dawson responded by pawing out with his own right hand. Ward then came forward and bent down and threw a right hand to Dawson’s body, where some of Ward’s earlier right hands had also gone. Except that in itself was another distraction, manipulating Dawson into dropping his right glove and once again setting up a counter right hook at the incoming Ward.
Ward landed first with a left hook to the point of Dawson’s exposed chin, knocking him to his knees.
Ward looked at the downed Dawson, recognizing that he had him. Dawson, meanwhile, rose and looked back at Ward, recognizing that he’d been had.
More left hands landed to close the third, and another hard one landed to open the fourth, sending Dawson down again. This time, Ward had stepped forward as if to jab, but instead looped his left hook around.
Now Dawson’s supposed advantages in size and reach were disadvantages. He was bigger, but slower, having dropped down to super middleweight but gaining enough pounds to bring him back to where he’d normally be on fight night as a light heavyweight. He had longer arms, but that meant his punches would be wider when Ward was throwing hooks from up close.
And now that ring that had seemed serendipitously small in the beginning was keeping Dawson, not Ward, from being able to get away.
Dawson didn’t hold on, either, throwing a few punches to try to reverse the momentum, yet never landing as many, or as cleanly, as Ward was. Ward, meanwhile, was beginning to find other openings — the uppercut was there when Dawson was trying to cover up, the one-two was landing as Dawson was trying to pull back.
Ward had figured out how to deal with Dawson. Dawson didn’t know how to deal with Ward. His strategy was gone. Soon survival would be close to all he had left.
Dawson’s jabs were being blocked. His crosses were being avoided. A fighter who can’t stop shots from landing will be dismayed. A fighter who also can’t land his own punches will be dissected.
There was far too little for Dawson, far too much from Ward. Even in the clinch, Ward would find leverage and turn into hard hooks and uppercuts.
When and where, and what and how. Ward had a pawn on his chess board that he was manipulating, not trying to take out Dawson with an all-out onslaught, but rather breaking him down and setting him up for the right punches in the right location at the right time.
Seemingly every flush power punch was perfectly placed. The knockdowns earlier in the fight had come from hooks to the point of the chin. Toward the end of the 10th, Ward landed a left hook behind Dawson’s right ear, an equilibrium shot that left Dawson wobbling. More punches came on each side of Dawson’s head, and Dawson took a knee.
Dawson rose and told the referee that he was done. His trainer had pleaded with him earlier to wake up, but he couldn’t. Then his trainer told him he needed the knockout, but that wasn’t coming. And finally his trainer told him not just to try to survive. Even that wasn’t going to be possible.
Bernard Hopkins’ greatest performances had come when he was counted out. He had been the underdog against Felix Trinidad in a tournament that seemed designed for Trinidad to win. He had gone up two weight classes to face Antonio Tarver after losing twice to Jermain Taylor; he was a former middleweight champion going up against the true light heavyweight champion.
He’d embarrassed Pavlik after losing to Joe Calzaghe, then stared down the many in the media at ringside who had predicted that Pavlik would beat Hopkins. And he’d defeated Pascal in their rematch after being held to a draw in their first bout, once again becoming champion when so many had thought it was long past time for him to retire.
Andre Ward wasn’t in a similar situation. He had been undefeated since his youth, an Olympic gold medalist who had gone on to win every single pro fight, won the “Super Six” tournament and had been recognized as the super middleweight champion.
But he had demurred at the idea of facing the one remaining top 168-pounder, Lucian Bute, immediately after the tournament. Bute needed to prove himself, Ward had said. Instead, Bute would be dominated and knocked out by Froch, the man Ward had just beaten. And instead of facing Bute, Ward would take on another tough challenge by meeting the light heavyweight champion.
We’d worried that the fight between Ward and Dawson would be Hopkins-esque. It was. But not in the way we’d worried.
It was fitting, given Hopkins’ nickname, that Ward’s brilliance shone in the execution.
The 10 Count
1. It’s now Sept. 10, and that means we’re now just two months away from a rumored major Top Rank/HBO card on Nov. 10, and less than three months away from a potential Manny Pacquiao pay-per-view on Dec. 8.
The more that time passes, the less that either of these seems likely. The November date is less than 9 weeks away. The December date is less than 13 weeks away, which would still allow enough time for a regular-length training camp were the bout to be announced soon. Last week, a BoxingScene.com report said that a fourth fight between Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez is close for Dec. 8.
2. I can understand the complaints about the stoppage in Antonio DeMarco’s first round technical knockout victory over John Molina. The referee jumped in and stopped the bout during a DeMarco flurry while Molina was covered up against the ropes, but Molina wasn’t ever truly in danger.
But I have to disagree with those complaints.
This wasn’t Molina standing up against the ropes and covering up. This was him sitting on the lower rope and covering up without going to a knee, in essence “turtling up” and offering nothing back in return — a sign of submission also seen in mixed martial arts.
Molina could’ve taken a knee. He didn’t. The referee could’ve let the fight go. He didn’t need to.
It was a quick technical knockout, but not truly a quick stoppage.
3. After Adrien Broner left behind the junior lightweight division this summer and made official his move to 135 pounds, the one bout people thought of most was Broner against lightweight titleholder Antonio DeMarco.
The problem, though, was that Broner was to be fighting in early October, and DeMarco had a Sept. 8 defense against John Molina.
Except Broner couldn’t get an opponent that HBO would approve, and his next fight has been pushed back until November. Then DeMarco waxed Molina and, by CompuBox figures, got punched precisely one time during the less than a minute that their bout lasted.
That would leave eight weeks between DeMarco-Molina and a potential DeMarco-Broner bout. DeMarco’s promoter, Gary Shaw, said at the post-fight press conference (according to our very own Rick Reeno) that DeMarco would be willing to fight Nov. 3 if the money is right.
It’s not ideal, given that fighters these days don’t tend to return straight into training camp right after a bout. But it’d be a major payday for DeMarco, and there would reasonably be enough time for his team to try to develop a strategy and bring in proper sparring partners.
4. I’ll take DeMarco-Broner, but I’d rather see Broner vs. Lucas Matthysse (who just scored a stoppage this past weekend over Olusegun Ajose). Or Amir Khan vs. Matthysse. Or Danny Garcia vs. Matthysse, given that Garcia holds the WBC belt and Matthysse now has the sanctioning body’s “interim title.”
I just want to see Matthysse again, just as I want to see Gennady Golovkin again. This has been a good month so far for brawling badasses.
Alas, I’ve a feeling Matthysse will soon be recognized as one of the most-avoided fighters in boxing. It’s doubtful that Golden Boy Promotions would put Matthysse in with any of its more lucrative fighters (see the case of Canelo Alvarez and Erislandy Lara). And the poor relationship between Golden Boy and Top Rank cements that we definitely wouldn’t see Matthysse against, say, the winner of Brandon Rios vs. Mike Alvarado.
It’d be great to see Matthysse against his fellow Argentine brawler, Marcos Maidana. Yet Maidana, after saying he didn’t belong at welterweight following his loss earlier this year to Devon Alexander, is remaining at 147 pounds and facing Jesus Soto-Karass on Showtime’s undercard this Saturday instead of returning to 140.
5. Martinez-Chavez Jr. Side Note Update No. 1: A couple weeks ago, I wondered about Freddie Roach’s claim about Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. having to lose a massive amount of weight before stepping on the scales to face Marco Antonio Rubio in February.
Roach had claimed Chavez had to lose 16 pounds in two days, which would’ve put Chavez Jr. far outside of the rules that the World Boxing Council has set — boxers in title fights are to be no more than 10 percent above the weight limit as of 30 days out, and they are to be no more than 5 percent above the limit as of 7 days out.
What, I wondered, did the WBC have on record for the WBC bout?
Here’s what the sanctioning body had to say:
Chavez Jr., according to a document provided to BoxingScene.com, was 162 pounds as of 7 days out from the Rubio bout, just two pounds over the middleweight limit. He was 169.7 pounds as of 30 days out.
Roach had also said that Chavez was in far better shape for his bout with Andy Lee this past June.
Per the WBC, Chavez was at 175.16 pounds as of 30 days out from the Lee fight.
There’s always the question as to the veracity of these figures. It’s more believable that Chavez really was far overweight prior to the Rubio bout — and not, as indicated above, making weight more comfortable than he did for Lee. It’s easy to imagine that his situation was hidden, and that Roach is telling the truth about his fighter needing to lose a large number of pounds in the days before the bout. Whether that number was actually 16 pounds in two days or is an exaggeration is something completely different.
And all of this is still just speculation without evidence. Grain of salt, grain of salt.
For what it’s worth, Chavez’s 30-day weigh-in for this upcoming fight against Martinez was 176 pounds. He was 167 pounds at the 7-day weigh-in, according to WBC official William Boodhoo.
6. Earlier in the year, Sulaiman told a podcast called “Rope A Dope Radio” that the WBC would be instituting a same-day weigh-in with limits on what a boxer could rehydrate to as of 9:30 a.m. the day of the fight — no more than 10 percent of the contract weight, which means, if you’re keeping track, that you have 30 days to lose 10 percent and can gain that back in less than 24 hours. This is the reality of weight cutting in combat sports, alas.
Back on-topic: That policy, Sulaiman said at the time, was to be effective as of July 1. It’s not yet in place, though.
“The same-day extra official weigh-in was instituted during our last world convention,” Sulaiman told BoxingScene.com via email on Sunday. “But, and I blame myself, there are several critical decisions not taken, [and] I decided to wait until the next convention to definitely institute this important rule.”
The IBF also has a policy for its second-day weigh-in: On the morning of the bout, boxers cannot be more than 10 pounds over the weight limit.
Of course, boxers are still able to rehydrate even further in the typically more than 12 hours between the morning weigh-in and their fight that night.
7. Meanwhile, it wasn’t that long ago — just last year — that the WBC had threatened via a blog post to make a fight that was supposed to take place between Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Ronald Hearns into a non-title bout, all because it was scheduled to take place on the same night as the pay-per-view fight (and WBC title bout) between Victor Ortiz and Floyd Mayweather.
The competing cards, the blog post writer argued, would potentially drive Mexican viewers away from the Ortiz-Mayweather pay-per-view and toward the Chavez fight.
The threat was later edited out of the blog post. Chavez-Hearns was later called off.
Fast forward to this year, and here we have two competing cards featuring WBC title bouts with Mexican fighters headlining: Chavez Jr. is fighting Sergio Martinez this Saturday on HBO Pay-Per-View, while Canelo Alvarez is facing Josesito Lopez on Showtime.
8. Martinez-Chavez Jr. Side Note Update No. 2: Last week, I wished that Sergio Martinez’s handlers had capitalized on his stellar 2010 by capturing him more publicity outside of boxing circles, and beyond his appearance last year in the “body issue” of “ESPN The Magazine.”
Well, this past week promoter Lou DiBella tweeted a photo of Sergio Martinez in “People en Español” magazine, which featured Martinez as one of its 15 sexiest men.
I consistently believe that boxers and their teams need to think outside of, well, the box when it comes to raising their appeal beyond those who regularly follow the sport.
Think about the bump that authors and products used to get from being touted on Oprah. Now picture that, at a much smaller scale, if boxers were to appear on other television shows with decent-sized audiences.
9. And the mainstream crossover is why I didn’t mind seeing celebrity Nick Cannon as the ring announcer during the HBO card in Oakland this past weekend. No, he wasn’t Michael Buffer, or even any of the other pros who don a tuxedo and hold the microphone. And yes, he did call Dawson the “lightweight heavyweight champion” — not like the other announcers are flawless.
But as boxing writer Corey Erdman noted last month: “All the cracks about Ward-Dawson struggling for attention and ratings, and you think paying a dude with 3.6 million [Twitter] followers is a bad idea?”
10. Now if only we can get Sergio Martinez to replace Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers in some of the million commercials Rodgers was in this past weekend.
Though after the Redskins’ win Sunday, I’m thinking of nominating RG3 instead of Sergio…
“Fighting Words" appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Follow David on Twitter at @fightingwords2 or send questions and comments to [email protected]