by David P. Greisman
How much we respect certain fighters doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll expect much of the fight they’re in. And the level of interest we have in what will happen doesn’t necessarily translate to the level of excitement we’ll have while watching it unfold.
From the moment Chad Dawson signed to fight Andre Ward, we have been drawn in by the idea of the light heavyweight champion dropping seven pounds to face the super middleweight champion, but also dreading what their encounter could entail. Sometimes when top-tier boxers share a ring, their styles mesh and bring us pleasure. Sometimes, though, as with Timothy Bradley vs. Devon Alexander, their styles clash and bring us pain.
We respect Dawson and Ward, and we’re interested in their Sept. 8 fight, but we don’t expect much out of it, and we’re not as excited about it as we are for the fight weekend that follows seven days later, when an HBO pay-per-view headlined by Sergio Martinez vs. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. airs at the same time that Showtime puts on a quadrupleheader featuring Canelo Alvarez vs. Josesito Lopez in the main event.
We won’t write Ward-Dawson off, though. We’ll watch and hope to be proven wrong. HBO isn’t writing it off, either. The network has invested in putting two champions in against each other. While Martinez-Chavez is the big show for September, Ward-Dawson nevertheless received a special episode of HBO’s “24/7” series, this one entitled “Road to Ward/Dawson.”
That one and only episode aired this past Saturday — or, well, midnight on Sunday morning. With a nod to syndicated columnist Norman Chad, I took notes:
12:02 a.m. Eastern Time: Apparently there’s so little material that this episode began two minutes late. That, and “A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas” went a little long. Such is the state of our sport these days, that people are less likely to watch a pair of pugilists in The Sweet Science than they are to see a pair of potheads in their second sequel.
12:03 a.m.: We open with Andre Ward and Chad Dawson running, the color washed out of the picture except for the red on Ward’s outfit and the blue on Dawson’s clothes. We hear Jimmy Lennon Jr. announcing Ward, post-victory: “He is now the unified super middleweight champion of the world.” Another announcer soon is heard speaking of Dawson: “And new light heavyweight champion of the world.”
These are two of the top fighters in the sport, two American champions, two men struggling for recognition despite their accomplishments. This footage of them running is fitting: Despite their acclaim, fame is an uphill battle.
On cue, here’s narrator Liev Schreiber: “This is the story of two American champions preparing for one fight to define their careers.”
12:05 a.m.: We see Dawson and his family at their Connecticut home. We learn that Dawson’s four sons have some, well, interesting names: General Chandler Supreme Dawson, Sir Chancellor Dawson, Prince Chadwick Dawson Jr., and Tiger Dawson.
Is that better or worse than George, George, George, George, George, Georgetta and Freeda George Foreman?
12:06 a.m.: Team sports have individual stars, but largely their parts are interchangeable, with many of the players being relatively anonymous yet still highly compensated. That’s not the case in boxing. Boxing needs viewers and ticket buyers to relate, to want to see a fighter, either because of how they fight or because of who they are.
Many boxers’ stories are so similar that they’ve become cliché. But it’s also a reality, one that can generate empathy. Chad Dawson tells of growing up in a rough section of New Haven, Conn., and having friends who are either dead or in prison. But Dawson’s family supported each other. His father was a boxer, and the son followed in his footsteps.
That’s the person. Here’s the professional, with Dawson speaking over some highlight footage:
“They said Adamek was too strong. They said Tarver was too big and too strong for me. I fought Glen Johnson, it was a tough fight. I never thought I would be in the position I’m in now. Never, ever. So when you talk about my place in boxing, and where do I see my career in 10 years from now, I want to be waiting for the phone call from the Hall of Fame.”
He’s still got a ways to go, but this fight could help that goal.
No mention yet of the loss to Jean Pascal, though. It’s strange having a champion when there’s another guy in the division who holds a recent victory over him. This is the triangle theory exemplified: Pascal beat Dawson. Bernard Hopkins beat Pascal. Dawson beat Hopkins.
12:07 a.m.: We hear Ward’s story now, about how he loved baseball and played shortstop and pitched, but how he was influenced by his boxer father. We hear about Ward’s win in the 2004 Olympics — an accomplishment that means less in America in this era of boxing being a niche sport, but means more in this era of American amateur boxers not being as successful.
It’s a shame in a way that there’s only one episode of this show. Andre Ward is one of the best talkers in the sport, not in the Ricardo Mayorga mold but rather just as one of the better interviews around. The “24/7” series did wonders for getting Timothy Bradley’s personality out there. Ward is a religious family man, but by no means does that make him boring.
We next see highlights from Showtime’s “Super Six” tournament, including Ward’s wins over Mikkel Kessler, Arthur Abraham and Carl Froch. It’ll be interesting to see how much, or how little, Ward’s time on the competing network contributes to his name recognition now that he’s on HBO. It might be that Ward is essentially being introduced, or reintroduced, to the casual boxing viewer.
12:10 a.m.: Ward’s trainer, Virgil Hunter, is also a father figure, particularly after Ward’s father passed away when Ward was just 18. We also hear about the importance of Ward’s religion in his life. If Ward were Manny Pacquiao, this is the only thing we’d be hearing about him for the next 20 minutes of this episode.
12:13 a.m.: Speaking of trainers, we meet John Scully, who worked with Dawson when he was an amateur and a young pro and is now back with him. In an interesting segment, Dawson acknowledges how he’s had many different men in his corner, and how that had been detrimental to his career:
“I felt like me being with so many different trainers, I kind of got confused with my style, what was my style. Now that I’m back with Scully, I know what my style is: That’s a pure boxer. We’ve been working on that, and everything’s been great.”
We get the first mention of Dawson dropping down in weight, as well as the bout being in Ward’s hometown territory in Oakland, Calif. This is part of the storyline. Sadly, there’s not much of what we’ve seen in the past: minutes of great highlights that would make the casual fan excited. That’s just not who these guys are or how they fight.
Instead, we get lowlights, with the bizarre sequence of events that ended Hopkins-Dawson 1. We then see very brief footage of their rematch, which essentially only serves to let viewers know what Dawson had been up to recently to win the championship, and also to introduce the words that helped lead to this fight — Dawson’s post-fight interview call-out of Ward.
It’s not often that such a callout actually contributes to a fight happening. Of note, there was Roy Jones Jr.- Antonio Tarver I, and also Ricky Hatton-Floyd Mayweather Jr.
12:17 a.m.:. Ward also has four children. And no, their names aren’t as out there as Dawson’s kids. Ward speaks of his relationship with his wife, who was his high school sweetheart. This is nice. But perhaps if Ward had legal trouble for attacking his ex, or was buying luxury cars and hanging out with a rapper best friend, there’d be four episodes of this series instead of one.
12:21 a.m.: More family time with Chad Dawson now, this time with them visiting him at camp in Nevada. We’re losing steam here in this episode. Where are the discussions of strategy? What about some commentary from boxing observers to supplement the significance of this bout?
12:22 a.m.: At last, a mention of Dawson’s loss to Pascal.
12:25 am.: One key to good promotion in pro wrestling is to stack the deck against a competitor. HBO stirs the pot a little by reminding us that Ward had broken his hand prior to his fight this past December against Carl Froch and went 12 rounds for the victory anyway. This’ll be his first bout back from the injury, and it’s not an easy one.
Schreiber notes that Dawson is a bigger man with a longer reach. Once more, stack the deck.
“You have to find a way to beat every style, whether they’re tall, whether they’re short, short arms, long arms, aggressive, box,” Ward says. “We’re giving Chad the credit that he deserves, but at the same time it’s not a foregone conclusion that Chad is going to beat me because he has a few inches in height and a few inches in reach.”
“This is a 50-50 fight,” Ward also says. “Somebody has to step up and show who deserves to be the champion.”
The episode ends. Like what we think of the fighters itself, the show was interesting, but not exciting. Neither of these guys is overly emotional. Neither is dramatic.
We expect Ward-Dawson on Sept. 8 also to be lacking in emotion and drama. We hope to be wrong.
The 10 Count
1. That wasn’t the highlight of HBO’s boxing programming this weekend; rather, the “Face Off” between Sergio Martinez and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. was 13 compelling minutes that left this viewer even more excited about their Sept. 15 middleweight championship fight.
We like when individual boxers are respectful of their opponents, but we know that conflict draws our attention and sells tickets. That’s why we see so many instances of contrived conflict, of boxers behaving in a certain way just to help market the fight.
That doesn’t appear to be the case with Martinez and Chavez. They’re not just competing against each other in a sport; to them, this is legitimately personal.
To Martinez, he was unjustly stripped of his World Boxing Council belt, which Chavez now holds. Martinez believes that Chavez avoided facing him for some time despite Martinez’s right to challenge for a title that was originally his.
Chavez, meanwhile, has long taken the criticism of his being an unworthy titleholder, someone who would not be competitive in a fight with Martinez, and now seems maniacally confident, as if he has a secret that Martinez doesn’t know and won’t find out until they’re sharing the same ring with each other. Chavez has improved and is a more formidable foe than he once would have been.
Their exchanges were fantastic:
Martinez: “I hope your corner protects you. I hope the referee protects you. I hope the doctor protects you. Because I am going to hurt you. How are you going to catch me, Julio?”
Chavez: “The ring is a square like this [pointing to the table.] You can’t get out.”
Martinez: Neither can you.”
Chavez: “My size will be important to win the fight, but I am not relying on my weight to win the fight. It’ll be my boxing and my intelligence.”
Martinez: “So you are lost, then.”
Chavez: “You are the one who’s lost.”
The personal issues always make a fight more compelling. It’s true in wrestling, too. Professional rivalries can become even more heated because of personal grudges. That’s why past “Face Off” episodes were so compelling when they featured Jean Pascal and Bernard Hopkins, Wladimir Klitschko and David Haye, and Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito.
Others shows weren’t as good, however, when there was one disinterested party, or when there simply just wasn’t an emotional rivalry, as we saw with Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez, Pacquiao and Timothy Bradley, Floyd Mayweather and Victor Ortiz, and Mayweather and Miguel Cotto.
2. HBO also aired one of its “2 Days” documentary features, this one on Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. filmed on the day before and the day of his bout this past June against Andy Lee.
One interesting note from the broadcast was in reference to Chavez’s conditioning being far better for Lee than it had been for his February fight against Marco Antonio Rubio. The claim was that Chavez had to lose 16 pounds on the day before stepping on scales to face Rubio.
This isn’t new — in June, trainer Freddie Roach told Dan Rafael of ESPN.com that Chavez had been 16 pounds overweight with a little less than 48 hours until the weigh-in. But it does raise a question of truthfulness, because if this is a fact, then there’s another issue at play.
Chavez, as the WBC’s middleweight titleholder, is subject to its weigh-ins both 30 days and 7 days before his fights. At the 30-day mark he is to be no more than 10 percent over the weight limit — 16 pounds. At the 7-day mark, he is to be no more than 5 percent over the limit — 8 pounds.
Mind you, some think the sanctioning body wouldn’t say a thing were Chavez Jr. actually over its limits. For what it’s worth, the WBC said Chavez was certified at 176 pounds for his 30-day weigh-in for next month’s match against Sergio Martinez.
WBC President Jose Sulaiman responded to an email from BoxingScene.com on Sunday afternoon, saying he has asked his office to send me information on what Chavez weighed for the 30- and 7-day weigh-ins ahead of the Rubio bout. I will note the answer, once it comes, in a future edition of The 10 Count.
“As of today, the rules call for the promoters and boxers themselves to be responsible for the weigh-ins, and most comply with them,” Sulaiman wrote. “However, the WBC is not satisfied with some promoters who do not understand the important safety reasons for the WBC having ruled for them. We will propose in our next convention … to have the WBC itself be responsible for taking those weigh-ins.
3. Seeking your feedback:
- What’s your plan for the Sept. 15 competing broadcasts?
- Will you be ordering the Martinez-Chavez Jr. pay-per-view and watching the Showtime quadrupleheader on DVR or when it repeats later? Or will you watch Canelo Alvarez vs. Josesito Lopez live instead?
- Are you attending one of the fights live in Las Vegas? Which one, and why?
Please send your thoughts to fightingwords1(at)gmail(dot)com
4. The death of Johnny Tapia this past May was sad but not wholly unsurprising, not when considering that he had experienced more than a lifetime’s worth of struggles with substance abuse; as Kevin Iole of Yahoo! Sports noted at the time, Tapia had actually been declared dead four times before in his life.
We wondered, of course, whether Tapia had once again fallen into bad habits and overdosed. It turns out that that wasn’t the case. Tapia’s death came “as a result of complications of hypertensive heart disease,” according to the autopsy report quoted by the Albuquerque (N.M.) Journal.
He was 45. His death still stings for so many who knew him or just merely watched him. While our worst fears were fortunately untrue, it’s hard not to think that the crazy life he had finally escaped nevertheless left the damage that killed him.
5. A few postscript notes from my column last week about AIBA and its entry into pro boxing:
- AIBA spokesman Sébastien Gillot wrote in to note that the BBC’s report on an alleged $9 million payment to AIBA to support its World Series of Boxing in exchange for two gold medals in boxing for Azerbaijan was investigated by both AIBA and the International Olympic Committee. I’d quoted AIBA’s internal report on this, but he noted that the IOC (as with AIBA) also “could not find any evidence to support” the allegations.
- Gillot says “AIBA will sue the BBC for having repeated their false and defamatory allegations,” and it is “considering doing the same with everyone repeating those allegations.” [My thought: There’s nothing journalistically unethical about reporting what the BBC’s report said, so long as one also notes what the responding investigations’ findings were.]
- As for AIBA’s entry into pro boxing, he says “boxers are not signing with AIBA, not even with APB [AIBA Professional Boxing], but with BMA, the Boxing Marketing Arm, an independent commercial company. [My thought: AIBA’s own documents note that the BMA is something that AIBA established.]
6. Burning Bridges, starring James Kirkland:
In recent years, Kirkland has
- nearly derailed his career by spending a good chunk of time behind bars for being a felon in possession of a handgun
- parted ways with the trainer who was pivotal in getting him where he is
- returned to that trainer after being stunningly upset and stopped in one round
– accepted a fight with Canelo Alvarez, only to quickly change his mind and pull out, citing a lingering injury but reportedly allowing money to be the actual reason
- accused members of his team of giving him mysterious pills prior to his difficult disqualification win earlier this year against Carlos Molina
- now filed suit against those team members, as well as against Golden Boy, all of whom supported him during his legal troubles and career setbacks
7. Kirkland’s perilously close to becoming the guy who changes jobs too often and leaving himself with less goodwill and fewer options. Should this litigation turn out in his favor, he better hope his next stop is his last one, and the right one. Should he lose his case, however, he’s going to need to swallow his pride and hope that the past can be put aside — much as Top Rank and Nonito Donaire have been able to do.
8. Boxers Behaving Badly update: Undefeated light heavyweight prospect Yathomas Riley has been released from a Florida jail two years after police accused him of shooting his girlfriend in 2010, according to the Miami New Times, which reported extensively on the supposed attempted murder case and highlighted evidence that supported Riley’s claims of innocence.
Prosecutors looked back into the allegations. Riley had said the woman had tried to kill herself “when he threatened to leave her for good after catching her [a corrections officer] filing fraudulent tax forms for inmates,” the New Times said. The investigators recently spoke to her and proceeded to drop charges against Riley, the newspaper reported.
Riley, 30, turned pro and last fought in April 2010, a win that brought his record to 8-0 with 6 knockouts and 1 no contest.
9. Boxers Behaving Badly: Former junior middleweight titleholder Travis Simms was arrested last week in Norwalk, Conn., after he allegedly refused to obey a police officer’s commands, according to the Connecticut Post.
Simms, 41, has been charged with one count of second-degree breach of peace and one count of interfering with an officer, the article said. Officers subdued him using a stun gun. He’s since been released on bail. Police had been at an apartment complex at the time responding to reports of a fight at a party.
Travis Simms won the World Boxing Association’s title at 154 pounds in 2003 with a knockout of Alejandro “Terra” Garcia, and defended it once in 2004 against Bronco McKart before being stripped of the title. He remained out of the ring for about two years, returning in January 2007 and stopping Jose Antonio Rivera to regain the belt.
He lost the belt in his next bout, however, dropping a unanimous decision to Joachim Alcine. Simms fought only twice more, his last outing coming in 2009, a win that brought his record to 27-1 with 20 knockouts.
Two years ago, prosecutors declined to pursue criminal cases against Travis and his twin brother, Tarvis, following an April argument between the two of them that turned physical and involved biting, a large knife and the grabbing of a gun, according to a report at the time from local newspaper The Hour.
10. BoxingScene.com was advised that Adrien Broner’s next bout has been delayed from October until November 3rd to provide Golden Boy additional time to secure an opponent acceptable to HBO.
Geez. Given the level of a couple of his recent opponents (Jason Litzau and Vicente Rodriguez in 2011), it’s hard not to wonder just how bad these suggested foes were.
It’s the right move to make. HBO has aired fewer and fewer Klitschko fights, barring those that are seen as potentially competitive or interesting (the upcoming Vitali Klitschko-Manuel Charr bout being a clear exception).
We’re still seeing networks parcel out dates for fighters who don’t yet have opponents lined up. So long as Broner ends up with a quality foe, which is still not a guarantee, this will be a move in the right direction.
And if Max Kellerman is working the fight, he should have a Larry Merchant/Ricardo Mayorga moment and present Broner with a post-fight Twinkie…
“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@example.com