by Cliff Rold
They are the two best fighters in their divisions, 168 and 175 lbs. respectively. They are also the reigning lineal World Champions of those domains. Saturday night, after finishing his business with Bernard Hopkins and winning the World Light Heavyweight Championship, the larger man, Dawson, suggested he’d love a showdown with Super Middleweight king Andre Ward.
After fourteen rounds of Dawson-Hopkins over two fights dating back to last October, the idea of Dawson-Ward invokes a sort of prayer. The prayer begins…
“Please, God, not that.”
At least, not yet
Let’s go to the report card.
Pre-Fight: Speed –Hopkins B; Dawson A/Post: Same
Pre-Fight: Power –Hopkins B; Dawson B/Post: Same
Pre-Fight: Defense –Hopkins A; Dawson B+/Post: B+; A
Pre-Fight: Intangibles –Hopkins A; Dawson B+/Post: B+; B+
Before getting to why Dawson-Ward should at minimum wait for a fight or two, attention is turned to the changing of the guard at Light Heavyweight. It was, as expected, an ugly affair and one made worse by the tactics of a Hopkins who had none of the magic he showed against Kelly Pavlik and Jean Pascal. Throughout his career, there has been a version of Hopkins that can be almost unwatchable, a fighter as dirty and foul as any could be.
Fans got that version on Saturday night. Recognizing early on he could not outbox Dawson, Hopkins went to his bag of tricks. Headbutts, holding and hitting, and even a tackle to stop a Dawson flurry…we got it all this weekend. It’s not that Dawson didn’t have some of his own rough stuff, nearly spinning Hopkins out of the ring at one point. As was the case in their first fight though, Dawson fouled in response.
Hopkins fouled as offense.
It wasn’t as porous as the in-ring behavior Hopkins displayed against Joe Calzaghe a few years ago; he didn’t flop for fouls repeatedly late in the fight. It still made for a stinker.
There will be some who see it as part of his brilliance and there is some validity to the argument. Harry Greb and Fritzie Zivic were legendary in part because of how nasty they could be. Eusebio Pedroza rode foul tactics to a long reign at Featherweight and a place in Canastota. It doesn’t make it fun to watch.
Nor does it take anything away from Hopkins or his place in history in the broader sense. He’s been one of the greats and if, at 47, he opts to continue there are still fights to wash away Saturday’s sordid affair. Hopkins would make an interesting fight with Cruiserweight champion Yoan Pablo Hernandez. Hernandez has the Ring belt and some claim to the lineage (BoxingScene rated he and Steve Cunningham 1-2 headed into their rematch, though it’s not ignored Marco Huck had a strong place in any argument). If he continues on, Hopkins-Hernandez is a good option and one last chance at some history.
To his credit, Dawson handled Hopkins well and never lost his cool they way he did last October. He made sure his responses couldn’t end the fight and piled up points in deliberate fashion. The scorecard here favored Dawson at 118-111, or 9-2-1 in rounds. It’s not to say Dawson’s was an awe-inspiring performance. His output was spotty, if steady, but enough to win most of the rounds as Hopkins largely relied on single shot attempts when he wasn’t holding and hooking.
The style clash is why the thought of Dawson-Ward right off two fights with Hopkins sounds so bad. Ward is an excellent fighter. Along with Floyd Mayweather and Anselmo Moreno, and the best of Dawson, he’s among the most complete technicians in the game. However, Ward’s technical acumen borrows much from Hopkins. Ward moves his hands much more at this point but he is not averse to the same head leading, mauling tactics Hopkins employed Saturday.
Dawson can make for intriguing viewing matched correctly, but another affair like his last two would leave little to excite fans beyond the names on the marquee. In addition, outside of Ward’s solid fanbase in Oakland, it’s hard to figure where the fight could go to sell tickets.
There are predictable chess matches where, on paper, we know there will be more sweet science than sweet violence. With the right two fighters, it can be great. Leonard-Benitez, Whitaker-McGirt, and Toney-McCallum remain lasting classics full of fluid offense and defense. Dawson-Ward, stylistically, doesn’t match up the way those pairings did.
Light Heavyweight is a solid class right now and, if Dawson-Ward is where we’re headed, matching them with fighters who provide better viewing before they face each other would be a good idea. Dawson is at his most entertaining against fighters who move their hands. The only man to defeat him, Jean Pascal, may be headed towards a potential war with IBF Light Heavyweight beltholder Tavoris Cloud. Facing the winner of a Pascal-Cloud would be a great idea (and shouldn’t Dawson want some revenge?).
So too would Dawson, or Ward, against the man who got robbed after laying a whooping on Cloud earlier this year: Gabriel Campillo. Campillo is a high volume slickster who makes pure boxing exciting. Dawson-Campillo would be much closer on paper to the scientific classics mentioned above.
Dawson has gone through the best of the old guard in his division with clear wins over Glen Johnson (the second time), Antonio Tarver (twice), and now Hopkins. Sometimes forgotten, he’s also beaten his share of younger guns with lopsided wins over Tomasz Adamek and Adrian Diaconu. Now, we get to the part where it’s all young and hungry and he’ll have a chance to truly stamp his place at 175.
Ward fits the bill in the sense that he’s in his prime and highly regarded. Given their standing in the sport, Dawson-Ward is going to be an acceptable fight on paper for some, and inevitable at some point if they keep winning. It would be wise to spend at least a single bout building it with something exciting before what could inevitably be more of the ugly.
Report Card Picks 2012: 21-4
Light Heavyweight: Hopkins slips to the number one contender’s slot but, unlikely to challenge again, holds a tentative position. After his big upset loss to Denis Grachev, #8 Ismayl Sillakh exits the top ten. Grachev was given consideration but, still with only 13 fights, he doesn’t quite squeeze in. Isaac Chilemba makes his top ten debut.
Welterweight: While the pick didn’t make the pre-fight report card, this scribe passed in a pick on Paulie Malignaggi-Vyacheslav Senchenko for Lem Satterfield at Ring and was pleasantly surprised to be wrong. Assuming the best he could do was win rounds and get jobbed on the road, Malignaggi busted the undefeated Ukrainian up and won a WBA belt at 147 lbs. Malignaggi enters the top ten off the win.
Jr. Lightweight: Juan Carlos Salgado posted a solid win over Martin Honorio, scoring two knockdowns and overcoming a bad cut. Unfortunately, there is nowhere to go in the ratings so he stays put at #4.
Featherweight: Despite a hard loss, Elio Rojas remains at #10. Jhonny Gonzalez’s win doesn’t move him but, hey, wouldn’t it be great if it set up a showdown with the man one slot above him…Orlando Salido?
Jr. Flyweight: Ramon Garcia slips only a little after getting sparked by Roman Gonzalez. Gonzalez moves into the #1 slot.
The full ratings update is a click away.
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org