by David P. Greisman
Boxers, for all their willingness to have their features become mashed and their innards become mush, do not quite share the same mentality as those who partake in the most extreme of sports.
Challenge is good. Success is best. But rare is the fighter who is taken to the brink, survives by the skin of his teeth, and then promptly returns for more of the same.
Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward fought each other three times in 385 days. Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez fought each other three times in 364 days. For each, however, there was no better option, no other match immediately available that would reward them more.
Chad Dawson first met Glen Johnson more than a year-and-a-half ago, defending his light-heavyweight title with a unanimous 12-round decision on April 12, 2008.
It was a close fight, the kind of fight where the final score, 116-112 on all three judges’ cards, appears to reveal a wide margin, eight rounds to four, but fails to disclose the competitiveness of the action, fails to give due credit to the loser.
Dawson, in the moments immediately following his victory, felt himself the clear winner.
“I’m looking forward,” Dawson said in a post-fight interview. “I’m looking to fight the best. Glen Johnson was one of the best. Time to move on.”
The best, at the time, would have been whomever came out on top in a bout taking place a week later between Bernard Hopkins and Joe Calzaghe.
Calzaghe would win that fight, and with it recognition as the man to beat in the 175-pound division.
Dawson, 25 at the time, was in the same weight class as a then 43-year-old Bernard Hopkins, a then 36-year-old Calzaghe, a then 39-year-old Roy Jones Jr., and a then 39-year-old Antonio Tarver. They represented a generation that, over the past decade, had sat atop the throne, had gotten the riches that came with royalty, and could pass both of those to Dawson.
Johnson, then approaching 40 years old as well, had once been champ, too. He was never a box-office blockbuster, though. Instead, he carried the mantle of one of boxing’s most-avoided fighters, a road warrior who presented too much risk.
For that reason, Johnson felt crestfallen. Against Dawson, he didn’t just feel the pain of a win he felt he deserved. He had been robbed time and again in the past. This loss, though, could deprive him of a future. There might not be another shot.
“I cannot believe at my age, at 39, they would rip me off like this for a young and talented guy that have the world in his hands in the future,” Johnson said afterward. “I’m on my last legs. I work hard, and I win the fight and I deserve it. I trust people, and they continue to let me down.”
Johnson, now 40, disappeared from the spotlight, fighting just twice since against lower-level foes. But he is back in the big time as of this Saturday, when he faces Dawson, now 27 years old, in a rematch. He is back because he deserves to be. And he is back because Dawson was forced to change his tune.
Calzaghe fought once more after Hopkins, beating Jones and then retiring. Jones, following the Calzaghe loss, took on two shopworn opponents on two small-scale pay-per-views, is fighting overseas next month for the first time since his amateur days, and, should he beat Danny Green in Australia, will face Hopkins early next year. Hopkins fought once more in 2008 after his loss to Calzaghe, beating up middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik in a catch-weight bout. He will shake off some rust next month in advance of the Jones match.
That left Tarver, last year, as the logical, and available, next opponent. Dawson was fighting on Showtime; Tarver had just come off three straight fights on that network. Tarver had a world title belt and enough remaining prominence that Dawson could make some money and a name for himself.
Dawson, faster and fresher, beat Tarver easily. And then he did it again.
Tarver had a rematch clause in their contract in exchange for him signing to face Dawson. Tarver looked better than in their first fight, but the result was still the same.
Their second fight was on HBO, which signed Dawson and paid far too much for their first fight together, offering up a reported $3.2 million for the right to air Dawson-Tarver 2.
With Tarver doubly dispatched, Calzaghe gone, Hopkins inactive, Jones embarking on the boxing equivalent of a reunion tour, and the light-heavyweight division lacking in other marketable names, HBO apparently decided it was time to get its money’s worth.
Some believe Dawson was presented with a short list of potential opponents, with Johnson included on that list.
Dawson says that’s not true.
“It wasn’t just for the money, which is what everyone is saying,” Dawson said last month. “I took the fight because it’s the one everyone wants to see. A lot of people think that HBO made me take this fight. HBO didn’t make me take this fight. The first fight took place 18 months ago. I took this fight to see where I’m at in my career.”
And, last week: “Why fight Johnson again? Why not do it again,” Dawson said. “I can’t get the fight with Bernard Hopkins, so he’s the next worthy opponent. The first fight was a great fight, and I look forward to the second fight being just as great.”
Boxers, though they do not leap from planes, hang from bungee cords or scale sheer mountain faces, are brave sorts.
While Dawson had been on the canvas in wins over Eric Harding and Tomasz Adamek, it was Johnson who gave him more difficulty than had any other opponent in Dawson’s 28 pro fights. Johnson pressured him every minute of every round, forced Dawson to remain active to fend him off, and caught and even hurt Dawson with counters and short, hard shots, though he did not knock him down.
Dawson battled on the inside at times, sent out combinations from farther outside and moved away at other times, gaining valuable experience and proving he belonged in the upper tier of light heavyweights.
“I think I’ve matured as a fighter,” Dawson says. “I’ve gotten a lot smarter in the ring. I’m a better boxer now.”
Eighteen months is enough time for a fighter in his mid-20s to move that much closer to his prime. Eighteen months is enough time for a fighter in his early-40s to move that much closer to his end.
Still, as recently as last year, Johnson had more stamina and speed than expected of a man his age with more than 60 pro fights since 1993.
Dawson will face Johnson in Hartford, Conn., in front of his hometown crowd, in front of an HBO audience. Should he win again, and do so convincingly, his changing his tune could soon lead to us singing his praises.
The 10 Count
1. What was the bigger highlight of Saturday’s “Showtime Championship Boxing” broadcast?
Was it the fantastic action fight in the main event, which saw Yonnhy Perez take a bantamweight title from Joseph Agbeko?
Or was it the interview that preceded the main event, featuring Mike Tyson talking about needing more minerals and vitamins, Jim Gray trying to see if Tyson, retired for nearly four-and-a-half years, would return to the ring, and Don King quoting Peaches and Herb?
2. Demand dictates supply.
Why in the world, then, was there a pay-per-view this past Friday, priced at $24.95, featuring Hector Camacho Jr. against Yory Boy Campas?
Camacho Jr. might be the only unproven 50-3-1 prospect in the sport, and Campas is a 38-year-old who was entering his 108th pro fight and who might actually be eligible for the “Cash for Clunkers” program.
Again, demand dictates supply. Did anyone actually order, at $29.95, the May pay-per-view that saw 46-year-old Hector Camacho Sr. fight Campas to a draw?
There are better uses for your disposable income. Buy your favorite boxing writer $25 worth of beer.
3. Even Camacho Jr. didn’t take this card seriously, weighing in 5.5 pounds above the junior-middleweight limit.
He wasn’t the only one who failed to make weight for the El Paso card; Miguel Hernandez came in 4.5 pounds over the agreed-upon 170-pound limit for his bout with David Medina, and Bobby Joe Valdez came in two pounds over the agreed-upon 149-pound limit for his bout with Abel Perry, according to Fightnews.com.
All three overweight fighters made agreements with their opponents and did not have to lose any weight. Camacho would go on to win, while Hernandez and Valdez would lose, respectively, by decision and technical knockout.
A fourth fighter, Antonio Escalante, initially came in two pounds over the agreed-upon 128-pound limit. But he sweated that weight off, weighed in again, then went on to knock out Carlos Fulgencio.
Fighters complained the scale was off. But that would mean their opponents, who made weight, would’ve actually been quite below their respective weight limits. That seems far less logical than four fighters being heavy.
4. Okay, historians, clue me in: Are Hector Camacho Jr. (against Campas) and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. (against Grover Wiley) the only fighters ever to avenge their respective fathers?
5. I posed that question to BoxingScene’s knowledgeable staff. They didn’t disappoint:
“Randy Orton,” said Rick Reeno. “He beat [Hulk] Hogan to avenge Cowboy Bob Orton.”
“Orton is more legit than Camacho Jr.,” seconded Cliff Rold.
6. Speaking of wrestling and boxing (we were, right?), Ricky Hatton will guest host the Nov. 9 episode of World Wrestling Entertainment’s “Monday Night Raw,” airing that night from Sheffield, England, according to British tabloid The Sun. “Raw,” for storyline purposes, has seen various celebrities come in to serve as “general manager” for a night.
For comparison’s sake:
The first time Floyd Mayweather Jr. appeared on WWE programming, he punched out a 7-foot, 441-pound wrestler named The Big Show.
The first time Hatton appears on WWE programming, he might just show up resembling a miniature version of The Big Show.
Hatton’s still lighter than Fernando Vargas, though. Good Lord…
7. Boxers Behaving Badly update: Scottish prospect Gary McArthur was found guilty last week of vandalizing a luxury car belonging to a former girlfriend’s new soccer player beau, according to The Scotsman.
In January, the 27-year-old was arrested after he allegedly took a baseball bat to a BMW X6 worth £42,000 (about $69,000), causing £8,000 (about $13,000) in damage. He must pay £1,000 in fines and, curiously, only £1,000 in restitution. Earlier in the year, McArthur was found not guilty of two other charges of breaches of the peace stemming from the same incident: allegations of sending a threatening text message to his former girlfriend and of shouting outside her home.
McArthur turned pro at the beginning of 2006, fighting at lightweight and junior welterweight. He apparently has more power in a baseball bat than in his fists – of his 13 victories, only one has come by knockout. He is 13-1, and his last appearance was in June, a six-round decision over some 5-19-2 dude named Arek Malek.
8. Boxers Behaving Badly: A British fighter whose brief boxing career never went far has been arrested and charged with killing a fireman, according to the Coventry Telegraph.
Shane Walford, 33, is a soldier who boxed under the name Shane Junior. Prosecutors say Walford approached the fireman in a bar and punched him. The fireman fell to the floor and died in the hospital a day later.
Walford had three fights in 1999, winning twice and losing once, according to BoxRec.com. He had one more fight, a win in 2007 that brought his record to 3-1 (3 knockouts).
9. What was the most one-sided, prolonged clinic of 2009?
Was it the flawless performance Floyd Mayweather Jr. put forth against Juan Manuel Marquez for 12 rounds, Sept. 19, on HBO Pay-per-View?
Or was it the verbal beat down that rapper, rap producer and, apparently, knowledgeable boxing fan R.A. the Rugged Man gave Mayweather Jr. for 20 minutes, Oct. 29, on Sirius XM station Shade 45?
10. Thank goodness Mayweather never mentioned his so-called record label, Philthy Rich Records. There would’ve been a mercy stoppage…
David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. His weekly column, “Fighting Words,” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. He may be reached for questions and comments at email@example.com
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