By David P. Greisman and Thomas Gerbasi
DAVID P. GREISMAN: One fighter is on the cusp. One fighter is on the brink. One fighter speaks softly but carries seven feet of heft. And one fighter has talked plenty of trash and now is cruisin’ for a bruisin’.
Saturday’s slate pits Chad Dawson against Glen Johnson in a battle for light heavyweight legitimacy. That fight will take place in Hartford, Conn., and headline an HBO broadcast. But the most hardcore of boxing fans will also be paying attention to – and, if they wish, $25 for – a heavyweight title fight in Germany between Nikolai Valuev and David Haye.
Tom, Dawson (28-0, 17 knockouts) is the fighter on the cusp, a world titlist at 175 pounds, but a 27-year-old who has been waiting for the throne – and the riches – to pass to him from the division’s older standard bearers (Joe Calzaghe, Bernard Hopkins, Roy Jones, Antonio Tarver).
Dawson’s only gotten Tarver in the ring, beating him by decision twice. Calzaghe’s retired, and Hopkins is facing Jones next year. Again, he has a sanctioning body belt and an HBO contract. Yes, the old men earn lots of money. But the division could soon go through him.
The man who could keep that from happening is Glen Johnson, the 40-year-old “Road Warrior” and former light heavyweight champ who has long been kept on the outside himself. Too much risk, too little reward. Johnson (49-12-2, 33 knockouts) lost to Dawson a year-and-a-half ago in a close, competitive fight. Dawson said afterward that there was no need for a rematch. His tune has changed.
Johnson needs a win to stay relevant. A loss, and he’s on the brink of never having another shot again.
Meanwhile, Valuev, 36 years old, gentle giant in demeanor but not necessarily so in de’ ring, will face Haye, the 29-year-old former cruiserweight champ who since joining the heavyweight ranks has talked a big game and done everything but fight a big man. First, a fight with Wladimir Klitschko fell through. Next, a fight with Vitali Klitschko fell through.
And so now Haye (22-1, 21 knockouts) faces the biggest but not the best, a Valuev who has not fought in nearly a year. In that last bout, Valuev (50-1, 34 knockouts, 1 no contest) took a dreadful decision over Evander Holyfield in a bout that some thought Holyfield, who was 46 at the time, deserved to win.
Dust off your crystal ball, my man. What do you foresee for Saturday?
THOMAS GERBASI: Well David, I’m not one to blow my own horn (toot toot), but the crystal ball is shining brighter than ever since we started this little weekly H2H stuff. The only pick I’ve missed so far is Froch over Dirrell, and since many of us believe the American did deserve the decision (even though we’re not crying too much because of the way he fought), I’ll give myself half a point for that one.
But I digress, and thankfully so since my gut and head are meeting at the crossroads when it comes to calling this week’s two major bouts.
In the HBO headliner, I’ve got to go with Chad Dawson based on a couple of factors, mainly youth and the experience of already having gone 12 hard rounds with “The Road Warrior” back in 2008. At 27, he’s probably just approaching his prime, and after dressing down Antonio Tarver for 24 rounds since the first Johnson fight, he looks like he’s picking up speed in his career, and would like to end this phase of it by taking out the last of the previous era’s standouts in Johnson.
Of course, Johnson isn’t an easy out for anyone in the game, including Dawson, and knowing that this is probably his last shot at the title will give him even more incentive to get the job done. But while Dawson has probably gotten better since April of 2008, it’s a very real possibility that Johnson, at 40, may finally be feeling his age on Saturday night.
His style isn’t that of a Bernard Hopkins, one where he preserves himself in each fight, picking and choosing his spots to attack. Johnson’s style is one of pressure, of throwing a lot of punches, of physically leaving everything he has in the ring. That’s not good for the longevity of 30-year olds, let alone 40-year olds.
Now don’t get me wrong. Johnson is on the short list of my favorite people in this game, in and out of the ring, and I think you’d be hard pressed to find anybody who will disagree with that notion. But I just can’t see him getting stronger and stronger as the fight goes on against Dawson like he did the first time.
I think by the time he gets acclimated to the fight and warmed up, the champion will have built a sizeable lead, and this time I see Dawson continuing to put his foot on the gas en route to a clear-cut 12 round unanimous decision win.
Yet before Dawson and Johnson meet up again, it’s Germany and Valuev vs Haye. I’ll make my feelings known right from the start so we don’t have any of those pesky thoughts of objectivity creeping in – I’m a David Haye fan.
If I wasn’t working in the business, I’d be the first one trying to get a picture taken where I put my fist up and mean mug the camera. And my reasoning for being a fan of ‘The Hayemaker’ is simple – he entertains. Hey, I can enjoy the complexities of the sweet science and appreciate the finer points of the game, but if I had my choice, I’d watch a heavyweight who talks a little trash, calls out the world, and can knock you out with one punch. Now that’s entertainment.
Of course, Haye is not for everybody, and he’s received his share of criticism over the years for his mouth, especially his recent jabs at the Klitschko brothers. But come on, the T-shirt with the severed heads wasn’t meant to be taken literally – lighten up folks (and yes, I’m still looking for that shirt to hit the Internet so I can get my own), can’t the kid have a little fun?
Anyway, Haye has heard the critics cry bloody murder over his trash talking and his supposed shaky chin, but hasn’t the Londoner delivered on his boasts more often than not?
Yes, he got knocked out by Carl Thompson in his only pro loss, but he was fighting the notoriously resilient former champion in his 11th fight, and has since been unstoppable, with his last three wins being big finishes of Jean-Marc Mormeck, Enzo Maccarinelli, and Monte Barrett.
Now he’s knocking on the door of the heavyweight title and can actually become the first fighter to breathe life into the division in years. What’s so wrong with that, especially since the first thing everyone bitches about in the heavyweight division is how it has no life and no compelling personalities – in or out of the ring.
But when Haye comes along with a knockout punch and a brash personality, the purists cringe. I don’t get it, but hey, if you want to keep Valuev as your poster boy for the division, go right ahead. I’m going where the fun’s at.
But there will be no fun if Valuev is given another gift by European judges, who have kept the Russian giant winning in his bouts against Evander Holyfield, John Ruiz (twice), and Larry Donald. For some reason there’s a fascination with Valuev, but I’m finding it hard to see what it is, since his lumbering style is far from pleasing.
And I don’t even find it very effective, but apparently the judges do, and that makes winning Saturday’s bout a tall order (pun intended) for Haye, who may have to knock Valuev out to get a draw. So while my head sees another controversial decision win for Valuev, my gut’s going to say that Haye is going to do enough to win and get rewarded for it. Haye W12 and let the new era of heavyweight boxing begin.
DAVID P. GREISMAN: A former cruiserweight can hurt and stop a lumbering heavyweight. We need go back no further for an example than two weeks ago, when Tomasz Adamek took out Andrew Golota.
But unless David Haye can do what no one else has yet and fell the giant, he’d be making a mistake to go out in search of the knockout, even if said knockout will, as you put it, earn him a draw.
One question: Can Haye take a heavyweight punch? Monte Barrett put Haye on the canvas.
But the real question: Will Valuev get the chance to ask that first question of Haye?
Owen Beck tried to bomb Valuev away. Beck got stopped. Monte Barrett tried to bomb Valuev away. Barrett got stopped. The only man to beat Valuev yet? Ruslan Chagaev, who patiently out-boxed the big man, much in the same way Sultan Ibragimov out-boxed Shannon Briggs.
Is it David Haye’s style? No. But Haye, already brash and entertaining outside of the ring, can return to that form within the squared circle in his next fight, which would presumably be against someone closer to his size.
As for Dawson-Johnson 2, I think you’re right that Dawson, in the 18 months since he last met Johnson, is now closer to his prime, while Johnson, in that year-and-a-half, is now closer to his end.
Of course, we could’ve said the same thing about Johnson before their first bout.
Such is the territory of one of the sport’s most-avoided fighters. After he lost to Clinton Woods in 2006, it was another 19 months until Johnson got his shot at Dawson. He was 39, then, but still gave the then-25-year-old his toughest challenge yet. Can he give Dawson trouble again?
Yes, and if Dawson gets drawn into a gunfight with this old gun for a second time, I think he could see a repeat of last year’s battle of attrition.
Yet Johnson only has one style, one gear. Dawson has enough speed, both with his feet and his hands, to get in and out of the pocket, to throw flurries and then get out of harm’s way. It’s what Dawson did against Antonio Tarver, and he can do it with Johnson, who in past fights has been forced to reset himself over and over against busy fighters.
Dawson will need to look out for Johnson’s straight, hard counters, which hurt him in the first fight. Now that he knows what to expect, I expect we’ll get what you expect – a 12-round decision for Dawson.
Apparently I like your crystal ball this week. What’s it say about next week’s PowerBall drawing?
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