The Ship Be Sinking

Mouth Almighty

Dawson’s Bleak

I had never noticed this before, but from certain angles and in certain photographs Chad Dawson bears a strong resemblance to an overlarge Corey Spinks. Tonight’s fight against Antonio Tarver was the the night for noticing and meditating on such things, and for such questions as: can a fighter be exposed in winning a unanimous decision? Dawson won, certainly; he landed more punches, harder punches, and won at least two thirds of the rounds. But the way in which he did so revealed just about every flaw he had, highlighted every limitation, made you realize that as talented and smart as the kid is he’s two years away from being truly world class, if he ever gets there.

Much of this is predicated on the fact that Antonio Tarver is, for all his skills (which might be better now than they’ve ever been), indisputably athletically shot. He’s 40 years old and fights in spurts throwing mostly arm punches, clinches continually, his legs lock at times, he can’t move much around the ring; his mind is world class but his body won’t listen to it anymore, which is a pretty good rough-and-ready definition of the term. Dawson meanwhile is just setting out on the road that Tarver’s traveled; 26 years old, athletically gifted, owner of many strong skills, and now possessed of all the confidence that should come from having beaten two world champions (Tomasz Adamek and Tarver) to become recognized as the best in the world in one of boxing’s glamor divisions. This should have been a no-contest. And yet… Tarver won rounds. He hurt Dawson at times. He competed on near-equal terms, sometimes backing up the younger man and comprehensively outboxing him. Tarver saw that Dawson couldn’t consistently counterpunch, so he played defense by throwing soft arm punches which made Dawson turtle up and then clinched when both men got close- Dawson was never really able to maintain proper punching distance. Tarver picked off jabs on his gloves, and threw just enough timing shots- a big looping uppercut early landed several times- so that when Dawson was able to hurt Tarver, he was too scared of running himself into one of those to follow up. Tarver was walking Dawson into punches, controlling the distance, finding the time he needed to fight in spurts and still be fairly effective, so much so that in some ways you might call this the most impressive display of Tarver’s career, at least in terms of pure skill.

What carried Dawson through was essentially youth and athleticism, and some good body punching. If he’d had the ability to throw a strong counter right hook against some of Tarver’s weak flurries, he might have won by knockout in the first 6 rounds; if he had a better left hand it might have been even faster, as Tarver consistently made himself available for a straight left knowing that Dawson could not or would not throw it effectively. Instead the champion made do with harder and more frequent flurries between Tarver’s softer ones, often ending with a strong body shot which was perhaps the most effective punch by either man. Tonight, that punch and a higher volume was enough; against 39 year old Glen Johnson it nearly wasn’t, and in the future it won’t be if and when Dawson runs into a fighter with the athletic ability to take advantage of his limitations. I had always figured that Bernard Hopkins was avoiding Dawson partly out of fear of his youth and speed; but Hopkins would have worked the Dawson who fought tonight the same way as he does every fighter who goes at one speed, in one style, in one direction, with only one plan.

Here, however, is the reason you should continue to care about Chad Dawson: he knows everything I just wrote, and probably a whole heck of a lot more. Despite winning an easy decision he was visibly shaken and disappointed in his post-fight interview, saying that Tarver had fought a good fight and taken him out of his game, that he needed to see the tape to know what happened and so on. It was the sort of interview you might have expected to hear from a loser, which in a sense Dawson was tonight: he got away with one, got through on a performance that won’t work in the future, looked only a bit above ordinary in an HBO main event which was his time to shine. But that fact that he knows it, that he’s willing to admit it and not deceive himself, and that he has good trainers to help him continue to improve means that all is far from lost for this kid. In a year or two, who knows what’s possible? Sometimes a fight like this is what a young fighter needs to unlock the best in him. I hope that’s the case because Dawson is impossible not to root for, and boxing needs all the stars it can get.

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Side note: I used to be a fan of Max Kellerman’s work back when he was on Friday Night Fights, and I’ve learned a lot from watching him over the years. I don’t know exactly what’s happened with him since he got the HBO gig, but it’s a little creepy; he’s begun saying things that just aren’t happening, tonight’s example being his talk about what a good counter puncher Dawson was becoming when that may have been the biggest hole in his game all night. The Max Kellerman of 10 years ago would probably have made fun of an analyst getting something like that so wrong. Maybe he’s trying too hard.

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May 9, 2009 - Posted by | Boxing

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