MONTREAL -- The way the old maxim goes, Las Vegas is where you go to lose. Chad Dawson has been to Vegas twice to fight and won both times. He's fought in casinos 16 other times in the U.S. and won all of those times, too.
Dawson's luck ran out Saturday in Montreal. Did it kind of seem like he left it at the border?
Dawson was a 4-1 betting favorite in the fight and near the top of everyone's pound-for-pound lists. But on the fight posters plastered along the hip streets of Montreal, Pascal was pictured front and center; Dawson was Photoshopped into the background -- smaller, and with his back to the camera. From the moment he climbed through the ropes at the Bell Center -- and Pascal delayed his own entrance to make Dawson wait in the ring for maybe five minutes -- Dawson was the foreigner, the opponent, the fresh meat for the local lion's feast.
I wouldn't call Pascal's win a hometown decision -- it was a close fight and tough to score, though the judgment calls that were questionable did come down in Pascal's favor. Here's what it was: A world-class home field advantage. Dawson claimed after the fight that he didn't hear the swells of cheering for every move Pascal made. But Dawson was bluffing -- a few minutes later he referred to the fans' roars and suggested the noise may have influences the judges.
Yeah, he heard it.
At the postfight news conference, Dawson's promoter Gary Shaw said he wanted to gather his thoughts so what he said would come out accurately. If you've seen Shaw a few times, on TV or whatever, you probably have never seen him looking anything but irritated. So everyone got ready.
"I think Canada is a wonderful country," Shaw said. "I mean that. It's not sarcastic." He praised Canada's boxing venues, passionate fans and fighters. He said even he had Pascal up on points in the fight. But he said he hated coming to Canada for fights. He thought the 11th round stoppage was wrong and claimed Pascal intentionally head-butted Dawson (Dawson claimed Pascal butted him five or six times and Canadian referee Michael Griffin never called it). Shaw called Canadian judge John Woodburn's score -- 108-101 for Pascal -- "disgraceful, preposterous." He recalled coming to Quebec in 2009 with Ali Funeka, who was fighting Joan Guzman for a lightweight title. Two judges scored that a draw, though the third judge had it 116-112 for Funeka and some journalists thought Funeka won as many as 10 rounds. Shaw called that "the greatest train robbery since the Great Train Robbery."
You hear boxers talk all the time about having to knock out a local guy to get a draw. Those of us close to the sport try not to believe that's true. But so often it almost is, from Montreal to Berlin, from Philadephia to Nottingham, England, where Pascal took his only defeat, a decision loss in a spectacular fight against Englishman Carl Froch. That wasn't a robbery but had some questionably wide margins for Froch.
We cringe at the idea of hometown decisions. But, let's face it, home field advantage -- championed by fans who generate insane, winning environments for their fighter -- is part of what keeps boxing strong. If you were to name the countries with the most fervent, supportive local fans -- and the healthiest boxing scenes -- Germany, England and Canada would be at the top of the list.
That's why Dawson must have felt like a Knick visiting Boston Garden during the 1985-86 season, when the Celtics were 40-1 at home. It's hard to say a guy who was undefeated, and a 4-1 favorite, never stood a chance. But never mind what they said in Vegas. As soon as Dawson felt Pascal's gloves for the first time, all bets were off, and the odds were against him.