Ward's resolve wins the day
From his 5½-inch reach advantage to his respected status as one of the best pure boxers in the sport, Chad Dawson clearly has the physical tools to challenge unbeaten super middleweight champion Andre Ward on Saturday in Oakland, Calif.
Not only is Dawson taller, he wields a well-respected, stinging jab to control distance. But as talented and dangerous as Dawson can be, there's something that Ward simply does better: everything.
Ward is reshaping the mold of what the ideal boxer-puncher looks like: a perfectly well-rounded fighter with the versatility to win any style of fight and the instincts to know when to switch things up.
For whatever the 2004 Olympic gold medalist lacks in one-punch knockout power, he makes up for with accurate combinations and superior technical skill. Ward has taken a safety-first approach at times simply because he can, and he hasn't been forced to empty the tank to come from behind. That doesn't mean it's not in him to be the aggressor, as evidenced by his 2009 victory over Mikkel Kessler, when Ward came after his opponent from the start and won his first world title.
Despite Dawson's size and reach, Ward has the quickness and movement to get inside the jab, with an underrated in-fighting game to do damage in close quarters. It's not that Dawson lacks the amateur pedigree to stay with Ward, or even hurt him, but what's clearly in question is whether the light heavyweight champion has the demeanor to be as big as the moment demands in the most important fight of his career.
Dawson has shown an increasing and frustrating lack of urgency of late, appearing almost unwilling to empty the chamber. He also brings a short track record of defeating (or even facing) top-end, prime opposition, owning just one victory in the past five years over an opponent younger than 39.
Those facts make it difficult to imagine a scenario in which Dawson, if frustrated by Ward's pot-shotting and precise counter shots, would muster up the resolve to turn the fight into a war and thereby make himself vulnerable. Look no further than the only loss of Dawson's career -- by technical decision to Jean Pascal in 2010 -- to demonstrate his lack of passion and poise on the big stage.
What can't be overlooked is the respect Dawson deserves for his willingness to meet Ward at 168 pounds, a division Dawson hasn't competed in for six years. It would also be foolish to avoid questioning whether the weight cut will have an effect on the larger fighter, especially in the later rounds.
Expect to see a chess match early as Ward surveys the scene and matches his speed against Dawson's length. But after that, don't expect to see anything other than a dominant decision victory by Ward, who will find ways to land flush counters and slowly knock the fight out of Dawson.
Why doubt Dawson now?
It takes more than a huge size and reach advantage to win a fight, but on Saturday at Oakland's Oracle Arena we just may find out that, beyond those physical traits, Chad Dawson has exactly what it takes to break Andre Ward's 16-year unbeaten run in a rare fight between legitimate American champions.
Very few fighters can claim so many achievements after a mere 25 paid engagements, but Ward already has earned a few world titles and status as one of the world's best pound-for-pound fighters. The super middleweight champion can probably add the word "undisputed" to his title after dominating the Super Six tournament, in which he won his five fights by wide margins. And that doesn't factor in that Ward's most recent loss came at the tender age of 12, in the amateur ranks, or that he went on to become the last U.S. men's boxer to win gold at the Olympics.
Those who doubt Dawson point out that, despite his superb boxing skills and great physical advantages, the light heavyweight champ has failed to score a knockout in the past four years, almost exclusively in fights that he thoroughly dominated from beginning to end. And if his energy level is depleted by this unusual drop in weight, he'll be all the more vulnerable.
But just as those facts can't be dismissed, neither should Dawson's uncanny control of tempo or workmanlike approach through nearly 40 professional fights be overlooked. Although his physical advantages, plus his southpaw stance, aren't enough to make him the favorite Saturday, Dawson has the boxing IQ to flummox a fighter coming off a string of victories against foes (Carl Froch, Mikkel Kessler, etc.) who are not nearly as technically gifted.
Another reason to believe Dawson is on to something: his willingness to knock seven pounds off his already chiseled body to meet Ward at 168 pounds, then travel to Ward's hometown to take the fight. Dawson's style hasn't earned him many fans, and he has routinely been stuck fighting in front of hostile crowds, either because the purses were better or because he can't draw even close to home. But the fact that he's risking so much, despite having other options at 175 (and above), hints at the possibility that Dawson knows something we don't.
Whether Dawson has found a soft spot or two in Ward's armor remains to be seen, but just his accepting the fight on Ward's terms suggests Dawson believes he can put together an OMG performance against the self-proclaimed SOG. By searching and failing to find the wow factor in Dawson, we're led to neglect his ability to answer nearly every challenge he has faced -- and with ease.
Records are made to be broken, streaks are meant to end. That alone isn't sufficient reason to predict a Dawson upset. But before accepting the opposite outcome out of hand, try to find a reason to doubt Dawson. So far, we haven't found one.
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