Chad Dawson is not the champ
No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No.
Do I make myself perfectly clear?
OK. I'll say it once more.
Chad Dawson cannot be called the light heavyweight champion of the world after what happened in his fight with Bernard Hopkins on Saturday night.
As I left the Staples Center afterward, my stomach felt like I'd taken a bite out of a rotten pear. And the taste was still in my belly the next day.
There are a few things you should know about me to understand where I'm going with this. Boxing has always been my first love as a sport. When I was 14 years old, I could easily name all the heavyweight champions since John L. Sullivan. I fought in the New York Golden Gloves, and many years later even sparred a few rounds with Julio Cesar Chavez when he was 87-0 and a world champion. When I see a battle that dredges up all that is great in a man -- like the one between Jorge Linares and Antonio DeMarco on Saturday night -- I'm reminded why I never lose passion for the sport.
I had no allegiance to either fighter in the main event. But to be completely candid: when Dawson and Hopkins faced off in the center of the ring, my instincts led me to say this to the guy sitting next to me: "I can't see any way that Bernard Hopkins wins this fight."
Dawson was the bigger man. And the younger man. Floyd Mayweather has called him a masterful boxer. Dawson seemed toned and focused. I just couldn't see Hopkins' experience overcoming those obstacles at the age of 46.
Not much happened in the first round. There seemed to be a flurry by Dawson that moved the crowd. But when a replay was shown on the monitors around the Staples Center, something else was revealed. Dawson's two punches were blocked. It was Hopkins' right hand counter that dug into the body. The replay told me something. Maybe I've got this wrong. Maybe I should reconsider. It's always good to reconsider.
What happened in the second round happened too fast for me to understand while it was happening. Too fast not only for me -- but probably for the fighters and the referee, as well. I could only get a grasp of it on the replay shown throughout the arena.
There was Hopkins, with his back to the ropes, coming forward and firing a right hand. Dawson ducked underneath it. As he did, his left arm seemed to hook around Hopkins' right thigh. When Dawson's torso came up, Hopkins' body was lifted off the ground like a sack of coffee beans. Dawson then stepped forward and dumped Hopkins to the canvas as if he were unloading on the waterfront. Hopkins' head landed on the other side of the ropes. He grimaced, holding his left shoulder, no longer able to continue. The fight was over.
The instant I saw that replay I knew the right thing to do. It happened too quickly to be a premeditated foul. There was no reason to disqualify Dawson. But there was no way to award him a championship for body slamming his opponent. The fight should be called a no contest. It's not much different from when two fighters accidently clash heads in the first couple of rounds, opening a deep cut that stops one from competing. It's unfortunate for the fighters. It's unfortunate for the fans. But it happens. And when it does there's a time-tested and sensible way to deal with it: No contest.
The confused crowd waited for the result. When Hopkins couldn't continue, the referee ruled, he basically forfeited the fight. Dawson was awarded the victory by TKO.
I didn't need to hear thousands of people chanting "B-------!" to know that the ruling was wrong. I knew it was wrong when I saw Dawson -- who'd landed only seven insignificant punches -- climb the ropes of a ring corner and raise his arms in triumphant celebration. You simply do not celebrate winning a championship like that under those circumstances. When you celebrate winning a boxing championship by body slam, you disrespect yourself and your own skills.
It only got weirder. The ramblings coming back from Dawson after the fight suggested that he thought Hopkins quit on purpose. While Bernard may have over-exaggerated his response to being fouled in a couple of fights many years back, this is not a guy who quits. This is a guy who successfully defended the middleweight title 20 straight times. This is a guy who kept himself in peak condition at the age of 46.
There was just no respect from Dawson. Not for Hopkins -- a future Hall of Famer. Not for the fans who came to see more. Not for the sport.
Instead of graciously offering Hopkins a rematch, Dawson said he didn't care to fight him again.
And I'm thinking: Not so fast, here. Look at the replay. It wasn't Hopkins' fault that you threw him to the canvas. You want to have the privileges of a champion? Then win your title with dignity.
I have nothing against Chad Dawson. I've never met him. All I'm saying is that Dawson did not win the title with honor. In fact, he didn't win it at all. Somebody in authority has to step up, draw the line, take it away for now and force him to rightfully earn it with his fists in the future.
Because, otherwise, the body slam in the second round Saturday night will be a defining moment in the disintegration of boxing and the evolution of mixed martial arts.
This fight is a clear indication why the UFC will keep becoming more popular as boxing fades into oblivion. Here's why: If a crazy situation like this ever happened in the UFC, the guy in charge, Dana White, would know exactly the right thing to do. And he'd know it because he's growing a business and his job is to make that business attractive to as many people as possible. His job is to protect that business. Dana White is not going to let anybody disrespect his sport, much less one of the UFC's own fighters.
I'm not one of those people who chooses sides in the ongoing tussle between boxing purists and MMA fanatics. I can't wait to see if the quick hands and power of Manny Pacquiao can pierce the impenetrable defense of Floyd Mayweather. My 14-year-old daughter and I are eager to tune into the UFC heavyweight title fight between Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos because we have no idea who is going to win. I see no reason to mock one of the two sports just because I have an affinity for the other.
But here's the catch. This is why I still feel lousy about what happened Saturday night: If whoever is in charge allows Chad Dawson to keep that title, then a precedent is being set. It means that a man can win a boxing match by picking his opponent up and body slamming him to the canvas. If that ruling is allowed to stand, then we might as well simply turn all of our attention to mixed martial arts and see how a guy like Dawson fares against the kicks and choke holds of Anderson Silva.
Because if you can win a boxing match simply by body slamming your opponent, then boxing is no longer boxing. It's MMA.
Whoever is in charge better seriously reconsider that ruling. Hear me clearly: On the day a fighter is able to jump on the ropes and celebrate with arms held high the winning of a boxing championship by body slam, on that day, boxing will be listening to its own 10 count.
Cal Fussman is a writer for Esquire Magazine.
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