Thursday, April 5, 2012

Why Chad Dawson Bothers Me

With the exception of a knockout punch, Chad Dawson possesses an array of skills and talents that could make him an elite fighter. He has an excellent defense, an offensive versatility that is tough to prepare for and an abundance of ring intelligence. But it's pretty clear that Dawson hasn't progressed. He won his first title in 2007 at the age of 24 against Tomasz Adamek and to date that's still his best ring performance. His title reign, which lasted until his 2010 loss to Jean Pascal, was marked by safety, caution and listlessness.

When Dawson has been tested in his career, he has not impressed. After getting hurt in the middle rounds against Glen Johnson in their first fight, Dawson ran around the ring to win a disputed decision. In their rematch, Dawson barely engaged; it was a performance unworthy of a champion. Against Pascal, it took Dawson nine rounds to press the action, despite being significantly behind in the match.

Dawson's lesser bouts have featured more of the same. Facing an Antonio Tarver whose feet were stuck in quicksand, he was content to outjab Tarver and land the odd combination here and there. Against Adrian Diaconu, Dawson could have made a real effort to finish him, yet he fought the championship rounds like they were sparring sessions.

Dawson is certainly well-schooled. He has a great jab, he can lead effectively or counter and he has pinpoint punch placement; his hand speed is world-class. He tucks his chin very well on defense and he uses his legs and upper body expertly to avoid incoming fire. He also does an excellent job of using angles to land his shots, often by turning his opponents. Dawson has mastered how to get in and out of range very quickly and he doesn't make too many mistakes.

Throughout his professional career, he has learned from a series of excellent trainers, including his once and current coach John Scully, Floyd Mayweather Sr., Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, Dan Birmingham and Emanuel Steward. One can see the influence of Mayweather with Dawson's shoulder rolls or Birmingham with his domination of the pocket by utilizing the jab.

Despite all of his skills, Dawson hasn't caught on with the boxing public. It's not that he's an unknown fighter; he's been a staple of U.S. network boxing for a half-decade. Yet he has not cultivated a fan base or created any type of desire among the boxing public to see his fights. He and his promoter, Gary Shaw, are simpatico in their beliefs in doing the bare minimum needed to promote their fights. Dawson is happy to have his bouts on premium TV and Shaw can deliver that. Anything else they deem unnecessary, or participate in only at the behest of whichever network is televising his fights.

His lack of regard for the boxing public is unfortunate but forgivable. However, there is no counterbalancing effort from Dawson in the ring. It would be one thing if his fights were so memorable that boxing fans felt compelled to watch him ply his trade. They could forgive his antipathy to the rituals of boxing promotion if his performances were scintillating. Sadly, that's not the case. His fights are most often snooze-fests, where Dawson feels no special desire to enthrall. For some reason, HBO and Showtime continue to write him checks even though he's certainly not a ratings darling.

To this point, it's not clear if Dawson has that extra gear that separates elite fighters from good ones. Does he have that desire to be great, that willingness to finish off a wounded opponent or that internal resolve to stand his ground amidst adversity? These are the questions that Dawson faces, but does he care? He's jettisoned a number of excellent trainers. He's also switched managers frequently. Who knows what Dawson hears or what's important to him?

He faces Bernard Hopkins later this month in a rematch of their aborted first bout. Leading up to this fight, Dawson has assumed an uncharacteristic aggressive stance regarding Hopkins. He has talked about knocking out the legend and insists that Hopkins forced his way out of the first fight with a shoulder injury. 

It says here that the only memorable action of Hopkins-Dawson II has already occurred at the kickoff press conference. I think the rematch will be a gruesome technical affair filled with feints, clinches, sporadic action, low punch volume and caution.

The key to victory for Dawson is simple: move his hands more. If he throws more than Hopkins, he'll win the fight; Hopkins can't match a high punch output. He doesn't need to worry about being knocked out. He just has to limit the number of right hands that Hopkins lands. At this point in Hopkins' career, the lead and counter right hands are his only real weapons. If Dawson emphasizes the double jab, his crisp right hook and circling to his right, he should be able to minimize Hopkins' damage. Remembering his left uppercut when Hopkins tries to tie up also wouldn't hurt.   

Ultimately, I'm not sure if Dawson knows how good he could be. He's missing a willingness to take chances that is hardwired into the majority of champions, even the technical ones. Something will most likely give. The days of Dawson effortlessly gliding around the ring with his jab and his legs are numbered. That's not a formula to beat the Pascals, Clouds or Sillakhs of the world. As long as he remains a top light heavyweight, he's going to face fighters who are going to make him work for victories. It will be up to Dawson to adapt, or he will come up short in winnable fights.

I keep hoping for the day when Dawson wallops an opponent. I don't even need to see knockouts. I just want him to assert his domination, with power combinations, superior hand speed and a little bit of attitude. He has all of these things already in his arsenal. Outside of the ring, Dawson, can be quite nasty; in between the ropes, he's often downright docile. His opponents need not worry about getting beat up in the ring; Dawson certainly doesn't instill fear. He'll just tap-tap-tap with the jab, land some quick combinations that score but don't damage and throw a few right hooks to the body and left hands to the head. By the time his power shots land, he'll most likely be on his way out of range.    

There are certain boxers who make their bones in the sport by becoming defensive masters or expert tacticians. They aren't necessarily exciting to watch but they have maximized their abilities. With Dawson's athleticism, knowledge of boxing and fluid style, he could become much more than a crafty technical stylist. To this point, he's remained comfortable in cruise control, falling short of realizing his full potential. Excellence is within his grasp but he doesn't seem motivated to seize his opportunity. I could scream.

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