Sometimes boxing resembles that old series of Miller Lite commercials, where the rival factions take turns shouting at one another, “Great taste!”/”Less filling!” That’s what I like about this Eric Raskin column. It preaches the Miller Lite lesson, “Why not both?”
I thought the two sides would stop shouting at each other after Andre Ward’s performance on HBO this weekend. Not only were the purists immensely satisfied, but 99 percent of the commentary I saw out there was that Ward had also finally, satisfactorily answered the age-old gladiatorial question, “Are you not entertained?” with an aggressive stoppage win over Chad Dawson.
Some bloodlusts cannot be sated, I suppose. Some of this is simply a matter of taste. The thing about taste is, you can defend it, you can explain it, you can even try to sway it in others. But for whatever reason — the most commonly cited reason was that the fight was one-sided — Ward-Dawson had some holdouts on the taste front. I suspect some of it was born of agenda: A lot of people decided beforehand that Ward-Dawson would suck, and probably didn’t want to acknowledge they were wrong afterward. But I don’t doubt the sincerity of some of the displeasure.
And, hey, that’s all fine and good. Maybe I’m a little blinded because I already liked Ward, and/or because the fight and outcome exceeded my meager expectations. Naturally, one always subconsciously, intrinsically thinks one’s tastes wonderful, or else one wouldn’t adopt them — even if one also outwardly, inwardly or every other way knows that there is no such thing as OBJECTIVELY superior taste — and it’s hard for me to understand why someone couldn’t derive entertainment from someone being so skilled at their craft in the way Ward was even before this weekend. Watching people be the best at what they do is integral to almost every form of entertainment known to man, be it via a guitar player or an Olympic diver.
But I do think the purist side (and I’m not sure what else to call it — I’m open-minded if someone’s got a better name than “purists,” one that doesn’t sound snooty and yet isn’t derogatory, either) got carried away after feeling a bit vindicated by their interest in Ward-Dawson, so heckled were they for being interested beforehand. I saw a lot of gloating from that side toward the action-only crowd, and it’s unfortunate. It all furthers a false dichotomy. And it’s kind of pointless, really. If someone didn’t like Ward-Dawson, attempting to win them over is fine, but you aren’t going to heckle them into liking it anymore than the other side is going to heckle you out of liking it. We’re all “real” boxing fans if we enjoy boxing, however we enjoy it and for whatever reasons. Kumba-motherfucking-ya.
Perhaps the great taste/less filling debate will be put aside for one weekend when Sergio Martinez risks his lineal middleweight championship this coming weekend against Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr., a fight with plenty of meaning, skill, action and box office appeal, on paper. But that’s next weekend, and we’ll have plenty of thoughts on that fight the rest of this week. This is today, and this is Weekend Afterthoughts, where we will contemplate the subjects in the headline and a great deal more.
(Andre Ward cracks Chad Dawson; photo credit: Alexis Cuarezma, Goossen Tutor Promotions)
- Ward’s performance. Not long ago, I eyeballed Ward as the best fighter in the world, of any weight class. A little before that, I also said that based on my pound-for-pound criteria, which emphasizes quality wins and especially those of recent vintage, Ward’s win over Dawson and the slide by Manny Pacquiao from his prime could be enough to move Ward to #2, above Pacquiao and #3 Juan Manuel Marquez but behind #1 Floyd Mayweather. But never in my wildest dreams did I imagine the winner of Ward-Dawson would win so thoroughly. I scored the first couple for Dawson, and had a feeling the fight would be close early because of Dawson’s size and athleticism. But before long, Ward’s superior versatility, willpower and ring intelligence completely took over. Ward has always said fight-ending power would become a part of his arsenal, and it came in his most competitive fight on paper. I say that with utmost respect for Carl Froch, who Ward beat for arguably as good a win as the Dawson win, but stylistically I thought Dawson would be more trouble for Ward than Froch. Nor do I think this is a one-time fluke — I thought Ward was heading toward a stoppage win over Froch before his hand injury, and with a little heavier foot on the gas pedal, I think he also could’ve stopped Mikkel Kessler, Arthur Abraham and Allan Green. Ward finally found the right balance of risk-taking and risk avoidance against Dawson. Trainer Virgil Hunter might not have another hugely successful fighter, but then again, fighters like Ward probably come along once in a lifetime, and the pair are obviously a potent team; Hunter advising Ward between the 2nd and 3rd rounds to start feinting and 3rd made a massive difference in turning the fight definitively to Ward’s advantage. The idea of Ward not losing for another 16 years in this sport of ours, when almost everyone loses eventually, is probably far-fetched. But I can’t name a single fighter right now from middleweight to light heavyweight who I think could beat the super middleweight champ, nor do I see one on the horizon who could one day. If someone wants to call Ward the best boxer in the world this very moment, I can’t argue with them too much. But whether the Andre Ward Era began before this weekend, or during it, or is instead just around the corner, there’s an air of inevitability to Ward ruling boxing as the best fighter in the sport for a long time to come.
- Dawson’s performance. Those who are less impressed by Ward’s performance point to Dawson as weight-drained, or sucky overall. Let’s contemplate both options. I readily concede the possibility of the drain from 175 to 168 hurting Dawson. It contradicts everything he and his camp have said publicly, even afterward so far, but maybe that’s just them being good sportsmen about it. Dawson was hurt by a smaller boxer on the lower end of the power spectrum (although: see above, on whether that’s changed for Ward) and had trouble getting off punches (although: Ward’s defense is such that people usually have trouble getting off punches against him), so there’s evidence there for those who choose to believe that theory. I think Ward beats Dawson at 175, though, and so does most everyone. Whether it was wrong of Ward to insist on fighting at 168 is relative. Competitively speaking, it would’ve been more sporting of Ward to meet Dawson in the middle, but it’s not like catchweight fights are super-popular, either, and Dawson probably sealed the fight being waged at 168 in the moments after his win over Bernard Hopkins, when he said he would do the fight at 168 or whatever other weight. I’m selling some furniture on Craigslist right now, and if someone says, “I’ll give you $100, $125, $150 for that couch, whatever,” guess which one I’m going to insist on, and guess which one I ain’t gonna budge over? This doesn’t compare so neatly to Pacquiao-Miguel Cotto, because Cotto never voluntarily said he would happily go down to 145 pounds for their fight, and rather was kind of forced into it by the guy with the financial leverage. And anyway, I still give Pacquiao a ton of credit for beating Cotto at 145, even if I also slightly acknowledge the catchweight might’ve diminished the win, same as I’m doing now for the weight in Ward-Dawson. As for Dawson’s suckiness: There are dings on his record, and we’ve seen enough of him over the years to know his limitations. But let’s go through them one-by-one. He once lost to Jean Pascal, who, crude though he might be, has fought on near-even terms now with top-10 pound-for-pounders like Hopkins, Dawson and Froch. That’s not an embarrassing loss by Dawson, in that context, even if we think (and I still do) that Dawson SHOULD HAVE beaten Pascal. Dawson also has beaten a lot of older fighters, which is also true, and that’s a ding on his resume. But nobody of any age was comprehensively beating Antonio Tarver, Glen Johnson, Hopkins or the (actually, not that much older) Tomasz Adamek the way Dawson did when he beat them all. So was it age that led Dawson to dominant victories over those men? Or was Dawson that much better than everyone those men were facing, whatever the age? And this isn’t to say Dawson is perfect or even close. At this point, he is still more athlete-who-boxes rather than someone with prizefighting in his blood, and it cost him against Ward. He’ll also catch hell for quitting in this fight, but we’ll touch on that in a minute.
- Next for Ward. Ward’s team is developing a knack for post-win gaffes, with two in each of his last. First, after beating Froch, he dismissed the possibility of facing Lucian Bute, thereby missing out on what would’ve likely been a big victory and sizable purse, as Froch went on to beat Bute instead. Now, one of the first names out of Team Ward’s mouths was… Joe Calzaghe. Old, retired Calzaghe. Lame. Me, I’d most like to see Ward against Andre Dirrell, and after that the winner of Martinez-Chavez, and then maybe by that time Gennady Golovkin or someone else will have established himself. All of those figures threaten Ward in some way or the other, although, like I said above, I can’t figure out how anybody beats Ward in the indefinite future in or around his weight. Regardless of who he fights next, there’s a chance it could be big. There was an announced crowd of 8,500 in Oakland for Ward-Dawson, a near-elite attendance figure by today’s standards, although reports have varied greatly about how many were paying patrons rather than comped patrons. Ward comes out of this fight with almost universal positive buzz, the biggest television exposure of his career and a regional fan base that could be reenergized for its native son.
- Next for Dawson. I don’t hold Dawson quitting in that fight against him too much. The guy looked semi-conscious from the 4th to the finish, and I had been agitating in the public sphere for his corner to pull the plug in the 9th. Dawson was taking a beating, and wasn’t competitive, and both of those things were only going to continue unless someone stopped it, and his corner wouldn’t, and while I don’t think Iceman John Scully is a bad trainer or anything like it, that refusal to stop the fight or offer substantive advice about how to beat Ward hurt Dawson Saturday. You can take Dawson’s acquiescence as a signal of his lack of grit, and that’s fine, but I’m always inclined to give fighters one pass for quitting, and sometimes even more than one (see: Victor Ortiz, whose first quit job was kinda wimpy but he bounced back well in subsequent bouts, and whose second quit job came after fighting with a broken jaw for most of the fight). It hurts their status as true victory-or-death prizefighters, sure, but it’s also intellectually justifiable sometimes, and this was one case. I also don’t begrudge Dawson much future status for losing. This loss laid bare his limitations, certainly, but he took a lot of risks to make this fight, he failed, he got beaten by a better, special fighter — the main reason, whatever the weight had to do with it, that he lost — and while he is sometimes boring in the ring and lacks a personality of note or regional following, he’s also less boring than commonly thought, like against Johnson the first time or Pascal, and is still very good, the legit ruler of the light heavyweight division. That is, unless you think Ward should have his belt, which is a whole separate debate. Anyway, I remain interested in Dawson fights, although not with some massive anticipation. Well, except for in one case. I still would love to see Pascal-Dawson II, since those two had a pretty good scrap that ended on inconclusive terms. I’d prefer Pascal-Tavoris Cloud first, but maybe Dawson can rest up and face the winner of that fight if it happens, sometime early next year or middle of 2013.
- Next for Antonio DeMarco and John Molina. Here’s where things get interesting: DeMarco could be moving on to a very good lightweight clash against Adrien Broner in November, after a quick win over Molina. It’s hard to read too much into a win like DeMarco’s, a stoppage I thought was unfortunate more than it was wrong, since the referee was given little choice but to step in with Molina not defending himself and squatting on the bottom rope. Still, DeMarco was good for as long as he was fighting, and he did his job, and his size and pressure could be a problem for a fighter who not so long ago had a problem with pressure from a smaller Daniel Ponce De Leon. With Broner and Robert Guerrero barking about Broner fighting him at 147, which is beyond foolish for a Broner who’s just departing 130 pounds, he’s probably looking for an honorable escape hatch, and DeMarco is that and more. As for Molina: Dude messed up, not clinching or taking a knee or anything. He’s still a fun fighter, and he’s welcome on my TV any old time.
- Next for Vitali Klitschko. Klitschko’s cut-abbreviated win over Manuel Charr is such that he might not want to go out like that. But who has a retirement fight that hits the spot? If Vitali wants to leave for politics, now’s as good a time as any. If he’d rather stick around and fight David Haye, made more plausible by Haye ending his feud with the WBC, I’d watch the hell out of that fight.
- Next for Lucas Matthysse and Olusegun Ajose. On another week, Matthysse might have been getting more attention for his latest merciless performance on Showtime. Matthysse pounded the sturdy Ajose so unrelentingly that folk are worried Ajose won’t be the same in the boxing ring again, and I’d concur that the corner should’ve stopped this one earlier, too. Either way, Ajose was game enough that he ought not drop in any rankings too far, and if he can continue then he should be welcomed back on TV whenever, also. Matthysse vs. the winner of Danny Garcia-Erik Morales II is a must. If Ward is a burgeoning star, then so should Matthysse be.
- Tomasz Adamek-Travis Walker, and next for Adamek. I haven’t been able to catch Adamek-Walker, but I’m not at all surprised Adamek was on the deck in the 2nd of the Wealth TV-aired bout. I thought Walker was a very dangerous match-up for Adamek, because Walker is a heavy-punching heavyweight and Adamek is so small and vulnerable for the division. I also probably shouldn’t be surprised that Adamek surged back and stopped Walker, because Adamek always comes in great shape and is especially resilient, even for a boxer. And after that, Main Events is talking about putting Adamek in with Odlanier Solis, an extremely talented heavyweight who’s dangerous when healthy and motivated? Man, is Main Events swashbuckling with its matchmaking, and I love it.
- 24/7 Martinez/Chavez. Yeah, yeah, I said we’d talk about this fight later, but this falls under the weekend. What sticks out so much about the past weekend’s episode of the HBO documentary series is how uncooperative Chavez was with trainer Freddie Roach about showing up for training, and how little world-class discipline Chavez even to this day seems to possess — he didn’t want to hear about what he ought to be doing from his father, either. There’s probably an element of truth to what Martinez’s team was saying about Chavez, which is that Chavez thinks he can win with size alone. And you know what, he can win a lot of them with that. But if Chavez isn’t training like a demon for Martinez, it’s hard to imagine size being enough to take out a fighter with more speed and tools who’s been tested against much better competition than has Chavez. And what’s up with Roach and disobedient pupils? Amir Khan doesn’t listen to him between rounds, Pacquiao kind of trains when he wants to and it turns out Chavez does, too.