Saturday night on HBO, live from the Oracle Arena in Oakland, CA, no one can accurately predict what will happen between two warriors, one a 168-pound champion named Andre “S.O.G” Ward, the other, a 175-pound champion named “Bad” Chad Dawson. Ward and Dawson will square off at super middleweight to see who is the best fighter in those particular waters.
Beyond multiple belts in each weight class, a lot is on the line. Depending on how the fight plays out, a star could truly be born here. It’s a rarity for two legit, proven champions this close to their respective primes actually get in the ring and fight at the right time. The time could not be more right for each man to take a fight like this.
Off the heels of winning Showtime’s “Super Six Super Middleweight World Classic,” Ward, America’s last Olympic gold medal winner, sometime commentator and Bay Area draw, would appear to be on the edge of stardom. He has looks, intelligence and hasn’t lost a fight in over a decade.
Dawson has beaten Bernard Hopkins once officially but fought him twice. He’s beaten the likes of Antonio Tarver and Glen Johnson twice. And then there is that win over Tomasz Adamek. With scalps like that, you’d think Dawson would be a household name.
However accomplished both men are, they’re each missing the very same thing: a break-out performance.
“Guys like me and Andre Ward, we step up to the plate,” Dawson told leaveitintheringradio.com a month out from the fight. “We’re not ducking each other. The fight got made so easy. I think we deserve credit for taking the fight. I didn’t have to come down to 168. I could have stayed at 175 and defended my title up there.”
At 168 pounds, Ward’s options are a bit limited due to the fact that he has pretty much cleaned it out. At 175, Dawson is the most attractive offer not named Jean Pascal or Bernard Hopkins. For each man to break through to another level, the obvious fight was with each other. For Dawson, additionally, there was a sense of inevitability to this fight.
“I just wanted a challenge,” said Dawson. “I always knew that Andre Ward would be a challenge for me one day whether it was at 175 or 168. Even after this, when I go back to 175 pounds, I am pretty sure he’ll be coming up. And all those guys who are fighting at 168 will be coming up soon. I think this fight with Andre Ward, whatever happens, you will see me and Andre Ward back in the ring again.”
Dawson is known as a mild-mannered guy. It’s just his way. He once told me that his whole family is like that. No bragging, no trash-talking, just straight business. In some ways, that has been reflected in his style in recent years, leaving fans wondering if he even enjoys the game. Boxing fans want passion from their fighters. They want them, if not angry, at least exuberant about being in the hurt business.
Dawson’s trainer, former light heavyweight contender “Iceman” John Scully, understands that and explained to Dawson that “Sometimes the best people to tell you what’s wrong are your critics. They’ll tell you exactly why they hate you.”
In the Hopkins fights, both in the ring and in interviews, a new side to Dawson emerged. While the Hopkins rematch was not exactly scintillating (what Hopkins fight is anymore?), Dawson seemed to have tapped in to a higher passion about his job. As he discussed this fight, you could hear in his voice how excited he is to be given an opportunity for greatness, which a decisive win over Ward could put him on the path to.
“I am very excited about the fight and part of the reason is because of Chad’s attitude, his level of confidence,” Scully told leaveitintheringradio last week. “We just finished training about 10 minutes ago and we were up in the room and he was staring at himself in the mirror, talking about how good he feels. And he just feels so good, so confident. It is kind of like the Hopkins fight. In a way, it is like more than the Hopkins fight. And I almost feel like telling him, ‘Hey, we still have a tough opponent. Let’s not overlook him,’ and he’s like, ‘No, no. I am not overlooking him. I feel really confident. I feel really good.’ I am enthused by the level of his confidence.”
That new attitude has to come out in the fight from the word “go.” Dawson gets that.
“We’re going to go in there and make Andre Ward deal with us,” said Dawson. “I’m not going to go in and deal with him. He is going to have deal with me, my height, my reach and my hand speed. If everybody thinks it’s going to be such a Ward fight…it’s going to be fireworks. It’s going to be a great night for boxing.”
After two rough nights with Bernard Hopkins and 48 rounds with Glen Johnson and Antonio Tarver, Dawson should be prepared for any “old-school” tricks Ward may have up his sleeve.
“Dealing with the headbutts and holding and hitting, I’ve seen it all,” said Dawson. “I’ve been in with Bernard twice, Tarver twice, Glen Johnson twice, Tomasz Adamek. I think people are forgetting the guys that I’ve beaten. My track record is pretty good. People are downplaying me to the point of ‘Ward is such a better fighter than me.’ But when you look at who I have fought, I think I have a better track record than he has. Him beating a bunch of Europeans doesn’t really say much.”
If Ward resembles any foe Dawson has faced, it’s Bernard Hopkins, experience that will bode well for Dawson.
“We see a lot of similarities in Bernard and Ward because they like to get inside and rough guys up but I am going to use my legs and my superior boxing skills,” said Dawson. “I will use my height and my weight advantage. I am definitely going to be the bigger fighter on the night of the fight. I am looking to show the world something different. This caliber of fight is only going to bring the best out of both of us. We are both young and champions of our division and we are both looking to go out there on the 8th and show the world who the best 168 and 175-pound champion in the world is. That’s what I am going out there to do.”
When asked to break down Ward’s “formless” style, Dawson said, “Honestly, I don’t see what everyone is talking about. I see the same thing in every Ward fight: him getting inside and trying to rough guys up. I see a transition from maybe two or three years ago when he was a different fighter as opposed to the recent years. He’s changed his style a little bit. He’s gotten a little more aggressive, yeah. But I mean, come the 8th, I will be prepared for everything and the world is going to be shocked to see what’s going to happen that night.”
But what about those who say Ward’s safety-first style and Dawson’s patient boxing will not make for an exciting fight? It says here that in order for Dawson to win, the fight has to be exciting. The fight is in Oakland where Ward hails from. In order for Dawson to win, he’ll have to hit Ward early and often on the end of his five-and-a-half-inch reach advantage and avoid the smothering tactics of Ward, who loves to work inside at his own pace.
“For me, first and foremost, my jab is always the number one key,” said Dawson. “With this fight, I have the height advantage and I have the reach advantage. If I can keep him on the outside for as long as I can and hit him with shots and make him miss, I mean, he has to work to get inside. People underestimate my jab. I have a very strong jab and that is one of the things that will dictate the pace of the fight. Like I said, we want to make Andre Ward deal with us. That’s using my height, my reach and being a pure boxer. That’s what I am.”
If Ward is successful, we get a slow fight. If Dawson is, we get a fight where we are wondering what will happen next.
“I hear talk that people think it is going to be a boring fight. I don’t see it going that way,” said Dawson. “I think it is going to be an exciting fight and regardless of what the fans say, Andre Ward still has to go in there and fight. The winner of this fight is going to be a superstar and I want to be that superstar. I am pretty sure Andre Ward wants to be that superstar as well. It makes for a great fight.”
Everybody and their brother has written about the possibility that Dawson will be weight-drained making 168 pounds for the first time in six years. That’s a possibility but Dawson has talked about coming down to 168 for some time. On the night we interviewed him, he was 179 pounds and in great spirits. For Dawson, the weight is no big deal, yet another obstacle put in front of him as motivation. It’s yet another thing people say he cannot do.
“It’s going to be a great fight. I’m looking forward to it. That’s why I took it. I didn’t cry about the weight. If we could have done it at 170, it would have been better but [Ward] didn’t want to budge. He wanted to do it at 168. Everyone is worrying I am going to come in dehydrated and not able to fight. That is not going to be the case at all. I am going to show the world that I belong at that weight,” Dawson said. He added that on most fight weeks, he is eating steak and potatoes the week of the fight. In this camp, he is simply having to be a little more strict in his diet with smaller portions and no cheating to eat junk food.
“I am very disciplined,” Dawson said.
So it comes to Saturday. Belts, fame, glory, and riches. All that is required is excitement which comes from risk and the willingness to be great.
“We both have the same goals. We both want to be superstars. We both want to be pound-for-pound champions. We both want to be up there next to Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. We both want it. Somebody has to go get it. And I am pretty sure with both of us coming to get it, will make for a great fight,” said Dawson. “Everybody is worrying about this fight being a boring fight. It’s not going to be a boring fight. It’s going to be fireworks,” said Dawson, his excitement palpable. “I promise you; once I hit Andre Ward with a good shot, he will come back and hit me with a good shot. I am definitely coming back. It’s going to be a good fight. It’s going to be an exciting fight.”