The Curious Case of Chad Dawson

By Cheekay Brandon on October 11, 2011
The Curious Case of Chad Dawson
Saturday night at the Staples Center, Chad Dawson will face his antithesis (Howard Schatz)

If he is successful, he’ll solve one of boxing’s greatest riddles—who exactly is “Bad” Chad Dawson…

NEW HAVEN—It’s a bustling metropolis and a quiet hamlet. It is a bastion of privilege for few and urban despair for many. It is home to prestigious academic centers and some of America’s most violent street corners.

Its many contradictions can be found in the souls of its citizens. From one of its humblest sections, the Dixwell Avenue neighborhood, comes light heavyweight contender “Bad” Chad Dawson. He is boxing’s Jekyll and Hyde, a puzzle that analysts and fans have yet to solve.

The complexity that defines Chad Dawson begins with the most basic of boxer attributes—his fighting stance: He is naturally right-handed, but fights as a southpaw (which he learned from his father, former professional boxer Rick Dawson). This lends to a violent right jab that disrupts opponents’ timing and facilitates strong combination punching. In an era of mostly one-dimensional punchers, Dawson is a tactician with a diversity of skills. He has arguably the fastest hands in the light heavyweight division. He moves with grace around the ring and frustrates opponents with his elusiveness. 

He possesses the rags-to-riches story that we love in boxing and is a rare blend of strength, speed and high boxing I.Q. He has been branded the next big thing by a number of experts, most notably Floyd “Money” Mayweather, who once quipped that Dawson was “the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.” He’s American born and bred. He has a warm, engaging personality, is a family man, and comes across as genuine and reflective. He has all the ingredients necessary for boxing superstardom.

Until now, his defining moment in the ring was his upset victory over Tomasz Adamek in Feb. 2007.  In only his third fight in the light heavyweight division, Dawson thoroughly outclassed the undefeated Adamek, even hurting him at times. The first nine rounds included some of the most brilliant displays of pure boxing from a young fighter in recent memory. Dawson took Adamek’s WBC light heavyweight title. The future looked bright.

After two easy title defenses, Dawson squared off against rugged Glen Johnson in April 2008. The older and far less athletic Johnson hurt Dawson at several points in the fight and controlled the pace with his stalking pressure. Dawson’s usual recipe (effective jabbing, picturesque combinations and elusiveness) yielded him a controversial unanimous decision victory, and doubts began to surface about Dawson’s focus. He seemed to be one of those fighters who did just enough to win, no desire to maximize his full potential. 

Consecutive victories over Antonio Tarver in Oct. 2008 and May 2009, followed by a rematch victory over Glen Johnson six months later didn’t do much to quiet the rumblings about Dawson’s temperamental focus. Though he was impressive in these victories, he frequently took rounds off and didn’t come close to the virtuoso performances that the boxing world expected. Dawson was, however, the class of the division and there didn’t appear to be anyone who could expose his flaws. 

That was the case until he ran into top contender Jean Pascal in Aug. 2010. Stylistically, Pascal presented a familiar challenge: he was active, powerful and sturdy, a portfolio that Dawson had seen and solved before. A 4-1 favorite entering the fight, Dawson’s performance was a major disappointment. Missing was the active combination puncher that took down the mighty Tomasz Adamek; that Dawson was replaced by a lethargic, passive fighter who appeared lackadaisical and disinterested. In this decisive technical decision loss to Pascal (fight was stopped in the 11th round due to a cut caused by accidental head butt), Dawson lost something more than his title—he also lost the benefit of the doubt.  Pundits who once propped him up as the next big thing now seriously question his determination. 

On Oct. 15, 2011, Chad Dawson will face his antithesis: the oldest major champion in modern boxing history, whose career defines focus and perseverance. Stories about Bernard Hopkins’ gym and dietary habits are almost mythical. There is, arguably, no athlete in sports (let alone boxing) who knows as much about their craft as Bernard Hopkins knows about his.

If we wanted to know if Chad Dawson has turned the tide and regained his passion for boxing, he could not have chosen a more appropriate opponent. Hopkins is the truest barometer for boxing intangibles, attention to detail and passion; if you lack them, he will expose and exploit them. The news is not all bad for Chad Dawson, however—Hopkins’ only recent losses have come against athletic, slick fighters (most recently Joe Calzaghe in 2008). Dawson fits this mold stylistically and looks to utilize his gifts to outwork the mostly reactive Bernard Hopkins. 

After Saturday, Oct. 15, 2011, the boxing community hopes to do one of the two things: either add another notch on the historical belt which is Bernard Hopkins’ legacy, or re-crown “Bad” Chad Dawson as the WBC light heavyweight champion. In order for Dawson to accomplish the latter, he’ll have to regain the focus that brought him from the streets of New Haven to the world’s biggest and brightest stages. If he is successful, he’ll solve one of boxing’s greatest riddles—who exactly is Chad Dawson?

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HBO Boxing: Jean Pascal vs. Chad Dawson Highlights (HBO)

HBO Boxing: Chad Dawson vs. Glen Johnson II Highlights (HBO)

Chad Dawson vs. Antonio Tarver I 1/4

Chad Dawson vs. Antonio Tarver I 2/4

Chad Dawson vs. Antonio Tarver I 3/4

Chad Dawson vs. Antonio Tarver I 4/4

Chad Dawson vs Tomasz Adamek 1/6

Chad Dawson vs Tomasz Adamek 2/6

Chad Dawson vs Tomasz Adamek 3/6

Chad Dawson vs Tomasz Adamek 4/6

Chad Dawson vs Tomasz Adamek 5/6

Chad Dawson vs Tomasz Adamek 6/6

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