Dawson and Johnson meet in present to determine future
We hear all the time about crossroads fights in boxing, in which the consequences for both fighters are extreme and the impact of the fight on their respective futures is profound. What we don’t hear about as often are crossroads fights for an entire weight class. But that’s what Saturday’s rematch between Chad Dawson and Glen Johnson just might be for the light heavyweight division.
Past, present and future have overlapped in the 175-pound class for some time now, and the extremity of the generation gap only becomes more pronounced as time passes; the old fighters get older and the young fighters rise in stature. There are two sub-divisions comprising the light heavyweights right now: the twenty-something crowd and the forty-something crowd. The former consists of Dawson (27), Tavoris Cloud (27) and Jean Pascal (27). The latter is made up of Johnson (40), Antonio Tarver (40), Roy Jones (40) and Bernard Hopkins (44).
Those are two completely different generations battling for supremacy, creating a present made up of both a past that won’t let go and a future that hasn’t fully arrived. And that’s not a bad thing, having seven different fighters – four of them teen-agers by the time the other three were born – co-existing. But it becomes a bad thing if the young fighters grow old waiting for the old fighters to grow ancient. Phrased more simply, it would be a shame if the top young guys avoided each other because all they want is paydays against the old guys.
To that end, Dawson-Johnson II, a rematch of their fight in April of last year that could have gone either way and was awarded to Dawson, might determine which generation deserves our focus from here on out. With Hopkins and Jones planning a 2010 rematch that somehow remains commercially viable about a decade too late, the other top fighters in the division are understandably lining up for a shot at the winner. If Johnson beats Dawson, the Jamaican should go ahead and plant his feet in the front of that line. But if Dawson beats Johnson, the opinion here is that it’s time to be done with the past and move on to the future.
Dawson couldn’t have been more clear on the prefight conference call last week when asked why he was fighting Johnson again at this time. “I can’t get the fight with Bernard Hopkins, so why not (fight Johnson) again?” he said.
If that’s true, that he can’t get the fight with B-Hop, then there’s no sense in Dawson wasting his time calling out Hopkins if he defeats Johnson again. Realistically, why would Hopkins or Jones seriously consider a fight with someone as young, versatile, athletic and, compared to all the 40-and-over stars, unknown to the general public as Dawson? If they can make more money for a less risky fight elsewhere, why take on Dawson, a borderline pound-for-pounder with a decisive win over Tomasz Adamek on his record, especially when his following is limited strictly to Hartford, Conn., fans and hardcore fans?
If Dawson defeats Johnson, his focus, and the focus of the folks at HBO who sign the checks, should be on matches like Dawson-Cloud and Dawson-Pascal (assuming Pascal wins his December rematch with tough Adrian Diaconu). Waiting on the Hopkins-Jones winner would be unproductive because of the likelihood that the waiting could go on indefinitely.
“If the money’s right, Hopkins and Jones would both take the chance, but I’m not so sure the money will be there,” opined Tarver, a man who has fought Johnson twice, Dawson twice, Jones three times and Hopkins once and now serves as a color commentator on Showtime. “I always wanted to fight the best. I’m 40 years old and I’m calling out Tavoris Cloud right now and I fought Dawson twice. That’s my style. But that’s not Hopkins and Jones’ style. They tend to handpick opponents and try to make a money fight.”
If Johnson beats Dawson, however, it’s a completely different story. He’s much less mobile than Dawson, meaning he’s much more attractive to a fellow 40-plus fighter. And significantly, the plotlines are in place to make a fight with either Hopkins or Jones viable. Johnson was the last man to knock Jones out. Hopkins was the only man to knock Johnson out. There’s history either way, and if Johnson beats Dawson, the older generation will stand on top of the mountain and fans will want to know who among them stands tallest.
“If Johnson wins, I don’t know that it proves which generation is in charge – that’s giving a lot of credence to one fight – but if he wins, he certainly gives himself validity and puts himself in a major position,” Tarver said. “He can fight me again for the trilogy, or he can fight the winner of Jones-Hopkins.
“We’re not here by accident – Jones, Hopkins, Johnson and I. We’re here because we learned the trade, we took care of ourselves over the years, and in a lot of people’s eyes, we’re the best fighters out there. Some fighters are shot at 25, we’re still here at 40. And that will be true whether Johnson beats Dawson or not.”
During the aforementioned prefight conference call, Johnson was asked how much longer he plans to fight. “Until I’m convincingly beat,” he responded.
Maybe that will finally happen on Saturday, and if it does, then, as Tarver implied, it doesn’t necessarily prove that all of the young guys would beat all of the old guys. But the fact is that if that’s how it goes down, Dawson will have done all he can against the old guys who are willing to fight him. He might want a fight with the Hopkins-Jones winner, and much of the public might clamor for it as well, but the sport would be better served separating these two generations at that point.
Let Hopkins and Jones fight for the money and the mainstream attention. Dawson brings neither of those things to the table, so I say let him fight someone his own age if he gets past Johnson again.
ÔÇó On the Dawson-Johnson conference call last week, I hung in there for about 45 minutes, but I had to cut bait after about 10 minutes of an extraordinarily uninteresting explanation from the promoters and managers of why this fight is being sanctioned as a WBC “interim” title bout. It’s bad enough when the alphabet scumbags force mismatches, get in the way of appealing fights and create such confusion that fans lose interest and media outlets stop covering boxing. But when they actually start taking time out of my busy day, that’s when they’ve really gone too far. For the 10,000th time, let me say shame on everyone who enables this garbage.
ÔÇó If you missed the ESPN “30 For 30” series documentary Muhammad And Larry, do yourself a favor and find a replay. This was better than When We Were Kings, better than HBO’s docs on the first and third Frazier fights. Thank goodness Albert Maysles’ 29-year-old footage finally found the light of day. Between the disturbing images of an already physically compromised Ali being led to slaughter and the fact that grumpy old Ferdie Pacheco somehow comes across as the voice of reason, this documentary is astounding on a number of levels.
ÔÇó Jose Alfaro appears to be nothing special. He briefly held a major title, which nowadays indicates nothing whatsoever about a fighter’s ability. But even so, what an all-around satisfying performance by Antonio DeMarco at Treasure Island on Saturday night. It’s been a pleasure to watch the 23-year-old DeMarco progress from fight to fight over the last couple of years on Showtime, and now he’s putting it all together. Against Alfaro, he boxed smart, waited for openings, and most impressively, pounced on Alfaro every time one of those openings emerged. It’s refreshing to see a young fighter who knows what to do – and does it – every time his opponent gets hurt.
ÔÇó What was Jim Gray thinking asking Mike Tyson repeatedly about a comeback? Let’s see ÔÇª Tyson suffered a humiliating loss to Kevin McBride that made it clear he couldn’t even beat a C-level heavyweight anymore, and has since grown four years older and about 100 pounds heavier. He remains emotionally troubled, but seems to be finding a vague semblance of peace now that he’s done fighting. Asking him about the possibility of a boxing comeback would be like interviewing Tina Turner a few years ago and asking if she was thinking about getting back together with Ike.
Eric Raskin can be reached at [email protected]