Undefeated “Bad” Chad Dawson was “bad” enough to completely dominate Glen Johnson en route to winning a lopsided 12 round decision over the aging Glen Johnson, but questions still linger about whether his performance was “good” enough to win over the HBO broadcast team or the scores of hometown fans who came to see more action but went home disappointed.
The November 7 fight took place in Hartford, Connecticut, which is a stone’s throw from Dawson’s hometown of New Haven. Dawson improved his record to 29-0 ( 17 KOS), while defending his IBO light heavyweight title and winning the interim WBC crown.
The sad reality for the immensely likable and immeasurably talented 27-year-old Dawson, who is trained by former light heavyweight champion Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, is that he just might be too good for his own good.
He has beaten championship caliber opponents such as Johnson (twice), Antonio Tarver (twice), Tomasz Adamek, and Eric Harding, but he still can’t shake the reputation of being a safety-first fighter in a sport that demands more action, especially when fighting on HBO.
Floyd Mayweather Jr., who is generally regarded as the best pound-for- pound fighter in the sport, has been slapped with the same ignominious label.
Throughout the telecast, HBO broadcasters Jim Lampley, Max Kellerman and Emanuel Steward lauded Dawson’s skills, but demanded that he “add entertainment value to his resume.”
Steward couldn’t say enough good things about Dawson’s “balance and position,” but lambasted him for dancing in the fifth round, emphatically stating that was not what the fans wanted to see.
One person who thinks that Dawson should stick to doing what he does best, which is winning one-sided bouts against world class opposition, is John “Iceman” Scully, a broadcaster on ESPN Classics and former light heavyweight title challenger who trained Dawson in his early years as a pro.
“With Chad’s height, style, speed and mobility, it is easy for him to beat good opponents very easily,” said Scully. “People say he doesn’t have heart because he hasn’t been called upon to show his heart because of his skills. Let me tell you, Chad has tons of heart, and when and if the time comes, it will serve him well.”
Scully recounted the time, about 12 years ago, when Dawson engaged in his first open class Junior Olympics bout against Delvin Rodriguez, who at the time was the hottest welterweight in the country.
“People expected the fight to be a mismatch, that Chad was totally overmatched, but he wound up winning convincingly,” said Scully. “From his earliest days in the gym, Chad was so elusive and rarely got hit solidly. It would be a waste of his talent to start mixing it up in order to please the fans and the suits. He is a pure boxer, so he should continue doing what he does best. It would be criminal for him to do anything else.”
Scully met Dawson when the current champ was about 11 and Scully was well into his twenties. He often took his team from Hartford to the same amateurs tournaments that Dawson and his brothers, Jermain and Ricky, attended as far away as Kansas, Florida and Ohio. Scully says the oldest brother, Ricky, who as an amateur beat Mike Oliver and lost to 2000 Olympian Ricardo Williams, was the one thought to have the most pro potential, but he gravitated to basketball instead.
It was obvious to Scully that Chad, who like his brothers was as quiet as a mouse, was eager to learn and was a fierce competitor. He kept on coming to the gym, saying little but listening a lot and working harder than anyone else.
“For the longest time Chad and his brothers barely said a word, but it was obvious they wanted to learn,” said Scully. “The running joke we had was I’d be driving them to a tournament and I would yell at them to keep the noise in the back seat down. Sometimes they wouldn’t say a word for 300 miles.”
Around 2000, Scully took Chad and several other fighters to Brooklyn, New York, to hang out and train with Dmitriy Salita, the Orthodox Jew who will soon be fighting British sensation Amir Khan for the WBA junior welterweight title.
For some inexplicable reason, Scully says Dawson came out of his shell, figuratively and literally, on that trip.
“Until then, I thought he might be a mute,” he joked. “But something happened on that trip, and Chad really came into his own. The way I see it, he walks softly but carries a big stick.”
In the early days of Dawson’s pro career, his promoters and advisors were urging him to turn up the volume, to make his one-sided fights more exciting. As his trainer, Scully implored him to continue doing what he did best, which was fight and win and not worry about the critics.
“The history of boxing is littered with guys who had great boxing skills, but listened to people who told them they had to be more exciting,” said Scully.
He cites former heavyweight gold medalist Tyrell Biggs, a brilliant tactician who began mixing it up as a pro and, despite his immense talent has been relegated to virtual anonymity after being stopped by, among others, Mike Tyson, Lennox Lewis and Riddick Bowe.
Although Scully realizes what the business aspect of the sport demands, he steadfastly believes that Mustafa Muhammad has been smart to not try turning Dawson into something he is not. Still, he believes Dawson does more than enough to make his fights interesting.
“I don’t know what fight people were watching, because Chad did take chances against Johnson,” asserted Scully. “Several times he sat down and let six or seven shots in a row go. It’s not his fault that the other guy couldn’t hit him back. If he did the same thing and Johnson was able to land two punches in return, the crowd would be happy. But that’s not what boxing’s all about, and it’s not what boxing is supposed to be about.”
Scully compares Dawson to a baseball pitcher who continually strikes opposing batters out. Finally, exasperated television executives urge him to take something off the curve ball to gives batters a better chance of hitting the ball in order to make the game more exciting.
“If Chad took more chances and got beat, there’d be a firestorm of criticism,” said Scully.
Scully hopes to see Dawson eventually fight the winner of the proposed rematch between Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones Jr., and is certain that a victory over either of those faded legends will solidify his status as the best light heavyweight in the world and, perhaps more importantly, play up his worthiness as an HBO fighter.
“Chad’s the guy everyone sees as the champ, so all roads in the division lead to him,” said Scully. “Right now he’s the man at 175 pounds, and if he keeps doing what he’s doing he can be the man for a long time to come.”