Conventional wisdom made way for an accurate adage: if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's a duck.
Oh, but if only things were so simple in boxing.
The boxing landscape is littered with the names of promising fighters who looked to be the next big thing, the next dominant champion, the next shining star in a galaxy quickly growing dim, only to burn out without ever generating a memorable light. Superior athleticism, herculean work ethic, and a shrewd promotional team are all helpful, but do not necessarily equate to greatness. There requires a certain fire within, a quality almost as rare as athletic gifts, that propels a fighter to something truly special. Of course, a little luck doesn't hurt either. But to have all these traits align is an unusual event, and just because a fighter looks like something special certainly doesn't mean that a great fighter has emerged.
Just ask Chad Dawson. If it were possible to buy shares in a fighter simply by sizing them up, Dawson would have been a blue chip stock circa 2005. On the surface, Dawson looks like he's engineered to be a fighter.At 6'1”, Dawson is a tall, solid, imposing light heavyweight. Dawson's commanding reach, solid jab, and southpaw stance are all qualities that will make any opponent question the wisdom of stepping into the ring with him.All this is wrapped up in a highly athletic and fundamentally sound wrapper.No light heavyweight in the post-Jones era is better equipped to be a dominant force and long-reigning champion.
But if anyone would have put their savings into the sure thing that was Chad Dawson The Prospect, they would have lost the farm by now. The harsh reality is that “Bad Chad” has done little lately to live up to his moniker.What should have been a dominant run has been spotty at best, and what could have been a career as a marquee fighter has been, instead, a nonstop battle to become even a minor draw. How bad is it for Dawson?He has absolutely no following anywhere in the U.S., not even in his neck of the woods in the Northeast. It was so rough that Dawson, then reigning light-heavyweight champion, had to travel to Montreal to face hometown challenger Jean Pascal in what would be a disastrous title-losing effort. His first fight with Bernard Hopkins, another fighter who has never generated big bucks, barely sold anything at the cavernous Staples Center in L.A. For Dawson, his career has been defined by an inability to gain any traction or momentum. Sadly, he has to shoulder most of the blame himself.
What seems to be the missing ingredient in Chad Dawson's fizzling career?Simply put, it comes down to one word: passion.
Fans can tell the difference between a classy boxer-puncher and a fighter who is being clinical to the point of being sleep-inducing. Part of it might have to do with Dawson's appearance. He's a big, tough looking dude, complete with deluxe tattoos and bonus points for a solid scowl. Looking at him, the average fan expects an in-ring presence to match the exterior. What they get from Dawson is usually the opposite.
A prime example was his loss to Jean Pascal. For all of Pascal's awkward explosiveness, he is really nowhere near the talent level of Dawson, and yet Dawson found himself falling prey to Pascal's ugly, energy-sapping ambushes. It was a classic case of the challenger outhustling the reluctant champion. Whenever Dawson took the bull by the horns, he was extremely successful against Pascal. The problem for Dawson was that his lack of urgency made such moments scarce, which allowed Pascal to build the lead that would ultimately lead to his technical decision victory. Dawson's listless, hesitant non-effort was especially frustrating because of what was at stake. He was an undefeated champion being groomed for big things. If that could serve as adequate motivation to press the issue against Pascal, it's hard to imagine what it would take to light a fire under Dawson.Instead, he sleepwalked his way to a loss in an effort so lacking in passion that it made Audley Harrison look like Arturo Gatti.
Quick to find an excuse for his poor performance, Dawson switched trainers to Hall of Famer Emmanuel Steward, known for being the mastermind behind some of the best offensive fighters in recent times.If anyone could serve in the role as the hired gun to resurrect Dawson's suddenly flagging career, Steward seemed to be the perfect choice.
If only the synergy between Dawson and Steward was as dynamic in reality as it seemed on paper, perhaps Dawson's career trajectory would be on a different course. But in his only outing with Steward at the helm, Dawson looked as passion-less as ever in a painfully methodical victory over Adrian Diaconu. In what should have been another motivating opportunity for Dawson to prove his critics wrong about his previous lackluster performances, he did little to strengthen his case that he is indeed something special.
Then, in his most recent outing, Dawson lost his cool against legendary in-ring pest Bernard Hopkins, whose game has as much to do with making his opponents look bad as it does making himself look good. All credit due to Dawson for waiting out his chance to get a crack at the title he once held, but it's impossible to look good against Hopkins, especially when resorting to the ridiculous WWE tactics he utilized in stalling the forward momentum of his career yet again.
Maybe all this criticism of Dawson is undue. He does, after all, have a fairly impressive resume considering that his name-brand value is next to nothing among the casual fan. He owns a victory over Tomasz Adamek, a distinction only future Hall of Fame heavyweight Vitali Klitschko can also claim. Dawson is also 4-0 against Jones conquerors Antonio Tarver and Glen Johnson. And it's hard not to admire a guy who is solid in who he is; Dawson is content with being a methodical pure boxer. There's nothing wrong with that. There are countless trainers who would love to bottle up what Dawson can do and deliver it intravenously to their fighters.
So what's the problem?
It's easy. Fans expect more than what a guy like Dawson has been willing to give. Relying exclusively on a solid jab might establish command within the ropes, but it isn't going to stir any hearts. Mechanically pounding out decisions will add wins to a record, but will do little to generate buzz. Fans, and the annals of boxing legend, smile upon fighters who boldly take chances, who are willing to forgo the safe route for the riskier, yet more memorable way. Chad Dawson is well within his rights as a fighter to stick to the safe, bland route he's been walking as of late. As much as pundits claim otherwise, he doesn't owe it to the fans to do things on their terms.
But that goes two ways as well. Just as Dawson doesn't owe it to the fans to take unnecessary risks, they don't owe him their hard earned cash to pay for his safety-first fights. If Dawson gives no reason for the general public to take notice of him, then the onus for his stagnant career rests singly on himself.
What compounds the frustration of watching Dawson’s impassive demeanor is that he has shown an ability to be an exciting fighter. Against Adamek in a title-winning effort in 2007, Dawson lived up to all the promise of his early career in clearly beating a prime, tough champion, even having to come off the canvas and gut-out some treacherous moments in the late rounds of an exciting fight. In his first outing against Glen Johnson, Dawson engaged in the most thrilling fight of his career as he went toe-to-toe with the hard as nails Johnson, emerging with a tight, hard-earned decision. Maybe it was the fact that those were the two toughest fights of his career that keeps Dawson from taking chances in the ring, but the exceptional moments of those fights have long since faded.
On Saturday night, Dawson has another chance to change the perception that his career has been a disappointment. Granted, it's against an all-time great fighter in Hopkins who specializes in messing up the best-laid plans of his opponents. It's also possible that, even if Dawson wins, he won't get the credit he feels is due because he will have beaten a 47-year old man, especially if he has to do it ugly, which seems to be the only way against Hopkins.
If Dawson ever wants to be considered more than a pretty good fighter, he needs to start making noteworthy statements. The court of opinion only deliberates for so long before a verdict comes in. Saturday’s opportunity against Hopkins might just prove to be judgment day for Chad Dawson.