If Chad Dawson still is who he thinks he is Adonis Stevenson will never get to be who he hopes to be Saturday night at the Bell Centre in Montreal.
In a sense, Stevenson may have made the same ill-advised decision Dawson made in his last outing, although in reverse: a choice to take a foray into a place where his body doesn’t really belong.
The WBC light heavyweight champion returns to his natural weight Saturday night after his disastrous decision to drop down to 168 and challenge unified super middleweight champion Andre Ward nine months ago, a choice that led to the worst beating of Dawson’s career.
Dawson, who claims to have had to drop nine pounds the day before the weigh-in to reach 168, was knocked down three times by Ward before being stopped in the 10th round and now must erase the long shadow of that one-sided night while standing in front of one of the biggest punchers in boxing.
Yet the questionable truth of that is part of the back story of this fight as well as part of the consequence of Stevenson’s choice to abandon the super middleweight division, where he’d risen to become mandatory contender, to challenge for a championship at a weight he’s never carried before.
Stevenson knows Dawson will enter the ring at the bell Centre carrying a dark memory with him of that brutally concussive night with Ward. It is a memory that must be erased for Dawson to successfully defend his title and one Stevenson must refresh to capture it and carry the day.
“When I touch him he’s going to panic,’’ Stevenson said during a pre-fight press conference in Montreal this week. “Sure he’s got skills but if you touch him you can beat him.’’
Certainly that has been Stevenson’s M.O., having cold-cocked 80 per cent of his opponents while building up a 20-1-1 record with 17 knockouts. Truth be told however all of those victims were residents of the super middleweight division. He has taken the opposite road of the one Dawson unsuccessfully trod on his last outing, going up in the hope of knocking Dawson down.
The wisdom of that remains debatable. Dawson is taller, quicker, younger, better defensively and vastly more experienced than Stevenson. He has a jab that can be stiff and controlling, two things that will only be enhanced by Dawson’s 4 ½ inch reach advantage, and he has faced down far more challenging competition at light heavyweight.
That jab and Dawson’s far deeper resume have the champion convinced Stevenson, while dangerous, is dangerous in the way something is only when left to roam about uncontrolled. Dawson understands that and dismisses it as an impossibility Saturday night.
“I understand he’s a big puncher but he’s getting into the ring with a different animal,’’ Dawson (31-2, 17 KO) explained recently. “Those 17 knockouts he got were against nobodies. Now he's getting an opportunity to go in the ring with a real somebody.
“I'm on a different level. He hasn't been in the ring with anyone. There are no world champions on his resume. I'm going to show him he is not the man for this division.
“I’m back at my natural weight. I feel strong. I have my trainer (Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, whom Dawson rejoined after working of late with John Scully) back. Once I get my jab working it’s going to be an easy night for me.’’
Certainly it has that possibility because if the shorter, short-armed Stevenson can’t get inside that jab he can’t win. Only at close quarters will he have a chance to land the devastating power shots that got him the biggest chance of his life and to get there he will have to pay a significant price because Dawson is an accurate though sometimes indifferent puncher who is slicker than a can of motor oil defensively and willing to win by using his jab like a picador’s lance.
Stevenson also cannot make the mistake of thinking what Ward did to the drained and dehydrated Dawson is typical of the fighter he is facing. While the champion lacks Stevenson’s punching power he found ways to outbox Bernard Hopkins, Antonio Tarver twice, Glen Johnson and Tomasz Adamek while holding some form of the light heavyweight title for most of the past six years. Such things are not accomplished without having a commanding presence in the ring and a clear understanding of distance and how to maintain it.
Stevenson at his best does not measure up to any of those opponents so the question becomes is Dawson still what he was after having ravaged his body to make 168 in his last outing and then been ravaged by Ward for his trouble?
If he is, Adonis Stevenson’s dream will go unfulfilled. If he is not, Chad Dawson will find himself in the crosshairs of one of the most dangerous punchers he’s ever faced.
“I know he can punch,’’ Dawson said dismissively. What he meant, loosely translated, is “Yes he can punch. The question is can he land?’’
In the semi-main event of the HBO telecast, Yuriorkis Gamboa (22-0, 16 KO) pursues his third “interim’’ world title when he faces unbeaten Darleys Perez (28-0, 19 KO) for the WBA interim lightweight championship. Gamboa has already held the WBA interim featherweight championship before unifying that title and then moving up in his last fight seven months ago to easily outclass Michael Farenas and capture the WBA interim super featherweight championship.
Now Gamboa is headed for the interim trifecta and frankly the former Cuban Olympic champion is such a rare talent there seems little reason to doubt he will succeed.