TSS Universe, how do you see Ward-Dawson playing out? Will this fight exceed expectations? Will both men see it as an opportunity to get to another level, and perform at peak form? Will it be a cautious chess-match, or will Ward and Dawson show their most aggressive sides, and shout down critics who say that this tussle couldn't excite them less?
So, let me get this straight. We got the best against the best on Sept. 8, we got the guy I see as No. 2 on the pound for pound list, Andre Ward, against a top-ten pound for pounder, one of the top handful of Americans currently gloving up, Chad Dawson, in their primes, not at a catchweight...and we got people grousing?
We keyboard tappers lobby for more "best fighting the best" bouts, evenly matched scraps pitting the best and the brightest against fellow aces, off pay-per-view...and we've been given that, in Ward-Dawson, and many folks are not down the event...because they don't think the styles will mesh?
My, aren't we picky?
Hey, listen, I'm not here to tell you that I think Ward-Dawson is a frontrunner for 2012 Fight of the Year. I'd bet Mike Bloomberg's change jar contents that it won't be, not unless each man suddenly decides to abandon what got them to this point, the notion that being a superior technician who understands that caution is a useful trait to have if one wants to one day exit the sport with most of your marbles intact.
But HBO and promoters Dan Goossen and Gary Shaw have put together something that we all regularly ask for, and in the Twittersphere I'm reading opinions from any number of "experts" that this one is a stinkbomb.
I won't say I'm surprised; social networks, the ease of transmission of opinions, has fostered an atmosphere where every armchair GM and matchmaker can advertise their acumen and build their follower fanbase. But I guess I am a bit surprised at this level of blowback to the Ward-Dawson tussle.
I reached out to HBO boxing boss Ken Hershman to see if the lack of full-on embrace from the fightwrite media mafia surprised him, or bothered him.
No, is the answer.
The ex Showtime exec isn't the sort to thunder or bluster or get into a defensive mode. Smart, I'd say, if one wants to maintain a healthy blood pressure, especially in an age where if one chooses one can become consumed with responding to a constant streams of 140 characters-or-less critiques.
Hershman told me that he thinks Ward-Dawson is an HBO fight, a Ken Hershman HBO fight, because "it is two top pound for pound fighters in the world, fighting at 168 pounds, where Dawson has said for years he could make, and I'm not sure who that favors."
So, is it not frustrating to sample the response to the match being made, and learn that more than a couple of the experts have virtually dismissed the scrap the day it was announced?
No, the head of the division said. He told me this fight, as well as the Sergio-Martinez-Julio Cesar Chavez Jr, are co-faves of the events he has spearheaded since he took over the reins at the beginning of the year, following Ross Greenburg's exit. He said he doesn't get caught up much in the negative nelly talk, and prefers to look towards the bounty of fights that can be made riffing off of this main event. If Ward wins, he said he a scrap against a Mikkel Kessler or a Kelly Pavlik would be intriguing. A Dawson win would mean the Connecticut fighter could stick at 168 after a signature win, and maybe do a rematch, or head back up to 175, where a Jean Pascal rematch, or a Tavoris Cloud bout beckons. Basically, Hershman wouldn't take my bait when I offered the "aren't know it alls on Twitter annoying" ball on a T. He preferred to point out that for those not as keen on the sweet science element of the sport, they should be satisfied with the Antonio DeMarco-John Molina lightweight title scrap, from the Ward undercard, which he thinks should have the "take one-to give one" feel to it. Also, Hershman noted that if anyone feels left out still, some action from the marquee division, the heavyweights, could cheer them up. Vitali Klitschko will meet unknown Manuel Charr, in what could be his final fight before he enters the political realm full-time. "So you have something for everyone," Hershman said. Also, he pointed ahead, to the Brandon Rios-Mike Alvarado tiff on Oct. 13, as a bone for those that point to Ward-Gatti I as their all-time fight of the year.
HBO does like to identify and spotlight the top-grade talents, and nurture them. Some opiners would rather they went for a more a la carte approach, snagging compelling fights, rather than snagging athletes, and then finding them foils. I see the validity of both avenues, as from a business perspective, one sees how it doesn't make sense to introduce an athlete to the public, build them up, and then hand that athlete to another broadcast entity, to reap the rewards of the buildup. And on the other side, us fans simply want to see the matches that make the most sense, and don't care as much about the longterm story arc of a boxer. I confess I am curious to see how the Ward arc plays out. Because he is something of a hard sell as a personality; the SOG brand isn't one that lends itself to be written about, because, frankly, there is a predictability to his message that while admirable, can be less than compelling. When he talks about his faith being important to him, and it being paramount that he represent his faith and God as he sees him, there is an absence of drama...and writers like and seek out drama. And if Ward were the sort who looks to remove heads from shoulders, purely predatory, then there would be a message dissonance that would demand attention. But he is smart tactician, who doesn't allow you to do what you do best, and then uses angles and intelligent combos to rack up points on you. All in all, I wonder, does Ward's solidity as a citizen, and the absence of drama he leaves in his wake, subconsciously cause some of us writers to bury his brilliance? For that matter, I wonder, if Dawson fought the same way, but helped us writers churn out copy with marvelously malevolent trash talk, and had a knack for incendiary Tweets, would he not be a more marketable draw? Would this match have drawn the early criticism it did if both men fought exactly the same way, but had personalities that made our jobs easier?
So anyway, I wondered, is Ward an athlete born at a bad time, a good guy campaigning in an era where bad boys draw the most press, and loot? "I don't think so," Hershman said. "Andre Ward is a family man, a devoted athlete, and I think he and Dawson appreciate that this is an opportunity to make their stamp," said Hershamn, who clearly hasn't given in to the pop culture tendency to be magnetized to the hot mess, the TMZ perennial. Hershman said he won't press to fill a moral vacuum, try to shove Ward down peoples' throats as a role model for the youth. "I will leave those decisions to parents and others," he said.
I suspect that Ward-Dawson could surprise to the upside, that one or both men could shift tactics away from being a skilled neutralizer, and that the low or moderate expectations of many could be bettered. I asked Hershman if in this atmosphere where fight buyers and promoters are looking for more aggressive combatants, and aren't as likely to utilize a patient counterpuncher type, especially one who has below average power, he doesn't consider approaching fighters, a la UFC's Dana White, and recommending that they take things out of the hand of the judges. (Who, must I remind you, have a recent track record that is somewhere between mercurial and disgraceful.) Again, showing a temperance which indicates that the man simply stays in his lane, and doesn't try to over-reach and over-leverage himself, Hershman said no, that is not his way. He appreciates the technical wizardry that a Ward and Dawson bring to the table, and wouldn't think to try and diminish that. (Good news, I'd say, if you rising talent who doesn't own bricks for hands, and wants a coveted HBO slot.)
Hey, I love the Twitter, I appreciate writers who aren't afraid to make their opinion known, ruffle some feathers. Indeed, if Ward and Dawson light up a stinkbomb on Sept. 8, I will be out and about, critiquing myself. And, if the fight bombs, you are welcome to hammer me with "I told ya sos."
But, I say, let's see how the fight plays out, and moving forward, perhaps we should consider less "contempt prior to investigation" and embrace more of a "let's wait and see how it plays out" stance.