For most fighters, a career-defining victory is usually followed by the easiest opponent that can still justify a pay-per-view payday. Such is the business of boxing today.
But not so with Andre Ward and Chad Dawson. Ten months after Ward captured the Super Six tournament title and five months after Dawson decisioned Bernard Hopkins to win the WBC light heavyweight belt, they are fighting each other -- without tune-ups. Moreover, Dawson, a 3 ½-1 ‘dog, is shedding seven pounds for the opportunity to topple an almost universal pound-for-pound entrant in the hopes of adding his own name to those lists.
High risk. High reward. Old-school prize-fighting. This is the way boxing should be.
Will "S.O.G." -- short for "Son of God" -- become a boxing deity or will "Bad Chad" beat the devil out of him? Their respective CompuBox histories offer the following clues:
The Model of Efficiency: The average super middleweight throws 54.5 punches per round, and in his last five fights Ward only exceeded that output twice -- 54.6 against Arthur Abraham and 56 against Mikkel Kessler. Otherwise, Ward likes to take his time, pick his spots and score at a high rate.
In beating Carl Froch for the Super Six title, Ward averaged 47.8 but landed 42.4% of his overall punches and power shots as well as an impressive 42.5% of his jabs, fueling connect advantages of 243-156 (total), 107-47 (jabs) and 136-109 (power) despite throwing 110 fewer punches overall and 88 less power punches.
In decisioning Sako Bika, Ward averaged just 36.2 punches per round but again the percentages were high (45.1% total, 37.4% jabs, 50% power) and the connect leads decisive in two categories (194-146 total, 64-25 jabs, 132-121 power). The formula also applied against Allan Green (49.2 per round, 43.3% overall, 49.8% power) and Mikkel Kessler (56 per round, 43.3% overall, 49.8% power). Only Abraham's high-hands defense kept Ward from repeating the blueprint against him (he threw 54.6 per round but landed 27% overall, 22.3% jabs and 37.9% power), but "King Arthur" defeated himself by throwing just 28.2 punches per round and failing to penetrate Ward's defense (22.8% overall, 9% jabs, 33.3% power).
Gumming Up Opponents: Ward's offensive shrewdness is a product of his tight defense and his counter-punching ability has forced opponents to think twice before committing.
Froch, who averaged 77.2 against Glen Johnson, 77.6 against Abraham and 80.1 against Kessler, threw just 56.9 against Ward. Kessler, who averaged 103.7 vs. Mehdi Bouadla, 71.3 against Librado Andrade and 56.8 vs. Froch, threw just 36.7 against Ward.
Those output drops were amplified by Ward's defense, which held Froch to 23% overall, 19% jabs and 25% power and Kessler to 34% overall, 19% jabs and 36% power. If a fighter knows his punches will likely not land, he throws less. That plays right into Ward's hands.
Stylistic Transition: Earlier in his career, Dawson was one of boxing's best combination punchers and, as such, was capable of big numbers. Against Epifanio Mendoza (KO 4), Dawson averaged 73 per round, landed 47% overall and 58% power and amassed connect bulges of 136-32 (total), 28-10 (jabs) and 108-22 (power).
Since then, Dawson has become a technical boxer who, like Ward, is an efficient power puncher. He landed 47.9% of them in the rematch against Hopkins' usually airtight defense, 58.8% against Adrian Diaconu, 56.3% in his rematch against Glen Johnson and 42% in their first match.
That transition has also unearthed a potentially fatal flaw: His offense mirrors that of his opponent. When that opponent revved up the offense, as did Johnson, Dawson reacted accordingly. He answered Johnson's 69.1-per-round pace with 79 per round and in the rematch he averaged 63 to Johnson's 58.7. Against Diaconu, who threw 49.2, Johnson threw 51.7 and against Pascal, who averaged 40.2, Dawson threw 40.8.
But in both fights against Hopkins Dawson fell into "B-Hop's" slow-down trap. In fight one, Dawson -- who pledged to force a hard pace on the 46-year-old -- threw just 27.5 per round to Hopkins' 14.5. In the rematch, which he won convincingly, Dawson still threw 35.9 to Hopkins' 33.3. If Dawson wants to beat Ward on Ward's home turf, he must take the initiative -- and maintain it throughout. But his phlegmatic nature and recent history suggests he won't.
Prediction: This fight is being staged in Ward's hometown, in Ward's weight class and Ward hasn't lost a fight since puberity. Give Dawson credit for rolling the dice, but here he'll fall to Ward's slow pace and methodical boxing. Ward by decision.