by Eric Raskin
"And when Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer." Whether you attribute this quote to ancient Greek philosopher Plutarch or to more modern philosopher Hans Gruber of ‘Die Hard' fame, it's a quote that could have been applied a few months ago to either Chad Dawson or Andre Ward. Dawson had scaled the light heavyweight mountaintop, claiming the lineal 175-pound title by becoming the first fighter in nearly two decades to convincingly defeat Bernard Hopkins. Ward had effectively cleaned out the super middleweight division by dominating the "Super Six" tournament, the chasm between he and the rest of the 168-pound class growing wider with each victory.
Sure, there are always new challengers. But are there are always true challenges? For Dawson at light heavy and for Ward at super middle, it seemed the answer was no. Their respective worlds had been conquered.
Thankfully for fans of competitive, elite-level prize fighting, both Ward and Dawson stopped weeping long enough to realize that, beyond their immediate worlds, there was still one thing out there that needed conquering: each other.
Though the fight will be contested at the super middleweight limit of 168 pounds, it is essentially for supremacy over two weight classes. Maybe such affairs were common in the days of Henry Armstrong, but nowadays, a matchup like this one is a rarity. These are both pound-for-pound-level guys (ESPN.com ranks Ward fifth, Dawson 11th; Sports Illustrated positions them sixth and 12th, respectively; BoxRec.com has them seventh and eighth). And as we've learned rather painfully over the last few years, pound-for-pound guys who should be fighting each other don't always end up fighting each other. Dawson and Ward deserve credit for actively seeking out this challenge.
"Neither one of us had to take this fight, and I think that says a lot for both of us," Dawson told HBO.com. "I could have gone on and waited and fought the winner of [Jean] Pascal and [Tavoris] Cloud or something like that, and he could have done the same thing. So the fact that this fight was made so easily and neither one of us strayed away from it, that says something."
"Both fighters are risking a lot, and that's what's intriguing about this fight," Ward agreed. "Chad Dawson is a tremendous talent. He's beat Bernard Hopkins. He's beat Antonio Tarver--twice. He's beat Glen Johnson. He's beat some really great guys that are headed for the Hall of Fame, and you can't take that away from him ... But in the midst of getting Fighter of the Year [in 2011], in the midst of everything I accomplished since 2008, I'm still hungry. I can't explain why. I can't explain where it comes from. But I just want to continue to get better and continue to solidify myself as one of the best in the sport of boxing."
At this point, you'd have to be crazy not to consider Ward one of the best in the sport. Undefeated since age 12--yes, age 12--he's an Olympic gold medalist who has thus far duplicated his amateur success in the pro game. As Ward, now 28, prepares to fight on HBO for the first time since his pro debut back in December 2004, he's rolling in off five straight quality wins against Mikkel Kessler, Allan Green, Sakio Bika, Arthur Abraham and Carl Froch that have extended his record to 25-0 with 13 KOs. Ward doesn't necessarily fight in a style that dazzles, but you can't argue with the results: The man known as "S.O.G." won 146 out of 174 possible rounds on the judges' cards in those five fights.
The 30-year-old Dawson's credentials aren't bad either; in fact, if not for one bad day at the office, he'd be undefeated, too, and positioned as highly on the pound-for-pound lists as Ward. As Ward pointed out, Dawson (31-1 with 17 KOs) has beaten Hopkins, Tarver and Johnson. He was also the first to defeat Tomasz Adamek. In his lone loss, a 2010 technical decision at the hands of Jean Pascal, "Bad Chad" was starting to come on late when a nasty cut forced a slightly premature end to the fight in the 11th round. Remove that one slip-up from Dawson's record, and he'd probably be every bit as highly regarded as Ward.
"Who the hell wants to fight Chad Dawson?" asked HBO analyst Max Kellerman. "Ward just went through a tournament where you can't duck guys, you've got to fight whoever's there, and after going through something like that, the very next fight you have is the best light heavyweight in the world who's a 6'2" southpaw with a good defense? You've got to take your hat off to Andre Ward."
While we're taking hats off, though, we should also give a little extra credit to Dawson for not only fighting at his opponent's preferred weight but also for venturing into his opponent's hometown, Oakland, California, for this showdown. Interestingly, Dawson views the location of the fight as a disadvantage for Ward.
"Going into the other fighter's backyard, there's no pressure on me, all the pressure's on him," Dawson said. "Andre Ward, he has to perform. He has to come out and look his best. That's a lot of pressure when you've got thousands of fans looking to you to do good."
In reality, of course, there's pressure on both boxers. In a sport in which every fight serves as an advertisement for your next fight, there's pressure not just to win, but to entertain. If there's been one valid criticism of both Dawson and Ward throughout their pro careers, it's that their respective styles haven't resulted in heart-pounding thrillers.
For that reason, some insiders have compared Ward vs. Dawson to the 2011 bout between Timothy Bradley and Devon Alexander, which also brought together two highly respected but somewhat under the radar American fighters--with results that weren't pretty. Kellerman is quick to shoot down that comparison, however
"The big difference is Alexander wasn't ready," he explained. "They were not as accomplished as these guys are, and Alexander was too young. And everyone knew at the time, that fight was slightly premature. This fight is two guys in their prime. They're both the number-one fighters in their division because they cleaned the divisions out. I understand why superficially this looks like Bradley and Alexander, but in reality, it's much different."
Indeed, this is a fight that's happening at the perfect time. Neither Ward nor Dawson needs additional experience. Neither man has kinks to work out. Neither man needs a tune-up, even though either of them would have been well within his rights to take a softer touch. For some fighters, it's about finding the largest payday at the smallest risk. For Ward and Dawson, that's secondary to the allure of a new world to conquer.
Before Ward and Dawson step into the ring, Antonio DeMarco and John Molina will warm up the Oracle Arena crowd with a guaranteed-action lightweight bout. You may remember DeMarco as the gutsy warrior who sliced and diced Jorge Linares' face on the Dawson-Hopkins I undercard last October, while Molina is a heavy-handed boxer-slugger from Covina, California making his HBO debut. Consider yourself properly warned against flipping on the TV just in time for the main event on September 8.