Saturday night's fight between WBC light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson and Adonis Stevenson bucks several well-established boxing trends. Consider:
* Champions usually enjoy the home ring advantage but here Dawson is defending in Montreal, the adopted hometown of the Haitian-born Stevenson. Worse yet for Dawson, they are fighting at the Bell Centre, where Stevenson has fought his last five matches and seven of his last nine.
* The older fighter usually has an edge in experience, but this time the 33-year-old Dawson -- two years younger than Stevenson (who turned pro at age 29) -- has logged more rounds in championship fights (93) than Stevenson has registered as a professional (79).
* Once a fighter leaves a trainer, he stays gone. But Dawson, a 7-1 favorite over Stevenson, has returned to Eddie Mustafa Muhammad after splitting with John Scully, who was his guide for the last three fights.
Will the fight also defy conventional wisdom and actually be a barn-burner? Their CompuBox histories offer the following clues:
Then and Now: Earlier in his career, Dawson was arguably boxing's best combination puncher. He averaged 21 punches landed/64 thrown vs. Tarver I & II, Johnson I & II & Mendoza. Dawson landed 46% of his power shots in those fights.
Since then, Dawson has undergone a philosophical transformation. Sometimes the results were positive. In his rematch against Bernard Hopkins, Dawson penetrated "B-Hop's" usually airtight defense like few others have as he landed 48% of his power shots and out-landed the forty-something wonder 151-106 (total) and 126-82 (power). That success was typical of this period as he landed 56% of his power shots against Adrian Diaconu and his rematch with Glen Johnson and 42% of his hooks, crosses and uppercuts in his first fight with "The Road Warrior."
However, one bad trend also emerged: Dawson's offense became reactive rather than proactive. When opponents throw tons of punches at him, like Johnson did, Dawson reacted accordingly. He answered Johnson's 69.1-per-round pace with 79 punches per round in fight one 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 when he's confronted by fighters who specialize in gumming up opponents' offenses -- like Hopkins and Andre Ward -- Dawson fell into the trap. The phlegmatic Dawson threw just 27.5 punches per round in his first fight against Hopkins, who threw a miniscule 14.5. In the rematch, which Dawson won convincingly, Dawson still threw 35.9 punches per round to Hopkins' 33.3 -- far below the 54.1 light heavyweight average.
An even worse sign of Dawson's decline occurred in the Ward bout, which saw him average an anemic 18.7 punches per round to Ward's 41.8. He no longer was reacting to his opponents' attack, he simply stopped fighting. Dawson was out-landed 155-29 (total), 43-7 (jabs) and 112-22 (power) and suffered three knockdowns before the fight ended in round 10. Dawson attributed his horrid performance on making the 168-pound limit but others started uttering the "S-word" -- shot.
Saturday's fight presents a terrific opportunity for Dawson to prove himself right and his critics wrong. Will he?
Stevenson vs. Lefties: The southpaw Stevenson will be facing only his third left-hander in Dawson but if his record is any indication he'll enter the ring supremely confident. Stevenson destroyed the 28-1 Jesus Gonzales in 99-seconds in their IBF eliminator in February 2012 while in September 2009 he scored a fourth round knockdown en route to a fifth round TKO of Jermain Mackey. Against Gonzales it took only three power connects in nine attempts to end his night.
Banging the Drum: Body-punching has been a staple of Stevenson's attack, whether it take the form of a jab to the stomach or meaty swings at his opponents' ribs with both hands. Stevenson's body shots resulted in one knockdown vs. Darnell Boone (KO 6), three against Donovan George (KO 12) and one against Aaron Pryor Jr. (KO 9)
Of his 156 power connects against Pryor Jr., 79 targeted the body while 84 of his 198 power connects against George and 48 of his 116 landed power shots versus Boone struck the flanks. That offensive diversity has allowed Stevenson to land a high percentage of power shots, for he connected on 49% against Boone and Pryor Jr. and 44% versus George.
However, Stevenson's defense has been inconsistent. He was excellent against Pryor Jr. as he absorbed only 12% of his total punches and 21% of his power shots. He was better-than average against Boone as he tasted 23% of his total blows and 29% of his hooks, crosses and uppercuts but against the defensively-challenged George, he took 28% of his total punches but 40% of his power shots. That sub-par defense against George's power shots was greatly mitigated by the huge gaps in connects (275-99 total, 77-38 jabs, 198-61 power). Still, Stevenson must be mindful of Dawson's attack -- that is, if that attack is still there.
Prediction: Dawson will be more comfortable at 175 and Mustafa Muhammad's familiar face and motivational skills will be a welcome presence. However, it's difficult to shake the memories of what occurred against Ward, which represented the culmination of an offensive decline that has taken place over several years. In terms of ring age, Dawson is a far older fighter than Stevenson, who will thrive before a friendly and familiar audience. Stevenson will set a fast pace (he averaged a combined 70.3 punches per round in his five CompuBox-tracked fights) and if Dawson wants to win he'll have to try and keep up. The guess here is that he won't. Stevenson (in a big upset ) by decision -- or perhaps a late-round stoppage.