Chad Dawson, a light heavyweight for 12 of his last 13 bouts, found out in the hardest way possible that he doesn't belong one division below. Adonis Stevenson, a super middleweight for the first 20 contests of his 21-fight pro career, is about to find out, possibly in a less-than-gentle way, whether he belongs one division above.
In his most recent fight, Dawson took an enormous gamble and came away, like so many gamblers do, with only a bad-beat story to show for it. He moved down a weight class and fought arguably the best all-around fighter in the world today, super middleweight champ Andre Ward, and whether it was the weight loss or the talent of his opponent that was to blame, Dawson suffered three knockdowns en route to a 10th-round TKO loss. Now it's Stevenson's turn to gamble. Though relatively untested, the Quebec-based Haitian is 35 years old and can't wait around much longer, so he's hopping up a weight class (after one tune-up bout fought at a catchweight of 173 pounds) and challenging the class of the 175-pound division in Dawson.
The seven-pound difference between the super middle and light heavy limits makes for an interesting driver of discussion, but weight isn't likely to determine the outcome of this fight. The more impactful contrasts lie in style and experience. Dawson is a battle-tested technician. Stevenson is a knockout artist without a top-10 contender on his resume. It's not as though Dawson and Stevenson have nothing in common; they're both southpaws and they both were briefly trained by the late, legendary Emanuel Steward. But aside from those two shared traits, the champion and challenger who will meet at Montreal's Bell Centre on June 8 are coming at this fight from diametrically opposed angles.
And that is often a formula for explosive collisions.
"I want to win by KO, and I will win by KO," Stevenson (20-1, 17 KOs) announced confidently at the kick-off press conference.
"He's a good puncher, but at the end of the day, you have to hit the target," countered Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, Dawson's trainer, in a recent conversation with HBO.com. "And in trying to hit the target, you're going to leave yourself open for some blistering counterpunches. And Stevenson doesn't have the best chin in the world. He's been knocked out-when I say ‘knocked out,' I mean they counted 10 over him. So he'll find out what stepping up to the next level is."
The knockout loss to which Mustafa Muhammad refers came in the second round against Darnell Boone in the 2010. It is the only blemish on Stevenson's record, and it was avenged this past March when he stopped crafty journeyman Boone in six rounds. Much of the rest of Stevenson's line-by-line is filled with devastating KOs: one-round wipeouts of Anthony Bonsante and Jesus Gonzalez, a second-round jack of Noe Gonzalez Alcoba, an extended beatdown of gutsy Don George that ended in the 12th. Stevenson's power befits the images conjured by his first name.
His straight left hand, in particular, is one of the premier concussive blows in the sport today. Again, however, Mustafa Muhammad is less impressed than most neutral observers.
"He telegraphs that left hand," Mustafa Muhammad said. "We see it coming. I mean, we can get coffee and doughnuts waiting for that punch to get to us."
Speaking of coffee and doughnuts, it was over breakfast a few months ago that Dawson and Mustafa Muhammad rekindled what had once been a successful partnership. A former light heavyweight champ himself, Mustafa Muhammad guided Dawson (31-2, 17 KOs, 2 no-contests) to wins over the likes of Antonio Tarver and Glen Johnson, but when "Bad Chad" suffered his first defeat-via technical decision to Jean Pascal following a rocky training camp-Mustafa Muhammad got the boot. Following Dawson's second loss, to Ward, he again sought a coaching change, so he called Mustafa Muhammad, with whom he hadn't spoken in about a year, and asked him to meet for breakfast at the M Resort in Las Vegas. They both brought their families along, reconnected, and at the end of the meal, Dawson asked his former trainer to become his trainer once again.
Mustafa Muhammad says there's a comfort level the 30-year-old Dawson has with him that his other trainers couldn't quite match, and that comfort has helped restore the Connecticut-based lefty's confidence in short order. According to Mustafa Muhammad, it's as though the Ward fight never happened. They've chalked it up to Dawson fighting at the wrong weight, and they're moving on.
Certainly, Dawson doesn't have to worry about Stevenson spellbinding him with speed and tying him in knots the way Ward did. The concern with Stevenson is simplistic and straight-forward: Don't get hit flush with his power punches. The proverbial puncher's chance becomes no chance at all if you don't let him land punches.
The fight takes place on Stevenson's turf, but at Dawson's ideal weight. Those factors should, more or less, even out, and it will come down to the classic confrontation of boxer vs. puncher. Dawson is among the best in the game at the former, Stevenson among the best at the latter.
Only one can be recognized as the best there is in the light heavyweight division.
In the co-featured bout, one of the sport's most gifted boxers and punchers, Cuban junior lightweight Yuriorkis Gamboa, engages in a battle of unbeatens with Colombia's Darley Perez. The fight represents an enormous step up for Perez-four of his last five fights have been scheduled for only eight rounds-but Gamboa did look vulnerable against Michael Farenas his last time out and has heard more eight-counts than Octomom's kids. Even though Gamboa is a clear favorite here, his tightrope act makes every fight intriguing.