Professional boxing has slogged through the dog days of summer with little of major consequence to offer fans, a fact not uncommon as the fall typically provides the kind of blockbuster fights supporters yearn for during the year’s hottest months.
Thankfully, this coming autumn will be no different, and the first half of September promises to shift the tectonic plates of both the middleweight and super-middleweight divisions. The looming fights of Chad Dawson vs. Andre Ward (September 8) and Sergio Martinez vs. Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. (September 15) are two of the year’s most anticipated bouts, and the respective outcomes will have major championship, pound-for-pound and monetary implications.
With the Olympics having provided the most significant boxing excitement and intrigue this past summer, fans have now officially redirected their attention to the paid ranks as the build-up to the two aforementioned fights intensifies.
While it certainly wasn’t intentional, Arthur Abraham’s win this past Saturday over Robert Stieglitz to claim the WBO super middleweight title was a tantalizing and well-time prequel to Ward-Dawson and Martinez-Chavez Jr., given Abraham’s lengthy middleweight title reign and the new beginning of his championship run at super middleweight.
Abraham deserves a mention because his win over Stieglitz reinforces the depth at super middleweight (especially), which means that the outcome of Ward-Dawson, and even Martinez-Chavez Jr., will have ripple effects that could impact the course of major fights from 160 all the way to the light heavyweight limit of 175 pounds.
Fans and pundits undoubtedly find Ward-Dawson and Martinez-Chavez Jr. tantalizing for a multitude of diverse and perhaps contradictory reasons. However, is it possible to determine which fight will have a greater impact on boxing? Let’s find out.
Ward-Dawson: Having claimed that he has no trouble making the super middleweight limit of 168 pounds, Chad Dawson (31-1, 17 KO) has consistently defused the notion that moving down in weight from light heavyweight will negatively impact his performance, and by agreeing to fight in the division where Andre Ward (25-0, 13 KO) reigns supreme, Dawson has effectively upped the championship ante.
Of course, Dawson happens to be the WBC and Ring light heavyweight champion, and he captured these titles—to again become the 175-pound king—after defeating Bernard Hopkins via lopsided unanimous decision in April.
Still, the fight takes on greater significance at super middleweight, where Ward currently holds the WBC, WBA and Ring titles. What adds luster to Dawson moving down is that the contested titles will be the ones Ward claimed in the wildly competitive Super Six World Boxing Classic, as opposed to belts garnered from Dawson’s largely laborious and maddening fights against Hopkins.
This in no way denigrates the light heavyweight titles Dawson owns. Rather, the prospect of hypothetically assessing where Dawson would have stood in the landscape of the Super Six is even more tantalizing.
Furthermore, Ward now has a chance to defend against his most dangerous opponent, while Dawson has the throwback opportunity to become a simultaneously recognized champion in adjacent weight classes. When it comes to two undisputed champions fighting each other, it doesn’t get much better than Ward-Dawson.
Martinez-Chavez Jr.: Despite having long since been stripped of his WBC title in an inexplicable move that left him as the WBC “Diamond” champion, Sergio Martinez is, without a shred of doubt, the Ring and universally-recognized middleweight king. Since defeating Kelly Pavlik in 2010, Martinez has been on a largely dominant late-career run, though securing a mega-fight has still proven elusive.
When Martinez was stripped of his WBC title, Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. became the dubious beneficiary. After first winning the WBC “Silver” title, Chavez eventually won the outright belt, even if it should never have been stripped from Martinez in the first place.
That said, Chavez Jr. has steadily improved during his championship reign, and the fight against Martinez, which his team seemed to be avoiding, now offers a chance for Chavez Jr. to fully legitimize his credentials.
While Ward-Dawson has the intriguing caveat of two undisputed champions from different weight classes fighting each other, Martinez-Chavez Jr. has the spicy element of bad blood and the reclaiming of lost hardware. While Martinez would certainly prefer a mega-fight with Floyd Mayweather, Jr., fighting Chavez Jr. gives him the opportunity to reclaim his old belt and further reinforce his stranglehold on the middleweight division.
On the other hand, for Chavez Jr., a win over Martinez will serve to refute the claims that he is a paper champion, and holding the Ring belt will only enhance his tremendous popularity.
Advantage: Ward-Dawson. While Martinez and Chavez Jr. have dubious links to the same WBC title, the Ring belt is the only title at stake that is truly worth discussing. The same could be said for Ward-Dawson, but their bout, on top of having more belts at stake, is truly unique in that both men are currently undisputed champions.
Ward-Dawson: The prospect of Ward-Dawson is often viewed as more admirable than enticing. Two undisputed champions in their prime willing to fight each other is rare, and the smooth negotiations, respectful promotion and timing of the matchup seem an anomaly to the point of being the product of a boxing Bizarro World.
That said, fans and pundits have grumbled about the possibility that the fight could be overly tactical and dull. It is fair to concede that Ward-Dawson might be void of the oft-desired blood and guts of, say, an Arturo Gatti fight, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be a compelling, must-see bout.
Ward and Dawson are two of boxing’s most skilled fighters, and while they might lack the thrilling, one-punch knockout power that so many fans crave, expect them to display virtuoso pugilistic performances in what should amount to an explosive chess match, if such a concept is possible.
Both Ward and Dawson blend excellent speed and technique with ring savvy, and intrigue will result in the ultra tense moments where two men of equal skill are able to explosively capitalize on the most minute of mistakes.
Martinez-Chavez Jr.: If Ward-Dawson is akin to a showdown between elite snipers, Martinez-Chavez Jr. is a direct, frontal assault. Martinez-Chavez Jr. has been a far more heated promotion, and it is obvious that Martinez, who has had to scratch and claw for his opportunities, feels that Chavez Jr., because of his name recognition, has been handed his world title on a silver platter.
While Chavez Jr. has certainly been protected for most of his career, he seems to finally be coming into his own and maturing as a legitimate fighter. Chavez Jr.’s most recent win—a seventh-round technical knockout of Andy Lee—was an impressive performance against his most accomplished opponent to date. Lee was a popular upset pick, and Chavez Jr., once he figured out Lee’s southpaw style, simply overwhelmed his opponent with sustained power punching and commitment to the body.
Since becoming the lineal middleweight champion, Martinez has made four defenses via stoppage, including a sickening knockout of former champion Paul Williams. While Martinez has been guilty of slower starts in his last two defenses, he has shown one-punch knockout power, which should prove fascinating in his matchup against the iron-chinned Chavez Jr.
While Chavez Jr. has drastically improved, Martinez has a decisive advantage in overall skills. That said, the bout enticingly pits Martinez’s skill and power against Chavez Jr.’s relentless pressure, body punching and granite chin.
Advantage: Even, though for different reasons. Ward-Dawson is a chess match between elite equals, though stylistically, it might put some people off.
Martinez-Chavez Jr., on the other hand, promises fireworks, and it is also a compelling litmus tests for two fighters entering different stages of their respective careers. Personally, I prefer Ward-Dawson, but both fights are legitimate.
Ward-Dawson: Both Ward and Dawson stand to gain a tremendous amount from a legacy standpoint, but the manner in which either man wins will go a long way towards legitimizing the positive theoretical aspect of two undisputed champions choosing to fight each other.
A tremendous fear is that Ward’s unpredictable and uniquely adaptable style will clash with Dawson’s southpaw stance and make for an overly tactical and boring fight. Should either man win a subdued unanimous, majority or split decision by relying on subtle advantages and measured bursts of fighting, both boxers' reputations could suffer.
Other than winning the actual fight, Ward and Dawson are fighting for their marketability and viability as major draws for future mega-fights; a plodding decision does nothing to help this.
A decision, however, does not necessarily imply a negative overall outcome. If Ward and Dawson show a willingness to engage and take chances, a split decision, for instance, could be the ultimate testament to what might end up as a surprisingly thrilling fight. Of course, a decisive knockout or stoppage for either man immediately elevates them to number three on pound-for-pound lists.
While a stoppage would be surprising, it could also serve to help the winner ascend to a level of superstardom that has thus far proved elusive for both.
Another caveat is that only Ward’s titles are on the line. Thus, Ward technically has more to lose—at least in terms of hardware—but a victory against the physically imposing Dawson offers the luster of a big-game hunting type of challenge.
Martinez-Chavez Jr.: Should Martinez win this fight, the bout will have served as a means to right the wrong of Martinez being stripped of his WBC title. Furthermore, Martinez-Chavez Jr. takes on added significance as a fight where the Ring title is at stake. To think that Chavez Jr. is in position to become the undisputed middleweight champion seems borderline absurd, and that fact makes the stakes of this bout that much more intriguing.
For Martinez, defending his Ring title is imperative if he wants to keep the possibility of a mega-fight alive. While Martinez-Chavez Jr. will have a significant number of pay-per-view buys, Martinez seems to view having to face Chavez Jr. as a nuisance in the sense that Chavez Jr. has been granted undeserved opportunities. Thus, a Martinez loss not only ends his hope of a mega-fight, but it would also seriously damage his overall credibility. Martinez needs to win, and he must do so decisively.
Chavez Jr., while he might not have as much at stake given his career station, can gain a tremendous amount from this fight. Chavez Jr. is known for making exciting fights, and a competitive war, whether he wins or loses, would raise his stock in the eyes of many and enhance his credibility. Of course, a clear decision or stoppage win would catapult Chavez Jr. into legitimate superstardom, though a controversial victory could prove debilitating.
Advantage: Martinez-Chavez Jr. This is not to say that the potential outcomes of Ward-Dawson are insignificant. Rather, it is the dramatically diverse consequences from potential Martinez-Chavez Jr. outcomes that make the fight so compelling.
That said, the outcome of Ward-Dawson might have a more significant long-term effect on the sport, even if Martinez-Chavez Jr. carries the flashier immediate consequences.
Ward-Dawson: In many respects, Ward and Dawson are fighting for that aspect of transcendence that has thus far eluded them despite sustained excellence and championship success. Whether it has something to do with personality or in-ring appeal, Ward and Dawson have remained somewhat on the margins, even if their skills are universally recognized.
To put it bluntly, Ward and Dawson, at 28 and 30, respectively, are likely never to attain a level of marketability and popular appeal that will transcend boxing. Despite being classy and abundantly skilled, neither man has a conventionally thrilling style. While Ward does have a solid hometown fanbase in Oakland, Dawson has never fully caught on as a can’t-miss draw in Vegas or Atlantic City, and his only defeat came when he traveled to Montreal—because that’s where the money was—to fight Jean Pascal.
Ward-Dawson, however, is setting a different kind of precedent and could hopefully be the start of a positive trend in the sport where the best willingly fight the best. Given the long overdrawn saga of Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and Manny Pacquiao refusing to fight each other and idly watching as the relevance of their mega-fight expires, Ward-Dawson, especially if the fight proves to be exciting, could be a turning point—hopefully—in matchmaking, and it is for this reason that fans need to get behind this fight.
Martinez-Chavez Jr.: Martinez, in certain respects, finds himself in the same underappreciated boat as Ward and Dawson. Martinez has long clamored for a mega-fight, but his size, lack of crossover marketability and undeniable skills have become insurmountable obstacles for making fights against the likes of Floyd Mayweather Jr. or Manny Pacquiao.
While Martinez, at 37, won’t become a crossover star, a decisive victory over Chavez Jr. keeps the glimmer of a mega-fight alive.
On the other hand, Chavez Jr. has a chance to use Martinez’s respectability and name as a means to finally garner the credibility that has thus far proved elusive during a career that many feel has benefited from nepotism.
Chavez Jr. is insanely popular and has been a Pay-Per-View draw for some time. Considering he has done this with a largely insignificant title and several middling performances is nothing short of outstanding.
That said, Chavez Jr. has been steadily improving, and suddenly, the prospect of a fight against Martinez has become legitimately intriguing. At 26, Chavez Jr. is part of the next wave of boxing stars, and claiming a lineal championship will help his progression as a major draw similar to his Hall-of-Fame father.
Advantage: Ward-Dawson. This might surprise some, and while Chavez Jr. will certainly go down as the most marketable attraction of all four fighters discussed in this piece, all of the boxers will only ever be popular in the context of their sport. Thus, Ward-Dawson can transcend the fight itself by setting a precedent of prime champions deciding to make the best possible fights. Hopefully, it will be the start of a positive trend.
Ward-Dawson: This section follows closely on the heels of the previous two, especially given that the outcome—both the result and manner of victory—could have a significant effect on future mega-fights and the marketability of both men. Furthermore, the stakes of Ward-Dawson potentially impact two divisions, and the fight could encourage other tantalizing matchups.
Should Dawson win, he will become a simultaneous undisputed champion in adjacent weight classes. This type of accomplishment harks back to the great Henry Armstrong, and such a distinction could set Dawson up for big business.
Of course, much of this potential not only has to do with Dawson winning, but with him winning impressively. Should Dawson manage this, he will likely find himself in major pay-per-view bouts for some time, and it will also give him a slew of options for who to defend his titles against. While Dawson might never be a crossover star, he will set himself up for significant paydays.
Despite being an Olympic gold medalist, winner of the Super Six and the undisputed super middleweight champion, Ward hasn’t captured the public imagination the way some might have expected. Ward is classy, humble and the consummate champion, and the best way for him to ascend the scale of boxing marketability is to score an exciting stoppage in a major fight.
Against Dawson, Ward has the chance to do this, and if he does, he might very well extend his fanbase well beyond the Bay Area as he competes in major pay-per-view fights.
Martinez-Chavez Jr.: For Martinez, fighting Chavez Jr. promises to create solid pay-per-view revenue. Of course, much of this has to do with Chavez Jr.’s rabid following, but Martinez can take solace in the fact that he is viewed as the more accomplished and legitimate fighter.
More importantly, from Martinez’s standpoint, is that a victory over Chavez Jr. sustains the possibility of a future mega-fight and—hopefully—an even larger payday.
Chavez Jr., on the other hand, is already a significant draw, and this stands to continue whether he wins or loses. However, if Chavez Jr. intends to replicate his father’s success and popularity, winning a lineal title is essential. Defeating Martinez could launch Chavez Jr. to new levels of stardom, and a win also opens the door for major Pay-Per-View fights in the near future.
Advantage: Martinez-Chavez Jr. This seems obvious because their fight is a pay-per-view, but Chavez Jr. especially has a chance to use his fight against Martinez as a stepping-stone to become one of the sport’s top earners for the next decade.
Ward-Dawson: This is exactly the kind of fight boxing needs. Ward-Dawson combines in-ring intrigue with the seemingly lost notion of two prime champions fighting each other. This fight promises to surprise those who lament its likely outcome as dull and overly tactical, and it will likely feature hotly-contested rounds and moments of genuine excitement.
The fight has plenty of give and take: Ward is fighting at home and at his natural weight, whereas Dawson is moving down with a height and reach advantage.
There is very little separating these two fighters, but I expect Ward to win a competitive decision. As Ward and Dawson again settle into their respective divisions, expect a series of victories for both men to set up an eventual rematch—this time at light heavyweight.
Martinez-Chavez Jr.: The prospect of this fight, for the longest time, seemed like a recurring bad joke at an even worse dinner party. Now, Martinez-Chavez Jr. is one of the year’s most anticipated fights, and it will undoubtedly provide memorable action, as both fighters are willing to trade and can throw bombs.
Furthermore, a lineal title is at stake, and Martinez undoubtedly feels he never should have been stripped of the WBC title that Chavez Jr. now possesses. Thankfully, this matter of rightful ownership will be settled in the ring.
Martinez-Chavez Jr. should feature plenty of action and furious exchanges. While Chavez Jr. has improved, I expect Martinez to win a clear but competitive decision in a fight where both boxers could get rocked and stunned.
Chavez Jr. will acquit himself well, and a competitive loss will do nothing to damper his popularity; in fact, it might very well enhance his stock and credibility.
Overall Advantage: Ward-Dawson. What this ultimately comes down to is personal preference. Both fights are compelling, but the prospect of two elite, prime fighters boxing for a lineal title is almost too tantalizing. Both fights are must-sees, but Ward-Dawson has greater historical implications.