For both Andre Ward and Chad Dawson, simply winning won’t be enough.
In a rare matchup between lineal champions in adjacent weight classes—Ward (25-0, 13 KO) reigns at super middleweight, while Dawson (31-1, 17 KO) is light-heavyweight king—opinions have been split between praising both men for signing to fight each other and grumbling about the potential boredom of the actual bout.
Ward-Dawson is certainly a refreshing idea—two prime champions agreeing to fight each other without hysterical negotiations seems the product of a bygone era. For that the bout should be celebrated and lauded as a precedent boxing must continue to follow if it wants to cling to whatever shred of relevance it maintains and hopes to rebuild itself.
Reservations about Ward-Dawson, however, are also understandable.
Until Dawson proclaimed he wanted the Ward fight during his post-fight interview after his victory over Bernard Hopkins, no one had put much stock in the two men fighting because of their respective styles. While both Ward and Dawson are pound-for-pound-quality boxers, their technical and malleable styles have never endeared them to fans.
Of course, it is fair to speculate that boxing fans should have a greater appreciation for fighters who employ a more intellectual style as Ward and Dawson do, but the fact remains that the allure of the knockout will tantalize even those who are drawn to the subtlest in-ring craftsmen.
Along these lines, one of the most intriguing aspects of Ward-Dawson is who stands to gain more from winning, and more importantly, winning impressively.
Andre Ward, despite being the last American to win an Olympic gold medal, has never had the preordained following that ushers most hyped U.S. amateurs into the pro ranks. One of the reasons boxing thrived through much of the 20th century was that the United States has an unparalleled ability to anoint and promote its desired stars.
Ward, however, has never really caught on.
Despite winning the wildly competitive Super Six World Boxing Classic to claim the WBA, WBC and Ring super-middleweight titles, Ward has not developed into a pay-per-view attraction, and he oddly remains a sort of regional fighter, with his following concentrated in Oakland and the Bay Area.
It is a shame that Ward has not captured the public imagination. As a humble, well-spoken individual with sublime boxing skills, Ward, it would seem, is the ideal candidate to succeed the Mayweather/Pacquiao era.
But while Ward has done something neither Mayweather or Pacquiao seem willing to do (fight their best contemporary), he is relegated to fighting off pay-per-view in an incredibly dangerous bout.
By fighting at super middleweight and in his hometown of Oakland, Ward holds two distinct logistical advantages over Dawson. Some will point to the fact that Dawson enters the fight with a significant height and reach advantage over Ward, which could ultimately be equalizing factors, but Ward’s recent form and level of opposition make him the clear, albeit slim, favorite.
As an underdog with an even less significant fanbase than Ward, it is, strangely, Chad Dawson who stands to gain more from an impressive win this Saturday.
Dawson’s sometimes-lackadaisical appearances in the ring are only frustratingly eclipsed by his petulant demeanor outside the squared circle, though one could argue that these two conceptions of his character have been exaggerated. Either way, Dawson stands to gain more from the standpoint that for someone with such an abundance of skills, he is about as low and ignored as a fighter can get.
In many ways, this seems unfair, but uninspired performances against the likes of Jean Pascal and Adrian Diaconu, as well as mostly underwhelming wins over Glen Johnson, Antonio Tarver and Bernard Hopkins have left mainstream fans largely disinterested in what Dawson has to offer.
At 30, this might seem like a death sentence for Dawson, but now, with Ward in his cross hairs, he has been presented with the ultimate platform for redemption.
The caveat? Dawson must win by knockout or thrilling decision. Nothing less will do.
The same could be said for Ward, but an exciting Dawson victory would encompass two intriguing elements: A win in a hostile environment, and the distinction as lineal champion in two weight classes simultaneously.
In an era where alphabet titles have become meaningless, holding the lineal championship still means something. As lineal super-middleweight and light-heavyweight champion, Dawson would be given twice as many options with which to carve out his own destiny. Furthermore, it would give Dawson greater negotiation leverage when dictating the terms of his future fights.
Dawson, of course, lost a mildly controversial decision to Jean Pascal in Montreal in a fight in which, had Dawson simply applied himself earlier, he could very well have won. The Pascal fight could have been a chance for Dawson to prove his resolve and mettle, but instead it only magnified his intangible shortcomings.
Beating Ward in Oakland would go a long way towards erasing this.
If Ward-Dawson ends up being an exciting fight—regardless of the outcome—boxing wins. However, while Andre Ward certainly stands to gain from a victory, Chad Dawson is in a unique position to rapidly fulfill much of his promise. Whether he chooses to embrace the moment in a battle of under-appreciated and mercurial boxing geniuses is up to him.