If the upcoming Andre Ward vs. Chad Dawson fight wasn’t already laced with intricate levels of intrigue, the recent report that Ward has now been bumped up to a 4:1 favorite in a fight many feel will be contested on level terms has certainly added last minute spice.
With rumours swirling that Edison Miranda knocked Chad Dawson out cold in sparring as speculated and reported by the likes of Steve Kim and Rick Glaser, Ward’s late bump in the odds could be based on conjecture (see the above link to our own Michael Walters’ article for all pertinent information on the Miranda-Dawson knockout hypothesis).
Regardless, despite the skills of both men, it was expected that Dawson (31-1, 17 KO) would be the underdog heading into this fight. While 4:1 odds seems steep, the unwillingness to back Dawson speaks more to how his mercurial performances have inspired more doubt than confidence in his undeniable skill set.
Fans and writers who have followed the respective careers of Ward (25-0, 13 KO) and Dawson understand that the fight will likely be far closer than the betting line suggests.
Of course, much of this depends on how motivated Dawson is for the fight, and the prospect of a fully engaged “Bad Chad” is why this fight has the potential to offer surprising excitement.
For a full breakdown of how Dawson and Ward stack up in essential categories like speed, power and ring generalship, amongst other things, check this piece out. But for now, given that Dawson is a live underdog, it is time to look at three tactical elements he must emphasize in order to upset Ward.
Fight Off the Front Foot
Dawson has a tendency to be passive, and this stasis was painfully evident in his upset loss to Jean Pascal in 2010. In that fight, Dawson allowed Pascal to dictate the tempo, and Dawson was thus consistently beaten to the punch and visibly hurt in Rounds 7 and 8.
Despite mounting a late rally before the fight went to the scorecards after being stopped due to cuts, Dawson simply let Pascal outwork him. Much of this had to do with Dawson passively watching the somewhat erratic Pascal dance in and out of danger while throwing quick combinations as he moved within range of Dawson.
Little purpose was evident when Dawson did stalk forward against Pascal, and if Dawson wants to upset Ward, he needs to avoid either being backed up or falling into aimless pursuit. Ward is a master of negotiating tight spaces on the inside, and he thrives when able to move in with lead hooks, which then allows him to tussle on the inside. In order to avoid this, Dawson must keep Ward off-balance by pushing him back.
If Dawson employs intelligent aggression and presses the action, he can prevent Ward from planting himself and launching those short bursts of combinations that inevitably end up with a sequence of in-fighting. By forcing Ward onto his back foot, Dawson will negate Ward’s already average power and make it more difficult for Ward to find the proper leverage to work his way inside.
Control Range With the Jab
This section follows from the previous one, as much of Dawson’s ability to fight off his front foot will depend on the effectiveness of his jab. Dawson, who holds a five-and-a-half inch reach advantage over Ward (76.5 to 71), as well as a general height advantage, has an ideal physical edge with which to deploy a lethal jab.
It is no secret that Ward is a master of fighting on the inside, and he has shown the ability to rough up seemingly stronger men in Sakio Bika and Allan Green. Furthermore, Ward has been able to showcase his array of skills—in-fighting, combination punching, slick movement and defense—against more talented foes like Mikkel Kessler, Arthur Abraham and Carl Froch.
Because of Ward’s adaptable style, Dawson’s jab will be his most effective weapon to dictate the tempo and geography of the fight. By employing a snapping, stiff jab, Dawson can keep Ward at range and prevent him from getting on the inside.
Range is especially crucial, and Dawson must maintain proper distance to make use of his longer reach and maximize his power. Furthermore, Dawson’s jab is also a logical tool to set up his combinations.
Crunching some numbers on Dawson’s jab statistics reveal that the number thrown per round fluctuates, though he can generally be counted on to throw over 20 per round.
For instance, against Adrian Diaconu, of Dawson’s 52 punches thrown per round, 29 were jabs. On the other hand, in the second Glen Johnson fight, Dawson threw 63 punches per round, of which an impressive 42 were jabs.
Much will depend on the pace of the fight, but Dawson should aim to at least throw in the neighborhood of 30 jabs per round if he expects to control the fight’s tempo.
Maintain a High Work Rate
According to an HBO CompuBox breakdown, Dawson has transitioned from a more aggressive combination puncher to, much like Ward, an economical and technical boxer. Naturally, an increase in Dawson’s level of opposition has much to do with this—he can no longer simply steamroll his opposition—but more disturbing might be Dawson’s trend of mirroring his opponent’s work rate, as described in the above-cited article:
That transition [to a more technical boxing style] has also unearthed a potentially fatal flaw: His offense mirrors that of his opponent. When that opponent revved up the offense, as did [Glen] Johnson, Dawson reacted accordingly. He answered Johnson's 69.1-per-round pace with 79 per round and in the rematch he averaged 63 to Johnson's 58.7. Against Diaconu, who threw 49.2, Johnson [sic] threw 51.7 and against Pascal, who averaged 40.2, Dawson threw 40.8.
But in both fights against Hopkins Dawson fell into "B-Hop's" slow-down trap. In fight one, Dawson -- who pledged to force a hard pace on the 46-year-old -- threw just 27.5 per round to Hopkins' 14.5. In the rematch, which he won convincingly, Dawson still threw 35.9 to Hopkins' 33.3.
This tendency could indeed prove costly against the highly accurate and crafty Ward. If Dawson falls into a trap of posturing and mirroring Ward, he is likely to get picked apart and bullied on the inside where a shorter punch range and awkward angles will negate Dawson’s sizable reach advantage.
Dawson needs to be somewhere closer to the 73 punches per round he threw in a 4-round lambasting of Epifanio Mendoza in 2007, though given the puzzle Ward presents, that number seems unlikely.
Still, Dawson must push the pace, and he could be in good shape if he is consistently averaging 10-15 more punches thrown per round than Ward.
A high work-rate could allow Dawson to negate Ward’s inside effectiveness and allow him to score from range. The great unknown in this fight is whether Dawson will step up and commit to being aggressive, but if he does, Dawson stands to gain a tremendous amount.