Credit Where Credit Is Due
By Dennis Bernstein, MBA
Photos: William Trillo

Las Vegas – You may not like Antonio Tarver but at the close of his rematch Saturday night against IBF/IBO heavyweight champion undefeated Chad Dawson, you have to give him his due. Despite being 40 years old and with his once superior skills gone, Tarver’s guile and cunning allowed him to go the distance twice against the top ranked fighter in the 175 pound weight class. Both fights ended with the younger man retaining his title, belts and undefeated record but Dawson failed to dominate either bout. Many boxing experts wondered aloud in the days leading up to the fight about the validity of a rematch; a clear cut Dawson victory the first time, no clamoring for a rematch and the champion’s continued insistence on not giving another shot to the man who gave him the toughest fight of his career, Glen “The Road Warrior” Johnson. Some of the impetus for the rematch came from influencers outside the ring, specifically the two major fight networks, HBO (they covered this one) and Showtime. Simply put, HBO got in the Dawson business and got out of the Jermain Taylor business in 2009; this was Chad’s introduction to the HBO audience while last month Taylor incurred another disappointing late round stoppage against Carl Froch on the rival network. With neither outlet seems interested in doing the most intriguing fight in the division, a Tomasz Adamek-Johnson match up and no one willing to put up the money to lure Bernard Hopkins back in the ring or Joe Calzaghe out of retirement, HBO went the conventional way and brought the talented and undefeated Dawson on board but hedged their bets by presenting the replay of the devastating Manny Pacquiao knockout of Ricky Hatton after the light heavyweight championship bout. 

Those who thought the fight would be a carbon copy of the first one weren’t far off course. As he did in the initial bout, Dawson piled up the points early on, winning five of the first six rounds on our unofficial scorecard. He was effective with both hands on the inside, easily avoided Tarver’s meager offense early on but while landing the higher percentage of blows, he didn’t hurt Tarver. The reality is that through 24 rounds of boxing, Dawson rarely hurt Tarver, a testament to the combination of old age and ring wisdom that Antonio possesses. In Round 7, the significant flaw in Dawson’s game that rears its head on more than one occasion came to the forefront again. When Chad takes off rounds, not only does he rests but his lack of movement often gets him in trouble; it happened in the Johnson fight and for two rounds, it breathed life into the Tarver ringside supporters at ringside. The challenger caught the champion with solid combinations in the middle of the ring and continued his effectiveness into round eight. But with 40 year old legs betraying him, Tarver was unable to the keep the pressure on and Dawson regained control of the late rounds to coast to his 28th victory in a row. Our card had Dawson ahead at the end of 12 rounds by a count of 116-113 (7 rounds to 4 with 1 even) while the ringside judges liked Dawson a sliver better; Patricia Jarman and Duane Ford scored it 117-111 while Alan Davis saw it 116-112.

While Dawson was smiling at the end, he clearly wasn’t pleased with his effort. “He got me off my game. It wasn’t my best performance but physically I felt fine. I don’t know, I’d have to watch the film with my trainer,” the champion conveyed with a tone of frustration and concern in his voice. “He took me into the deep water; it was a hell of a fight. I’m glad I got the rematch out of the way because now I can go on and get the fights I deserve,” the champion exclaimed afterwards. “Antonio was going to come into the fight in the best shape of his life because of his trainers, Jimmy Williams and Buddy McGirt. He got hit with some big shots with Chad and came back for more but I wasn’t surprised,” Dawson trainer Eddie Mustafa Muhammad related afterwards. Though he came out on the short end for the second time in a row and with his career likely at a close, if Tarver decides to stride into retirement, he has nothing to be ashamed of. He gave a better effort the second time around; he came in better shape at 172 pounds and would have beaten a lesser fight on this night. “I don’t feel like a loser tonight, we did everything we said we’d do expect win the fight. I fought 12 hard rounds, I let my hands go and when I do that I can fight with any fighter in the world. I proved that tonight and still have magic in my hands so I’m not calling it quits yet,” a gracious Tarver offered in the press conference. 

As for Dawson, though he wants more lucrative fights there are few options for him in the near future. A natural 175 pounder, there’s no move up to heavyweight and there’s no Calzaghe or Hopkins luring pay per view or network interests. So a talented, good looking and family oriented athlete stands at the top of his weight class with little options. There’s chatter that Dawson could drop to 168 and his camp gave more credence to it with their comments. “I don’t believe that Bernard Hopkins will ever fight Dawson. We could go down to 168 to fight Mikkel Kessler or (the aforementioned) Taylor, Chad would have no problem going down to 168. Hopkins says that we’re not speaking the same language but that’s not true, we’ve never spoken and we’re not fighting Hopkins for $ 1.2 million,” as Dawson promoter Gary Shaw closed the show the competitive landscape.