by Paul Magno
First, before I begin, a distinction has to be made between “boxing” and “fighting.”
The latter is about busting heads, bleeding and the overt testosterone of two men throwing down. The former is about skill, precision and the dedication of mastering a true craft.
“Fighting” is about weathering a violent storm and digging deep down inside over the full 8, 10 or 12 rounds…”Boxing” is about digging deep down inside and pushing yourself to the limits when nobody else is watching; it’s about showing up at the gym early and often. It’s also about mastering the instinct to fight in favor of a greater, more effective, but much more difficult skill.
It seems that these days, there are fewer and fewer fans who actually appreciate the art of the sport. They will boo contests that don’t feature wild swings and porous defense and they are more than eager to label any real stylist as “boring.” Even on boxing message boards, ostensibly aimed directly at hardcore fans, most of the true craftsmen of the sport get stepped on or flat-out ignored. Again, “boring” is the term they use.
Stuck with this label and stigma is the current top dog in the Light Heavyweight division, Chad Dawson.
While every expert has Dawson in their top 10 pound-for-pound lists and everybody in the sport recognizes his tremendous skill, fans have avoided him like the plague. His fights draw poor numbers and, outside of the dwindling number of hardcore boxing fans, there’s little buzz about this tremendous talent.
It’s not because Dawson isn’t fighting quality opposition. He holds two wins over both Antonio Tarver and Glen Hohnson. He’s also beaten quality fighters like Tomasz Adamek and Eric Harding. And this Saturday night, he takes on tough Jean Pascal in Pascal’s home town. So, no, it’s not about resume at all. The reason for this apathy is purely based on style.
Dawson is not a banger, not a brawler and certainly not someone who will take three shots in order to land one. But for those of us who appreciate the beauty of a well-schooled fighter, Dawson is a joy to watch.
Like a motion picture with a supremely well-written script, but no special effects budget, Dawson makes you think and makes you pay attention to the actual skill of his chosen profession. The Chris Arreolas of the sport are like the big budget blockbusters. Easy to understand, easy to market, but ultimately devoid of any real meaning. Explosions are fun, but so is the perfect execution of an infinitely difficult craft.
Unfortunately, in this age of micro-attention spans, anything without an explosion will have trouble selling. This is a sad fact and has already forced some boxers to alter their styles in the hope of attracting a larger fan base.
Paul Williams comes to mind as someone who had a good level of success, but has altered his ring style to become more “fan friendly.” As a result, he’s less of a fighter now and absorbs much more punishment than at earlier stages of his career. Williams could’ve honed his craft and developed into a supremely accomplished technical boxer and, because of his size and reach, nearly unbeatable. Instead, he’s adopted to what the fans want because, essentially, he wants to make some money. He’s still a top pound-for-pound fighter, but he’s not living up to his potential.
The drive to add more brawl to boxing comes from many factors, but one of the biggest is the influence of the UFC on the younger audience.
There is no science or craft to a stand-up UFC brawl, it’s only two guys throwing wild shots and pretty much catching each shot flush on the face. The brawls, not surprisingly, are the most popular aspects of the UFC’s bouts and the ones that get added to their highlight reels.
Frankly, the UFC influence has “dumbed down” expectations when it comes to prize fights, at least when it comes to the stand-up game.
Boxing is all stand-up and younger fight fans tuning into the sport are accustomed to seeing blood-soaked bursts of brawling, lasting no more than 15-30 seconds at a time, not a sustained chess match being executed over thirty six grueling minutes. Of course, these fans will be disappointed by some of the finer technical boxers. They’ve never been educated to the sport of boxing. Instead, they’ve been pandered to.
But regardless of the source of the diminishing market for technically brilliant boxers, the fact is that very few fans truly appreciate the skill involved in fighting anymore.
Defensive geniuses like Pernell Whitaker and Willie Pep would be booed out of the building if they fought in this day and age.
All of this is too bad for Chad Dawson…his talent would’ve been truly appreciated in any other era than the one he currently fights in.