Hartford, Connecticut, has played host to only a handful of fights over the last few years–a far cry from its heyday in the 1940s when weekly cards were the norm–but the XL Center on Asylum Street will be rocking tonight when Chad Dawson and Glen Johnson face off in a rematch of their thrilling 2008 melee.
Johnson, who will turn 41 in January, is coming off of a near-shutout over Daniel Judah last February in a workmanlike performance against a fighter more interested in spoiling than winning. Meanwhile, Dawson, 27, has seen his stock erode after two dull bouts with creaky Antonio Tarver failed to spark the interest of anyone outside of the Peace Brigades International. Incredibly, Dawson and Johnson drew fewer than 3,000 fans combined for their two fandangos.
Eighteen months ago Dawson scored a unanimous decision over Johnson in a bruising fight some observers thought was closer than the scorecards of 116-112 across the board. For the majority of the early rounds Dawson seemed to outwork Johnson, scoring points with flashy combinations out of his southpaw style. Every now and then Johnson would break through and stagger Dawson—-as he did in the third and fifth rounds—but Dawson would retaliate quickly. Little by little, however, Johnson began to chip away at Dawson, and it looked like his unrelenting style would pay off as the fight developed. In the 10th round Dawson appeared to be on the verge of collapsing after being staggered by a thunderous right hand, but he showed heart and guile in surviving until the bell. The two fighters traded hellacious combinations over the final six minutes with Johnson seemingly getting the best of the exchanges. The decision was met with a storm of boos.
Can Johnson, with more than sixty professional fights over the span of 16 years, summon up one last gasp and topple Dawson from his lofty perch as HBO beneficiary and mythical “P-4-P” entrant? At 40, the most likely answer is no. But Johnson is not only not your typical fortysomething, he is also not your typical boxer, period. Johnson, 49-12-2 (33), is a professional prizefighter to his marrow, one to be differentiated from the HBO entitlement recipients, overhyped fly-by-night prospects, and the slew of “great” fighters whose crowns have been anointed after two or three victories over one stumblebum after another. With all the setbacks and shenanigans he has suffered over the years, Johnson has never trained any less diligently or offered less than 100 percent while in the ring.
Needless to say, it will probably take a knockout for Johnson to win. Not only is Dawson, 28-0 (17), the HBO darling fighting on home turf, but Johnson has been the favored whipping post of a cruel and unusual Star Chamber of boxing judges from Germany to Philadelphia to London. Johnson, Miami, Florida via Jamaica, knows he can hurt Dawson, but will Dawson give him the opportunity to do so again this time around or will he play it a little safer and try to outbox Johnson and minimize exchanges? If he does, Johnson will have to work twice as hard as he did the last time to catch Dawson. With faster hands, superior footwork, and a troublesome southpaw style, Dawson, New Haven, Connecticut, has the clear edge in skills. Above all, he is—for the fourth bout in a row—the younger man by 13 years. There is always the chance that someone as resilient and as hardworking as Johnson can upset the dope, but he is going to have to overcome an awful lot tonight to do so. It might be too much for him to surmount at this stage of his career.
Look for Dawson to brawl less, box more, and score a close unanimous decision over Johnson, who, as always, will try as hard as he can to bring the pain.