Enthusiasm, as defined by Voltaire in his “Philosophical Dictionary” is a “disturbance of the entrails, internal agitation.” Working with this definition, it is reasonable to say that the super middleweight fight between Andre Ward and Chad Dawson indeed generated a great deal of enthusiasm. The fight, staged at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, California, pitted arguably the two best fighters in the world between 168 and 175 pounds against each other. For some, enthusiasm came in the form of anticipation of this “Best versus Best” affair—a seemingly mythical occurrence in boxing, a pugilistic Sasquatch sighting. Others found themselves plunked at the other end of the spectrum, their entrails disturbed by the potential for viewing drudgery. What transpired over the course of the fight, a 10th-round TKO victory for Ward, was something resembling the mean.
The fight began auspiciously for Dawson, now 31-2 (17): he was able to take center ring—crucial geography against the mugging Ward—and fire lead left hands from his southpaw stance. Aesthetically too, there was cause for optimism, as the fight was being fought at a distance, with Ward unable to handcuff and molest his opponent, and Dawson exhibiting, for him, rare punching productivity.
In the third round, Ward, 26-0 (14KO), began establishing his jab, a lynchpin for the rest of his arsenal, and the harbinger of Dawson’s undoing. Ward committed to his jab by stepping with it, and he also used it to set up the left hook. That left hook would catch Dawson clean on the point of his chin in the third round, sending the New Haven fighter to his knee. Dawson rose on wobbly pins, and to his credit, he fired back with a rare flash of indignation; but the contest was ostensibly over. Ward, 26-0 (14), had solved Dawson rather easily, and Dawson never regained any semblance of his pre-knockdown snarl.
Dawson was reacquainted with the canvas in the fourth round, sent there by a crisp Ward left hook. Dawson beat the count, fanning the now smoldering embers of his resolve. The New Haven fighter again tried to get back in the fight, but with less fervor and less effect. A nice counter uppercut from Dawson elicited only a malevolent grin from Ward, who, having assayed the venom in Dawson’s fists, knew he could set about his opponent immune to his toxin.
Ward sprinkled in punishing body shots in the sixth round, finding his physically depleted and technically outgunned foe easy to tag. Rather than clinch in close, Ward turned his torso to establish space and ripped off vicious punches, sparing the audience while showing Dawson no quarter. It would be disingenuous to say that the fight was exciting thus far, but it was a lack of competition, not an excess of holding and dirty tactics, that hindered excitement. Ward was simply beating the stuffing out of Dawson, who was unable to adapt or adjust and wore a mask of helpless resignation. While viewers were encouraged to recall Dawson’s late surge against Jean Pascal—which saw him hurt Pascal badly before being retired by a cut—such conjecture was pointless. Pascal has nothing on Ward.
The protracted assault ended in the tenth round, a round that saw Jim Lampley employ his best linguistic legerdemain in trying to make a thrashing exciting. A sequence of well-placed left hooks and right hands buckled Dawson and then downed him for a third time. Dawson made it to his feet but told referee Steve Smoger, “I’m done,” at which point Smoger waved the contest off at 2:45 of the tenth round.
One wonders whether there isn’t a touch of the metaphysical in Dawson’s utterance, if a fighter who has never seemed fully comfortable in his vocation hasn’t been irreparably discouraged. Conversely, Ward, Oakland, California, and his supporters had to be encouraged by his performance. There are asterisks certainly (the effects of Dawson’s coming down a division being one), but Ward again proved what has been apparent for some time: it will take a special fighter to hang a defeat on him.
Given the headbutts and holding inherent in Ward’s approach, and the frustrating languor typifying much of Dawson’s career, Dr. Pangloss might offer a smug smile at those decrying the fight as an inevitable mess. It is perhaps the “best of all possible worlds” when Ward-Dawson is surprisingly violent, when enthusiasm, a disturbance of entrails, an internal agitation, is preserved.