The genius of Andre Ward (26-0, 14 KO) was on full display at the Oracle Arena in Oakland on Saturday as the undisputed super middleweight champion dismantled his seemingly strongest opponent to day in lineal light heavyweight king Chad Dawson (31-2, 17 KO).
While much will be said about Ward’s virtuoso performance and prospects moving forward, the more immediate question surrounds the intrigue of how Dawson will rebuild himself after suffering such a clinical stoppage. As the afterglow of Ward’s victory lingers, it is easy to forget that Dawson is still the Ring and WBC light heavyweight champion, with eager and legitimate challengers awaiting his return to 175 pounds.
Before Ward and Dawson actually stepped into the ring, much of the praise surrounding this fight was centered on the fact that two prime, lineal champions were agreeing to fight each other without the histrionics that surround so many major negotiations and subsequent fight promotions. While some might say Dawson should take a soft touch to rebuild his confidence, his status as an undisputed champion suggests otherwise.
Yes, Dawson was knocked down three times and could muster little offense in his 10th-round TKO loss to Ward, but in order to attain immediate redemption, there is one man Dawson can face who presents a passable but stiff test for his comeback fight: Jean Pascal (26-2-1, 16 KO).
Pascal, obviously, was the first man to defeat Dawson when the Montreal-based fighter won via technical decision in a hometown fight. For much of that bout, Dawson appeared lethargic and unwilling to initiate any offense, which allowed the skilled but somewhat erratic Pascal to build up a lead through effective aggression. Pascal even rocked Dawson in rounds seven and eight, and the fight, which could have been Dawson’s coming-out party, appeared to be a dud.
However, in rounds 10 and 11, Dawson woke up. He began to put his punches together and badly hurt Pascal on multiple occasions. Whether Dawson would have stopped Pascal is debatable, but it was clear that momentum had shifted and that Dawson would have stood a chance to score a knockout had the fight not been stopped due to a Dawson cut.
Despite the loss, Dawson clearly claiming the fight’s momentum down the home stretch bodes well for his confidence in a rematch with Pascal. Considering how Ward dominated him, Dawson will ideally want to return against an opponent over whom he feels he possesses a psychological advantage, and though he lost to Pascal, Dawson certainly feels he’s the better fighter.
Whether he would admit it or not, Dawson’s pride and confidence were certainly wounded after being trounced by Ward, so going into a world-class fight against Pascal with tremendous assurance is key for a comeback fight. At his natural weight, Dawson still possesses the undeniable skill that made him a pound-for-pound entry on most credible lists, meaning that his mental state is the first factor to consider when plotting his next move.
Pascal’s inactivity is another factor working in Dawson’s favor when it comes to making this fight. Having last fought all the way back in May 2011, Pascal has been inactive for well over a year, and his past two fights have been grueling encounters with Bernard Hopkins.
In their first fight, Pascal escaped with his lineal title via controversial majority draw in Quebec City, a result that Hopkins rectified in the immediate rematch held in Montreal five months later. While the second fight was competitive, Hopkins won a deserved unanimous decision and further exposed Pascal’s propensity to fade in the championship rounds.
This all bodes well for Dawson, who, before the Ward fight, had defeated Hopkins via lopsided unanimous decision (despite Luis Rivera’s 114-114 scorecard). While Hopkins was able to get the better of Pascal and sustain a more consistent work rate, Dawson comprehensively outboxed “The Executioner.”
According to CompuBox, in his second fight against Hopkins, Dawson only connected on 13 of 36 punches thrown per round, yet he did hold Hopkins to an ineffective 9 of 33. While Dawson experienced a 24 percent dropoff in punches landed and a 27 percent decrease in punches thrown as compared to his previous 10 fights at light heavyweight, he did demonstrate the ability to adapt to Hopkins’ style.
Pascal is undoubtedly a skilled, elite fighter, but Dawson has shown more versatility in his career (the defeat to Ward aside), and with Pascal’s long layoff, Dawson might be able to catch him at the right moment. Avenging his first pro defeat would provide personal satisfaction for Dawson, as well as an emphatic reassertion of his position at the top of the light heavyweight division.