Tuesday, May 12, 2009

And Then There Were None

Forgive my tardiness, but I was still trying to come to grips with the phantasm of last week, it seemed to linger longer because it was so short, so definitive and exact and rote. The meanings and readings of the impact more difficult and fixed, like the atom bomb versus the before the flood.

But that’s for later (including tomorrow, when we’ll have our first guest post!), when I plan to do a more precise blow by blow of the destruction, and a look ahead to the possibilities; the elements of combustion deserve both respect and distance, and the left that Pacquiao landed had to cloud the mind of anyone who saw it to an extent that it’s worthwhile to clear the air.

And that happened on Saturday, with an event as somber and emotionless as last week was outsized and apocalyptic. Nobody was particularly interested in watching Chad Dawson and Antonio Tarver fight the first time, and in the interest of full disclosure I didn’t watch the fight live, nor all the way through when I finally did. It was boring and uninspiring, and the only reason this fight even happened was the rematch clause Tarver invoked, one that he probably wouldn’t have if there were any other choice.

And the fight went roughly as expected, a virtual mirror of the first, with perhaps a few more moments by Tarver and conversely more vulnerabilities by Dawson. It was no surprise, and the only reason this fight happened on HBO is they are looking for a new hope, an American to follow in the middleweight to Light heavyweight divisions now that we know Jermain Taylor isn’t the one, Hopkins is too old and hard to deal with, and Kelly Pavlik doesn’t seem interested in fighting anyone of note following his rude education.

We’ll see what happens with Dawson. He has the fast hands, excellent technique, and left-handed rigmarole that seem to mark him not just as a belt-holder, but maybe someday a real champion. So now Dawson is the future, the new order they tell us, and they very well might be right. Two clear wins over Tarver, Thomas Adamek, and a debatable but formative decision over Glen Johnson are excellent for a fighter still coming into his own. Very few can match those accomplishments, and they should be appreciated and recognized, but for me there is something missing, and not just fans and excitement as HBO announcer Max Kellerman tries to tell us.

I think he’s missing the stakes. He seems to treat boxing like a sport or a game, and I feel that will always come back to haunt you. And by that I don’t mean only that he lacks killer instinct, though that’s part of it, but he also seems to lack disdain, repugnance for his opponent, and joy in the task at hand. Floyd Mayweather lacks killer instinct, but he rightly looks at boxing as an exercise in dominion. I don’t see it in Dawson yet, more the gentleman boxer role left open by the departure of (forgive the racializing, I mean for that to come later) Jermain Taylor. Perhaps I’m unfairly marking his bland personality on his fighting style, but I believe that, as in most cases, they are the same.

Some people are agitating for him to take on Bernard Hopkins next, and while I think it would be a waste for Hopkins; both too dangerous and too much of a non-event for a fighter who should only go for cash and glory at this point, I wonder if it might not be what Dawson needs. In many ways I feel Hopkins ended the possibilities for both Taylor and Pavlik, or at least limited and made clear what they are. Hopkins is the exact opposite of how I described Dawson; marginal physical tools mixed with all stakes, with all purpose and meaning and dominion and dark will. A fighting (forgive the dorkiness) gom jabbar; after that we’d know if Dawson was the new king. It won’t happen, I hope not, but if it did I think Dawson would finally receive an education in what it is to be a prizefighter.

But now I’ve nattered on for too long, and won’t give the person I meant to write about the respect he deserves. They say old politicians and prostitutes eventually become respectable, and I feel the same about old boxers. I’ve never particularly liked Antonio Tarver, like Dawson I felt he didn’t really take it all that personal, like he was playing a role in the ring. The only time it seemed serious was against Roy Jones, his white whale, whom he finally, after years at sea, harpooned through the chest with a blind left hand in the second round of their second fight.

And maybe that was part of my dissatisfaction with him. He wasn’t big enough to bring down the ring legend, he felt like an accidental hero. Roy Jones wasn’t supposed to lose to the likes of Tarver, he didn’t seem the man for the job. He lost the first fight against Roy by sheer caution, it was his to win and he let it go. Tarver had been hunting him for years, but when he had him, alone and vulnerable, he didn’t get his man. It took that second fight for him to step into his future, and after we’d seen Roy so weak and vulnerable in the first match it seemed to lack the impact and was more depressing than inspiring.

There was also his personality. A whinging, parodic yearning for respect that he seemed to feel was owed rather than bought in the ring. While brash black fighters are invariably my favorites: James Toney, Bernard Hopkins, Floyd Mayweather: Tarver’s clownish stretching of the role seemed insulting. It was an expanded, cartoonish act that descended to vaudevillian parody, so silly that he actually had to tone it down when he played Rocky’s opponent in the last movie. Like the Chappelle Show skit about racial pixies that led to his resignation, Tarver’s outsized humorless routine was more disturbing than entertaining.

But like all those who work for their pay age and loss leads to respectability. I couldn’t help but root for him Saturday night as he tried his best to figure out a way to beat the faster man. Tarver was always limited and cautious, slow but powerful. He used to have a move where he would tap with punches at one speed and then explode with a hard fast one. He still did it on Saturday, but the two levels he had were painfully slow and just slow. But there was determination and serious mindedness, as though at the last he finally realized it meant something.

It ultimately did mean something for him, and for me, and somber defeat can wipe clean many ungracious victories. I won’t think of him that often. Tarver ultimately wasn’t the right man for the task appointed him, the legend killer, but in the end he was a man, and that’s more than most can say.


Anthony Wilson said...

You say Floyd lacks the killer instinct. I have heard that before, but not sure if I agree. When he had Hatton hurt, he finished him. I think when he has an opponent in that position, he goes for it - Hatton, Gatti, Ndou...he seemed content to just go the distance with Baldomir, but in his defense he never had him down. I'll give you Corrales, he was just whooping his ass, but didn't really press it. But overall...I mean I don't know, obviously I defer to you, I just hope you'll elaborate after reading my comment, that sentence caught my attention. I do know that Floyd has tender hands, and people have said that is a reason he doesn't really go for knockouts.

shoefly said...

Maybe instead of killer instinct I should have said he's not a destroyer. There's nothing wrong with that, most of my favorite fighters; Floyd, Hopkins, Toney are not destroyers, and I enjoy displays of mastery. I enjoyed Floyd/Baldomir tremendously and thought it was one of his finest performances.

The thing with Floyd and Hopkins is they are calculating in a way to get the greatest returns with the least amount of risk. They are ring scientists, and obviously much of it depends on their physical gifts as much as their mentalities.

In Floyd's case I think people are a little unfair as he's been facing bigger guys and he could put guys down in the small classes, but even in the fights you reference; Hatton, Gatti, and Ndou; Floyd never really pushed for the knockout, he just steadily exercised his mastery to the point that it was a riskless task to go for the finish. In the Judah fight, as another example, he pulled back when he had it in his hands, though that was largely a result of the blatant low blow (I'm convinced he would have gotten his KO otherwise.)

Still, my point is I think Floyd could have stopped Hatton much earlier, and could have scored a much less unambiguous victory over De La Hoya if he'd had a different mindset. That doesn't reflect negatively, and I found his displays almost as impressive as Pacquiao's it just marks a philosophically different approach. Floyd is almost cruel whereas a guy like, Pac, is much less subtle.

The point I was trying to make is I fear Dawson is neither.

Admiral Jameson Sax said...

The fight couldn't have been much more boring. In fact, Dawson seemed to admit as much in his post-fight interview. Or maybe, through Kellerman's line of questioning, it dawned on Bad Chad that the fight was a dud.