Last night in Montreal, Chad Dawson found himself in the ring for the first time as a professional facing a man younger than he was. Sure, his one-year age "disadvantage" against Jean Pascal isn't a big deal in itself, and it's not like Dawson has made a career of feasting on the bones of withering old men, but in his last four bouts, he'd been not just younger, but much younger. In those fights, he twice faced both Antonio Tarver, who was very faded, and Glen Johnson, older than Tarver but with more in the tank. The first time they met, Dawson was tested by Johnson. The rematch was a different story.
Those fights, along with a win over Tomasz Adamek, the retirement of Joe Calzaghe, and the aging of Bernard Hopkins, vaulted Dawson to the universal top spot in the light heavyweight rankings. But last night, his undefeated record vanished and the cracks in his armor were exploited by a hungry, energetic Jean Pascal, who beat Dawson fairly convincingly in a very good fight that ended on an accidental headbutt just as the fight might have been turning in his favor.
And because he lost, we might now see what Chad Dawson can really be as a fighter. No doubt, his performance last night deserves some criticism, and I'm sure he'll agree. He credited Pascal with fighting a good fight. He said he wants an immediate rematch. If the headbutt hadn't happened, opening a blood-gushing cut on Dawson's eyelid that forced a stoppage in the 11th round, a surging, awoken beast version of Dawson might well have been able to stop Pascal himself, which would have been a great story, and tipped the fight into Fight of the Year contender status, perhaps.
The loss could work one of two ways, in theory. It could be the thing that eats at Chad and lessens him as a fighter, but that's not what I expect. He clearly felt he was trailing on the scorecards starting the 11th round, and went on a blistering attack, wobbling Pascal badly with a beautiful counter left hand that banged the Quebec transplant dead on the chin. That Pascal didn't go down from that shot says something about how tough Pascal is. That he was withstanding a big charge by Dawson was also admirable, and he was fighting back. But Dawson, for the first time all night, had fire in his belly and was going for the gusto. If he was going to lose, he was going to lose throwing everything he had at Pascal.
That tells me that Chad Dawson is going to come back from this loss with a renewed hunger. We've all seen fighters get dreadfully attached to the "0" on their record, to the point where they will avoid tough fights and almost clutch onto the number for dear life. Risks stop being taken by these fighters.
Now, Chad Dawson has no reason to not take the tough fights, and his desire to go right back at Pascal speaks volumes, too. Dawson has always seemed to be a laid-back guy. He's not a big talker, doesn't try to draw attention to himself. He's always been content to let his appreciable skill do the talking for him. He has a rival now, a man to chase down, a loss to avenge. I don't want to say he did it easily or didn't deserve his standing, but he sort of backed into the role of world's best light heavyweight. To get that status back, he'll have to go out and take it.
With the way he came out guns blazing in the 11th round, I expect Chad Dawson to come back strong, intending to prove that he really is the best 175-pound fighter in the game today. No fighter wants to lose, of course, but in the long run, this could make Dawson a better, more well-rounded fighter. When you fight top opponents, sometimes you lose. Chad Dawson is still in the race, though Pascal has taken the lead with a great performance that cements him as one of the best in the world, something you probably couldn't have convinced many fans would ever happen just a couple of years ago.
So while Jean Pascal deserves all congratulations and respect for the best fight of his still-rising career, don't count out Chad Dawson. Not all losses are created equal. This was certainly a loss he has reason to regret, but not one that should make him feel ashamed. It's a reminder that life on top in boxing can be fleeting. One day you're the king, the next day you're looking up at someone else. Dawson should be as hungry now as he was before he fought and beat Adamek in 2007. And if he corrects the mistakes he made last night, he's going to find himself back on top before long.