Jim Lampley tried to reclassify him as "a rhythm fighter" during the prelude to sixty seconds of brief but violent action at the Bell Centre, Montreal, on Saturday night, yet Chad Dawson has always been professional boxing's most obvious modernist. With his starched gait, mechanical voice and angular jab betraying origins in cubism, Dawson's career has been built on a resolution to take boxing the high-brow route, fighting in a style constructed decidedly in the abstract that insists there is value not only in the violence of the punch but also in the suggestion of the gesture. If the act of one man hitting another betrays something darkly human in both participant and spectator, Dawson has long approached an anti-intellect pursuit as though his talents pertain to something much more intellectual and far less human.
Indeed, his tedious style has long been excused by apologists keen to propagate the myth that twelve-round feinting contests are not the insipid, soporific bores they might seem on first viewing, while his dry arsenal is likewise often exhorted not as the mundane set of lateral movements and reticent jabs it so appears, but rather as the minimalist's palette, stripped away of excess and defiantly self-sufficient. Yet besides one anomalous dance with Glen Johnson that was later corrected in their sterile second jig, Dawson's career has been one long, distinctly modern rejection of the fundamental principles upon which prizefighting is based.
To the notion that one must sell tickets to be valuable, Dawson laughs. To the idea that one must be exciting to appear on TV, he scoffs. Dawson, after all, is boxing's own modernist interloper, come to teach us how not to be us any more, insistent that intrigue and inaction are not mutually exclusive.
Yet having most recently partnered Dawson with the sport's two other arch-minimalists in Andre Ward and Bernard Hopkins - producing, in the latter pairing's two fights, a set of excruciating encounters that, when first aired on PPV, drew negligible viewers - HBO, Dawson's paymaster-general, resolved to take another, more traditional route. The contest with Ward featured three knockdowns in nine one-sided rounds but somehow still contrived to excise periods of sustained action, while the fourteen rounds shared between Dawson and Hopkins provided debates more metaphysical than physical in their rigour. Yet here, HBO turned away from the modernist and returned, instead, to that great humanist himself, the unapologetic maximalist that is the puncher.
In Adonis Stevenson, Dawson was greeted with an opponent far less taciturn and far more gauche than his previous dance-partners: an opponent with such shameless assurance in the power of his fists that he cocks his left like a gun and employs his right as a ram to position his targets. One of the final products of Emanuel Steward's legendary training and suitably adorned in the famous Kronk colours, the 35-year-old Stevenson had turned professional at the advanced age of 29 after a two year spell in prison for the pimping and assault of underage girls.
Having been knocked out by Darnell Boone in April 2010, Stevenson returned with eight consecutive stoppages - including victories over Aaron Pryor Jr and Don George, before avenging his defeat to Boone in March of this year - that were frequently of the most violent variety. A mandatory fight with the winner of Carl Froch's fight with Mikkel Kessler would have greeted Stevenson had he resolved to wait for the outcome of their recent encounter, but the Haitian-born Canadian determined to accept a bout with the returning Dawson, providing HBO with a suitable maximalist to meet its minimalist.
Of course, though, this being a fight between two men with the potential to compete at super-middleweight, HBO had already positioned Andre Ward as a third fighter in the contest before proceedings had even begun. Ward, after all, is the third fighter in every bout taking place between middleweight and light heavyweight featured on HBO, perpetually beating, moreover, would-be foes in absentia. Positioned in the commentary booth next to Lampley and Kellerman, as in the recent Froch-Kessler fight, HBO's team were so ready to sing Ward's song that Kellerman mistakenly said his name when introducing Dawson's entrance, while Lampley immediately dismissed Stevenson's chances against his broadcast colleague after the fight.
Ludwig Wittgenstein noted in 1953 how the theory that "a thing is identical with itself" is a "useless proposition" - and HBO spent the course of this particularly short evening largely corroborating that statement. Things, as spoken by HBO's commentary team, rarely correlate with their represented realities: Dawson is not Ward; Stevenson, no "young hungry fighter", as Ward pronounced him; Dawson's legs were not the sure foundations the Oakland native suggested immediately before his brain was short-circuited; while the star that HBO has determined to construct in Ward is a fallacy.
Jim Lampley, though, stumbled onto one self-evident truism in the course of the night. It came shortly after Stevenson had uncorked that poised left hand and collapsed Dawson's legs beneath him. "Power is power," pronounced the commentator - and Stevenson's brutal termination of Dawson's evening stood as a veridical testament.
The warning signs, for Dawson, had been there as early as the first ten seconds. While Stevenson's emergence from his corner immediately revealed footwork more ragged than his languid if upright opponent - more helter-skelter, more hopscotch - it also indicated a desire on the Haitian's part to effect serious damage. Quickly he sought to land his left hook missile over the top of Dawson's right; again, fifteen seconds later, he looked to launch the same weapon. Then, with barely a minute elapsed and his target firmly in place, Stevenson let the left hand go again, and instead of sliding off Dawson's shoulder or careering past his jaw, the punch crashed home with that mysterious force that distinguishes punchers from boxers. "Power is power" - and the abstract science that is Dawson's style was sunk, deflated and buried in one dramatic second. Montreal had a new champion.
After exuberant celebrations from Stevenson and a terse interview with Dawson in which silence seemed to claim a voice, Lampley suggested that Stevenson should pursue a bout not with Ward, but with the winner of December's contest between Lucian Bute and Jean Pascal. HBO might be in the process of pronouncing Ward as a star merely through his continued presence at big fights - through the constant suggestion of stardom rather than its material reality - yet bouts with the likes of Stevenson are just what Ward needs to encourage his name to soar. This, as Kellerman noted, was "a star-making performance" - and it is only through performances in actu, not in potentia, that Ward will achieve the status HBO has determined to provide. This night belonged neither to the minimalists nor the modernists, but rather to Adonis Stevenson, and his simple message: that power truly is power.