Glenn Johnson looks old enough to be Chad Dawson’s dad. The age difference is fourteen years but you could believe it was twenty-five. Tonight, it’s up to the past to test whether the future is all it’s hyped up to be.
Looks can of course be deceiving. There is nothing has-been about the pressure that Johnson brings in the first ten seconds. Dawson, however, is soon controlling the distance with quick and purposeful footwork while throwing intricate combinations that leave Johnson all at sea. His rapid hands belong in a lower weight class. He shows off the “Bad” side towards the end of the round, hammering away with some mean body shots.
Dawson has the better of the second as well but we get the first sight of his flaws. His hands are down too much of the time. Johnson, in contrast, has them up almost constantly and an awful lot of Dawson’s shots thwack into them. Dawson retreats in straight lines and too slowly, giving Johnson the chance to catch him on the way out. When Dawson gets the footwork right, it’s stunning: in the final seconds, he somehow manages to spin Johnson through ninety degrees before landing a couple of clean shots to the head.
If he stays on the outside and trusts the pace of his feet and hands, Dawson has a clear path to victory. Instead, the thrill of the contest lures him inside. Johnson no longer has to worry about chasing and can focus on doing what he does best; bullying up close. He counters Dawson with a right and follows up with a pair of cracking upper cuts. Dawson fires back but he’s rattled and the shots are frenzied and poorly aimed. Late in the third, Johnson lands a big right that leaves Dawson staggering; if there was more than just seconds left, this would be trouble. As the bell goes, Johnson poses with arms crossed and soaks up the roars of the crowd. He’s having fun.
Eating that big right hand has taught Dawson a lesson. The next few rounds see much better discipline as he works at range and unleashes plenty of highlight reel combinations. At one point in the sixth, his backpedaling draws boos from the crowd; they want combat not sound strategy. By the end of the eighth, he’s ahead and seems to have got through the worst.
The problem for Dawson, however, is that while his speedy combination punching has racked up rounds, it has in no way slowed or discouraged The Road Warrior. Johnson has at times looked bewildered by the pace and volume of punches but he has at no point looked hurt. He’s keeping up a work rate that should be beyond a 39-year-old. Entering the final third of the fight, the fundamentals are unchanged: a fighter with great offence but big defensive flaws against a pressure fighter who won’t stop coming forward. Ever.
Dawson starts the tenth with intensity, buoyed by the knowledge that another round is probably all he needs to put this beyond doubt with the judges. He’s busy with the jab, light on his feet, in control and then with less than a minute to go, gets hit with the punch of the night. Johnson’s right has been getting through pretty regularly but this is of a different calibre, a full-blooded overhand which lands flush. Stunned, Dawson stumbles forward. He manages to cling on for a moment but soon he’s left standing right in front of Johnson on patently unsteady legs. He survives, but not without taking a couple more heavy rights.
He recovers impressively, moving well from the start of the 11th. Johnson, however, is emboldened and is soon causing havoc up close. Dawson somehow responds, his chin and heart making up for the defensive deficiencies. Given some of the shots absorbed, it is close to miraculous that no one hits the canvass. Again a monster right from Johnson gets through. A fiery exchange with a minute to go points to an all-action finale but we don’t get one. Instead Dawson, very sensibly, goes on the run, taking the sting out of it and getting roundly booed for it.
The Florida crowd have been loud all night but never louder than in their booing of the scorecards. Victory for Dawson is a very reasonable result but the margin (116-112 on all cards) isn’t. It’s a rough end for two fighters who’ve both performed admirably. An obviously shattered Dawson raises his arms in celebration but gives up in the face of the hostile crowd. Meanwhile, Johnson slumps over the rope, wondering when the judges will ever give him a fair shake.