by Kieran Mulvaney
There is no shame in losing to Andre Ward. Every one of the 26 professional opponents he has faced has done so. But for Ward's most recent victim – light-heavyweight titlist Chad Dawson, who faces Adonis Stevenson on HBO Boxing After Dark on Saturday – the 10th round stoppage loss he suffered last September was only partly due to the skillful way in which Ward routinely beats people up. A lot of it had to do with the decision Dawson made to move down from 175 pounds to 168, and challenge Ward on the latter's super-middleweight turf.
"I wrote a check my body couldn't physically cash," Dawson said recently to Tris Dixon of Britain's Boxing News magazine. "He's a great fighter and I would love that rematch, but at 175 pounds I would never touch super-middleweight again."
While moving up through the weight divisions over the course of a career is the rule rather than the exception, Dawson is the latest in a relatively short line of recent professional prizefighters to find that shedding pounds and moving down in weight rarely works out well.
Roy Jones was never the same after moving back to 175 pounds following his brief venture into the heavyweight division in 2003. Sugar Ray Leonard was taken apart when he challenged Terry Norris for a title at junior middleweight – a weight at which he hadn't fought in seven years. Oscar De La Hoya dropped down to welterweight to meet a Manny Pacquiao who was moving up from lightweight, and was beaten so badly he soon retired.
There were additional reasons for all those outcomes: Jones at his peerless peak dominated foes with almost superhuman reflexes, and once they slowed a fraction with age, he descended to the realm of mere mortals; Leonard, at 35, was taking on a 24-year-old champion who is now enshrined alongside him in the Hall of Fame; and De La Hoya was reaching the end of his storied career anyway. But the strains placed on their bodies to squeeze extra pounds out of their system in all cases almost certainly contributed to their respective demises.
Why is it so rare for boxers to drop down in weight, and so rarely a positive move when they do? For one thing, if it were easy to lose six or seven pounds, we'd all be doing it. For another, the examples above all involve boxers in their thirties, when bodies are mature and metabolisms battle with extra determination to hold on to every spare ounce.
Plus, chances are that a boxer– if he fights, for example, at light-heavyweight –has already had to lose 10 pounds or more just to reach the 175-pound limit. Dropping down to super-middleweight is therefore a case of dropping not seven pounds but 17; and the final few in particular of those pounds must be wrung out of a frame that is already virtually fat free and bone dry.
Small wonder, then, that rehydrating once the weigh-in is over can cause a boxer to expand like a sponge dropped in a bathtub – Dawson entered the ring against Ward weighing 192 pounds, 24 more than he had registered on the scales the previous day – or that a fighter can be drained by the whole process of squeezing himself into his usual weight class, let alone one that requires even more sacrifice.
It is of course possible that Dawson would have lost to Ward that night no matter the weight at which they fought; the man from Oakland is regarded as one of the top two talents in the game for a reason. Maybe, if Dawson resumes his winning ways atop the light-heavyweight division, we will eventually find out, should Ward exhaust his options at 168 pounds and move up in search of new challenges.
Before then, of course, Dawson has more immediate concerns: specifically, how to overcome the challenge of once-beaten Stevenson, a power-punching fellow southpaw. Stevenson, a career super-middleweight, is moving up a division – a move more common than Dawson's effort to move down. Dawson will be aiming to make sure it is no more successful.