Neither Andre Ward nor Chad Dawson has been involved in anything remotely close to a Fight of the Year candidate. They aren't on anyone's most exciting to watch lists, either.
But all the grumbling about their super middleweight title fight on Saturday at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif., is premature.
For the first time in their professional careers, they'll each have a man across from him capable of pushing him to his limits.
Both subscribe to the "Hit and don't get hit," theory, which is good because it is the essence of what boxing is and guarantees a long career. The problem is that when it's one guy doing most of the hitting, it doesn't make for the most compelling fights.
Because they've been so much more gifted than most of their opponents, their bouts have been one-sided beatdowns with about as much suspense as a Pixar film.
Each man has faced high-quality opposition – Mikkel Kessler and Carl Froch for Ward and Antonio Tarver, Bernard Hopkins, Glen Johnson and Tomasz Adamek for Dawson – but neither has faced the caliber of opponent that he’ll face Saturday.
Promoter Dan Goossen's job is to cheerlead Ward, and he's done a great job of it – he's absolutely correct when he says that it's unfair to tag the 2004 Olympic gold medalist as a boring fighter.
"Andre comes to fight," Goossen said. "Look at the Froch fight. Andre was throwing until the end. He's not sitting back and running around. He gets in and fights."
The problem is, despite his opposition, he's been good enough to nullify the offense of very gifted opponents. Some guys, like Froch, were able to land a single shot on him, but many of his opponents have been unable to put together combinations.
An elite fighter is rarely going to be put in danger by a single punch; it's almost always a combination that does the trick.
If Ward is able to similarly neuter Dawson's offense, though, it would be a sign of his greatness and push him into another realm.
He's already fourth in the Yahoo! Sports pound-for-pound rankings and probably should be no worse than second, behind Floyd Mayweather Jr.
The same is true in reverse for Dawson. He routed Adamek in a 2007 light heavyweight title bout in which Dawson was so dominant, Adamek seemed like just another guy. But then Adamek went out and won cruiserweight and heavyweight titles after losing to Dawson, proving that he is an elite fighter himself. His problems with Dawson were solely created by Dawson and not by a lack of talent or desire.
Dawson hasn't always appeared as motivated as Ward, but he, too, has the rare kind of ability to avoid punishment while doling out his own. In facing Ward, he'll be taking on the most difficult task of his career and an opponent who will force him to be at his best.
This is a case where both men are world champions, but desperately need each other. Neither Kessler nor Froch had the hand or foot speed to cause too many issues for Ward. Hopkins and Antonio Tarver certainly had the ability to create problems for Dawson, but both were near the end of their great careers when they fought him.
Dawson is 31-1, with his only loss coming when he fought very indifferently and with little motivation against Jean Pascal. And even in that fight, he got a sense of urgency late and had Pascal on the verge of going out when the fight was stopped because of cuts.
When he's motivated and at his peak, he's a fast-handed power puncher with a mean streak. But he's so much better than most of his opponents, he's been able to coast and still win by wide margins.
Ward will be the motivation he needs to not only put on an exciting fight but push himself to the next level.
"A victory over Andre Ward would mean a lot for my career," Dawson said. "We're talking about somebody who is rated very high on the pound-for-pound list, and somebody who has a lot of recognition. He won a gold medal in the Olympics. When you look at his resume, it doesn't really get any bigger than that, especially winning a gold medal for the United States, so I'm looking forward to the fight and going out there and [proving] everybody wrong."
Rare these days are the boxing matches in which the unquestioned best fighter in one division meets the unquestioned best fighter in another.
That's the case on Saturday, though, when Dawson, the top light heavyweight, will drop a class to meet Ward, the top super middleweight.
The good news, though, is that their styles should force them to be at their best.
This might be the one time after a Ward or Dawson fight that everyone leaves the arena saying, "Wow!"
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- Andre Ward
- Chad Dawson