Dawson v Tarver: what does it mean for the light-heavyweight division?

by Mark Gregory - Whichever way you cut it, the light-heavyweight division has a rather odd look about it. According to The Ring, it is a division ruled over by Britain’s own Joe Calzaghe with the second in command being the man he narrowly defeated earlier in the year, the wily veteran Bernard Hopkins. What is slightly unusual about this state of affairs – quite apart from neither fighter being a career 175lber and both being in the twilight of their careers – is that neither man has ever held a recognised world title at the weight, and nor have they really shown any ambition to fight for one..

Hopkins has been looking to add some names to an already impressive record before he finally calls it a day, and after he has faced the unbeaten middleweight king Kelly Pavlik in a catchweight match-up, his last four fights will read Antonio Tarver, Winky Wright, Joe Calzaghe and Kelly Pavlik. The worst case scenario for B-Hop is that he comes out of those fights with a 2-2 record; not bad for a man in his 40s fighting 15lbs above his career weight.

Calzaghe on the other hand has been looking to cement his more questionable legacy by taking on what he sees as the biggest names – and biggest pay days to boot – from his generation. For all the talk of a potential fight between Calzaghe and Kelly Pavlik, there is no doubt that, past prime or not, the likes of Hopkins and future opponent Roy Jones Jnr are much closer to the Welshman’s generation than the Youngstown fighter is. For fight fans there is considerably more interest in seeing the still unbeaten Calzaghe square up with a pound for pound contender like Pavlik, but in Joe’s mind it seems that he feels more inclined to settle old scores, albeit years too late, than to get in the ring with someone who is ten years his junior and just two defences into his title reign.

What this situation has led to is a kind of seniors’ tour in the light-heavyweight division, and this seniors’ tour is considerably richer than the division proper. A look at the current list of champions only shows Antonio Tarver as a household name and box office attraction. The likes of Garay (WBA), Diaconu (WBC) and Erdei (WBO) are scarcely known outside of the circle of hardcore of boxing fans. And yet, in another curious anomaly that could only occur in the current light-heavy division, Zsolt Erdei is actually the linear champion by virtue of beating Julio Cesar Gonzalez, who beat Dariusz Michalczewski, whose victory over Virgil Hill had in turn given him linear status. With Erdei only holding one of the major belts (and, arguably, the most lightly regarded) and being content to defend it against soft mandatories in his adopted home of Germany, it seems strange that he is the rightful heir to such fighters as Archie Moore, Bob Foster and Michael Spinks.

In fact a lot of the problems are a direct result of the ‘Cold War’ that took place between Jones Jnr and Michalczewski in the 90s and early 00s. The two men stood on opposite sides of the Atlantic looking to establish themselves as the dominant power in the division without ever having to actually engage in combat with each other. Dariusz inherited linearity, Roy steadily inherited all the belts (usually after Dariusz had given them up). In effect this led to two strands of justification for being ‘the man’ in the division; one passed from Jones Jnr to Tarver, then to Johnson, back to Tarver again, then on to Hopkins and now to Calzaghe. The other, as mentioned above, has passed down to the unheralded Erdei.

In the meantime the rest of the division has gone about its business, handing the three more established championship belts around with astonishing regularity. Chad Dawson will tonight continue his attempts to unify the seniors’ tour with the rest of the division by facing IBF titlist Tarver. Having previously sneaked a win over another of the division’s seniors, Glen Johnson, Dawson is at least trying to bring some sense back to a horribly fragmented division. Tarver, for his part, is showing some ambition also in facing the much younger and still undefeated Dawson. Whilst I do not anticipate that it will be a particularly exciting fight, it is at least the kind of contest this division needs. It is also worth pointing to the shameful decision of the WBC to strip Dawson of his title for agreeing to what would have been a unification match-up with Tarver. It seems that the governing bodies are more interested in protecting their rankings and ensuring their sanctioning fees are received than they are in establishing genuine champions.

However, in terms of bringing some sense to the division, this fight will not go very far. Calzaghe will continue to reign as the consensus ‘man’ of the division, whilst Erdei continues to keep the championship line alive behind a wall of mediocre opponents in Germany. Calzaghe will likely retire soon and, assuming he beats Jones Jnr next month, he will take one line with him. Whether this will bring some order to the division is a different matter. Erdei will still claim linearity, and until he is beaten – which looks unlikely to happen anytime soon, given how averse he appears to be to taking risks – that line will remain protected and, frankly, cheapened. With Hopkins, Jones Jnr and Tarver also likely to call it a day sooner rather than later, it will then be up to those who are left, such as Dawson and Diaconu, to bring some sense back to the division by unifying the belts. Whether the sanctioning bodies allow this to happen or not is a different matter.

So, what is the real significance of tonight’s fight? It is a step in the right direction for the division, and is a high quality bout in its own right. However, since both men find themselves frozen out of the dual championship lines it seems that tonight will be more about personal glory for the victor than establishing who really is the rightful champion of the light-heavyweight division.

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Article posted on 11.10.2008

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