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Virgil Hunter: “We are preparing for the best Chad Dawson at 168.”


By Jason Gonzalez

Pound-for-pound fighter extraordinaire Andre “S.O.G.” Ward returns to the squared circle for the first time since being named 2011’s “Fighter of the Year.” On September 8 on HBO, Ward will face WBC light heavyweight champion “Bad” Chad Dawson at super middleweight for supremacy at 168 pounds. Ward’s rise to the top of the food chain was rather long and arduous - and that’s putting it lightly. Within a span of two years, Ward won a total of five bouts before being crowned king of Showtime’s “Super Six World Boxing Classic” tournament. After beating the likes of Arthur Abraham, Mikkel Kessler and Carl Froch, you would be remiss to not acknowledge that, in the 168-pound division, all roads lead to Ward.
However, Ward wasn’t alone as he ascended into super stardom. Much of the credit for the 28-year-old’s success belongs to head trainer Virgil Hunter. Hunter wasn’t just responsible for designing the blueprint Ward executed throughout the “Super Six” tournament; he is the reason Ward has excelled at life. Hunter has been with Ward since the first time he walked through the doors of King’s Gym in Oakland, California. Ward was only nine years old at the time. If you do the math correctly, you can see the pair has been together for a total of 19 years. And in those 19 years, the duo has compiled a résumé that includes Ward being undefeated since the age of 12, an Olympic gold medal (in the 2004 Summer Games) and the WBA and WBC world titles on top of the aforementioned “Super Six” trophy. But before jumping the gun and thinking that Ward cleaning out the division is a foregone conclusion, let’s not forget about Dawson. Dawson has agreed to move seven pounds south and challenge Ward in his backyard of Oakland. Just exactly how eager was Dawson to make this fight? Well, he will be fighting at weight he hasn’t visited in over six years.

“I am very confident that Chad Dawson will make weight,” Hunter, 2011’s “Trainer of the Year,” told Maxboxing over the phone. “Chad Dawson is a professional and would not make a statement like that if he wouldn’t be able to. I understand that Chad is a big light heavyweight but I have no worries about the weight or about him making weight. We are preparing for the best Chad Dawson at 168.”
In the case of Dawson, just simply making 168 pounds is merely half the battle. Whether or not it will be the best Dawson the boxing public will see, who knows? Time will tell. There have been reports circulating the internet stating that Dawson is just 10 pounds over the contractual weight limit. Other stories suggested he would make 175 easily without any dieting. Who’s to say that by adding a diet plan into his training regimen won’t deplete him of muscle mass? What about the loss of weight? Could the seven-pound loss result in Dawson being drained and dehydrated?
“Here we are with a little less than a month to go before the fight and already negative labels are being casted upon the other individual involved,” said Hunter. “Do people forget that we have to make weight too? People just assume that we will make 168 just fine. It’s no cakewalk; we walk around the 180-pound mark. And let me tell you, making weight is no picnic for us, so if you ask me, the deck is even. Would a victory over Chad Dawson be diminished because we fought him at 168? Absolutely not! Simply because we had to go through the same thing too. People fail to take that into consideration.”
It’s extremely difficult to not harp on the variables surrounding the match-up between Ward and Dawson. But if these were the cards that were dealt, inquiring minds want to know: why wasn’t this fight taking place at a catchweight on neutral grounds?
“All I can tell you is that Chad announced on national television, after the [Bernard] Hopkins fight, that he would come down to meet Andre,” recalled the straight-shooting Hunter, continuing, “As far as fighting in Oakland, this was straight out of Gary Shaw’s mouth, ‘Let’s make the fight. We will come to Oakland if necessary but it doesn’t matter where. Let’s just make the fight and get it done.’”
Hunter added, “But again, as I have stated many times in the past, there is no such thing as home field advantage in boxing unless you are somewhere out in Europe. In the past, we have seen some home-cooking in Germany, Wales, Denmark, London; I am sure there have been some funny things that have happened in the Olympics as well as other parts of England. Just look at what happened in the fight between Andre Dirrell and Carl Froch. But elsewhere there is no such thing. In Oakland, the crowd may be behind Andre but they can’t fight for him. Andre has no allegiances to the judges either. It’s just going to be Andre and Chad the night of September 8. It’s an even playing field; no one has an advantage.”
You get the impression that Hunter doesn’t like any controversy or drama but as the saying goes, anything you say can and will be used against you. This is why Hunter only answers the question and doesn’t disclose anything else. To some degree, Ward is like that too. And although there may not be a biological connection between Hunter and Ward, there is, however, an emotional and spiritual bond that is unbreakable. So much so that Hunter bestowed the privilege and honor of being Ward’s godfather when Ward was just a youngster. When Andre’s father, Frank, passed away in 2002, Hunter became even more of a father figure in Ward’s life. It is evident that Hunter has Ward’s best interest at heart. That said, will there be any penalties enforced if either Dawson fails to make weight or comes in on fight night weighing more than the required weight limit?
“I don’t know of any penalty being enforced in either case,” Hunter would humbly say. “If Dawson is 30 pounds heavier on fight night, it’s to his advantage.”
Speaking of advantage, Dawson, the 30-year-old southpaw of New Haven, Connecticut, will enter the ring, come fight night, an inch taller than Hunter’s pupil. Dawson will also be sporting a 5½-inch reach differential that should benefit him, especially if he decides to stay on the outside and box. How will both Hunter and Ward flip their disadvantage and turn it into an asset?
“The one-inch height advantage means nothing,” assessed Hunter. “As for the advantages in reach, I am not one to believe in that sort of stuff. Reach is greatly exaggerated and overhyped in boxing. What it comes down to is establishing distance as well as utilizing your range. Distance and range is more important than reach. Whichever fighter can do this the best will win the fight.”
The world saw many different facets to Ward’s repertoire. There is no question that Ward can establish distance and control it using his range. It was plain to see throughout the “Super Six.” Ward boxed circles around Kessler, utilized terrific footwork against Kessler, slugged it out with the heavy-handed Sakio Bika (in a non-tournament title defense) and proved to be a physical specimen against Allan Green. Does the world have to see another component of Ward’s arsenal in order for him to be victorious against Dawson? There is a remote chance. Albeit speculation, maybe we will see Ward, though not a heavy puncher (as is indicated by his 52% knockout ratio), look to exploit Dawson’s chin issues.
“What chin issues?” questioned Hunter. “What chin issues are you talking about? Once again, the media places a label on something or someone and everyone else will run with it. Seeing a different Andre Ward doesn’t factor into the equation at all. My job is to prepare Andre to the best of his capabilities so that he can defeat the best Chad Dawson. That’s it. The most important thing is for Andre to be is himself. Andre has to be able to adjust and adapt to whatever is thrown at him the night of September 8. If he can do that, the solution to victory will be found.”
But Hunter wasn’t finished; he wanted to revisit an old topic the way any good teacher would if he or she felt a concept wasn’t grasped. Clearly bothered by the comment of “chin issues,” Hunter, a boxing mind, turned the tables on this writer. Hunter would ask Maxboxing, “How many times has Chad Dawson been knocked out?” Obviously, the answer is zero. Dawson has never been knocked out. “From what I recall, Chad has only been down once and that was to Tomasz Adamek, a big puncher. So why does Chad have chin issues?” That claim isn’t without merit. Dawson has been hurt before in other fights, specifically against Glen Johnson and Jean Pascal.
Hunter responded, “Those are all big punchers; it still doesn’t validate Chad having chin issues,” adding, while still in reporter mode, “How many times has Carl Froch been knocked down?” Froch touched the canvas twice in the bout against Jermain Taylor. “Exactly my point,” Hunter said. “Carl Froch was knocked down twice against Jermain Taylor, a fighter that’s not regarded as a big puncher. But if you ask around, the general consensus is that Froch has a great chin. Carl Froch was hurt by Johnson; we buzzed and hurt Froch too but yet he still has a great chin. I don’t get it. If Chad Dawson has chin issues, then so does Carl Froch. But I guess if you can take a lot of punishment and look cool while doing it, then you have a great chin. I have always said that whenever the media places a label on you, it will stick until proven otherwise, simply because it’s personal choice.”
But whether it’s personal opinion or not, it’s a fact that Ward will step into the squared circle at the Oracle Arena a heavy favorite. Pending a victorious outcome, will anything be left for Ward to accomplish at super middleweight? Considering there are some big names at light heavyweight, will a move up north in weight be immediate?
“There is a possibility that we can stay at ‘68,” said Hunter. “Kessler and Sauerland Promotions claim to have had a bad night, so a rematch with Kessler is an option. A rematch with Carl Froch is another possibility. His victory over [Lucian] Bute put him back in the running for a rematch. Time will tell but, truth be told, those guys keep our name in their mouth. We could also fight Bute; don’t count him out yet. He only has one loss and that was to Froch. We have a lot of opportunities at our disposal but the best thing is that, physically, we don’t have to move up just yet.”
Besides the fact that Ward vs. Dawson may be 2012’s most compelling and intriguing match-up, all of the so-called experts and pundits have written off this fight as a snoozer. Don’t be surprised if this scrap is more like Taylor vs. Winky Wright. Fans may have the opportunity to see the two pugilists lock horns again further down the road at a higher weight. If indeed this does transpire, let’s all hope Ward and Dawson will still be in their primes.
Jay Gon’s Tidbits
-  After recently talking to Dawson, he feels the fight will be easy if he just stays on the outside and boxes. Hunter had no comment on Dawson’s assessment.
-  Maxboxing contacted boxing guru Emanuel Steward via phone and he revealed he has known Ward since Ward was 10 years old. Steward has also trained Dawson, so who better to ask? “When Chad wants to let go, he explodes. In terms of skills and athleticism, he may be better than Andre but Andre is so consistent. I am confident that Chad will make 168 but I am concerned if he can perform to the best of his ability. All around, Chad’s resistance can weaken, his stamina, his strength, his ability to take a punch as well as his overall ability to think clearly down the stretch in a hard fight. This fight will end in a decision.”
-  Steward agrees with the possibility that this fight could greatly resemble Taylor vs. Wright. He says, “I can see that; Andre will be consistent with his offense while Chad will fight in spurts.”
-  Steward believes that home field advantage exists in boxing. “The home fighter will always have a psychological advantage. The home fighter will also have an emotional and spiritual advantage too. These intangibles are all favor Andre.”
-  Neither Mike Dallas Jr. nor Brandon Gonzales (Hunter’s fighters) will be showcased on the undercard.
-  Hunter admits that life has been better since winning the “Trainer of the Year” award. At the same time, he admits it has humbled him and is something that he will carry with him for the rest of his life. But as Hunter put it, “There is still a lot of work left to do.”
-  Hunter was okay with Floyd Mayweather’s early release, acknowledging that it was due to his good behavior. Hunter feels that any fight Mayweather gets will be good for both parties, especially the opponent. As for whom Mayweather should fight, “A fight with Robert Guerrero would be a great fight for both involved.”
-  Hunter does not believe Amir Khan should retire. “It will be too soon for Amir to retire. He doesn’t have to do that. Amir needs to realize who he is. He needs to find his identity and establish it. A lot of times, I find Amir to just go in the ring and swing without any purpose.”
-  Hunter doesn’t watch any other sports but admitted to Maxboxing that he enjoys track-and-field and loves the NBA.
-  Unfortunately, Hunter has not watched any Olympic fights due to the scheduling and channel confusion. I get the feeling that Hunter isn’t alone in this fiasco.
-  Does anyone remember when Mayweather said Dawson was the second-best pound-for-pound fighter? Right behind him. There has to be a reason why Mayweather would say that. It would be interesting to get a prediction from the “Money Man” himself.
Questions and comments can be sent to “Jay Gon” at

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