Dawson thrashes Tarver to wrest light heavyweight title

Have a nice trip: Chad Dawson, left, knocked Antonio Tarver to the canvas in Round 12 to cap off a dominant performance. AP Photo/Eric Jamison

LAS VEGAS -- For 16 months, Chad Dawson chased and chased and chased Antonio Tarver, and he finally got him. And he got him good.

Dawson showed the value of youth, speed and determination as he hunted down the older, slower Tarver for a no-doubt-about-it unanimous decision Saturday to take Tarver's light heavyweight belt at the Palms Casino Resort.

It was the culmination of a long chase.

Tarver had put off the much-talked-about match while taking lesser fights as Dawson, twice fighting on his undercard, continued to call him out. Finally, with few other options and Showtime (which had eyed the fight for ages) unwilling to let Tarver milk it any longer, the fight was made.

To facilitate the match, Dawson even gave up his version of the 175-pound title in July rather than face lesser-known mandatory challenger Adrian Diaconu.

In fact, Dawson even took a little less money to face Tarver, although Dawson did avoid a trip to Romania for that fight.

In the end, however, it looked like Dawson made the smart choice.

With a win over Tarver (27-5, 19 KOs), who could come nowhere near backing up his relentless trash talk, Dawson (27-0, 17 KOs) showed what so many have thought: he is one of the brightest young stars in boxing.

When the winners of the Oct. 18 Kelly Pavlik-Bernard Hopkins light heavyweight fight and the Nov. 8 Joe Calzaghe-Roy Jones fight for the recognized light heavyweight championship go searching for an opponent, Dawson ought to be at the top of the list.

"We would absolutely fight the winner of Roy-Calzaghe," Dawson promoter Gary Shaw said. "We'd fight if Kelly Pavlik wants to come up to 175. If Bernard, who is a real live dog, beats Pavlik and wants to fight, we'll fight."

For now, though, Dawson can bask in the glow of shutting Tarver down and finally shutting him up.

"Tarver fought a great fight and he had a little bit more than I thought he would, but I caught a lot of punches with my gloves," Dawson, 26, said. "I was playing him. I worked him. Our philosophy is one round at a time and that's what we did."

Dawson received an unexpected prefight pep talk from Floyd Mayweather Jr., who was ringside for the bout but had called Dawson in his dressing room before his ring walk.

"He told me this is a gladiator sport and it can go any way," said Dawson, who made $800,000 to Tarver's $1 million. "Floyd said, 'Be yourself, you're the better fighter.'"

Shaw said Dawson was really moved by Mayweather's overture.

"He was thinking about it," Shaw said. "He couldn't believe he got a call like that. Floyd told him he was the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. They don't hang out or pal around, but Floyd really believes Chad is that good. Getting a compliment like that from Floyd is major."

Mayweather couldn't have been more spot on as Dawson made Tarver look all of his 39 years.

"The strategy was to keep turning him and make him use his old legs," Dawson trainer Eddie Mustafa Muhammad said. "He used the plan to perfection."

The judges were all on the same page, scoring it 118-109, 117-110 and 117-110 for Dawson. ESPN.com also had it for Dawson, 118-109.

Dawson crushed Tarver with unanswered combinations throughout the fight. In the 10th, for example, he opened the round with a flurry of more than 10 punches while Tarver languished along the ropes unable to escape.

But before the 12th began, Shaw ran over to his corner and was screaming, "Finish him, Chad!"

Dawson didn't finish him, but if there were any questions whatsoever about the outcome, he put them to rest in a dominant final round, when he dropped Tarver to his backside with a right hand.

"I fought my fight, Chad fought his," Tarver said. "I was never hurt. I didn't use my left as much as I wanted to. He pushed me down. I was never hurt but he was a busier fighter than I was tonight."

The knockdown punch was hardly Dawson's best punch of the fight. He landed dozens of unanswered blows during flurry after flurry for which Tarver had little answer.

"I think the difference in this whole fight was speed," Shaw said. "Chad is as fast as any middleweight out there going all the way up. He just has tremendous hand speed."

Tarver, who really riled Dawson up with his comments during the buildup to the fight, showed at least some humility afterward, saying that despite the months of insults, he did respect Dawson.

"I respected him before I fought him. He had a WBC title," Tarver said. "I'd like to fight him again. I have no regrets, no apologies for what was said."

Whatever Tarver said, it was Dawson who had the last word.

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.