Thursday, Oct. 2, 2008 | 2 a.m.
At the age of 38, Derrick Harmon is satisfied just sparring in the ring to keep in shape.
One of the last things the Las Vegas resident needs is a couple of power punches coming his way from one of the world’s top pros.
But that’s exactly what happened Wednesday afternoon at Johnny Tocco’s Ringside Gym when light heavyweight Chad Dawson had Harmon pinned against the ropes in their sparring session in the famous old-school training facility, which doubled as a sauna.
“He’s definitely got a lot of pop in those punches,” said the retired Harmon, who was helping Dawson (26-0, 17 KOs) prepare for his upcoming world title fight against International Boxing Federation/International Boxing Organization light heavyweight champion Antonio Tarver (27-4, 19 KOs) on Oct. 11 at the Pearl Theater inside the Palms casino.
“He reminds me of a young Roy Jones Jr., except that he’s a lefty — which is even better. He’s so extremely long and athletic,” continued Harmon, who lost to Jones Jr. in a fight in 2001.
The 6-foot-3 Dawson, from New Haven, Conn., didn’t take time to recover from his rounds with Harmon before jumping back into his endurance training with another heavier fighter, who outweighed him by a good 20 pounds.
“I’ve sparred with several world champs, but in terms of just his physical boxing traits, he’s the best I’ve been around. His hand speed, foot speed, reflexes and just all-around athleticism are awesome,” said Dewey “Black Kobra” Cooper, who boxes and kickboxes professionally.
After sparring, Dawson went to work with trainer Eddie Mustafa Muhammad on a resistance punching exercise before finishing his workout on the speed bag in the small, white gym covered with tattered boxing promotional posters featuring famous fighters like Mike Tyson, Oscar De La Hoya, Hector Camacho, Lennox Lewis and Floyd Mayweather Jr.
“This is nostalgia right here,” said Muhammad, of the tiny gym located in downtown Las Vegas tucked behind a radiator shop and passenger bus service. “I knew Johnny very well. When I was a world champion he was a very good motivator, and I remember him telling me how I would become world champion one day.
“Coming to his gym, I try to apply those same traits and get the most out of my guys.”
Dawson, who is working with Muhammad for his third fight, said he definitely feels he’s maximized his training during the past two months.
“Fighters always say this is the best training camp I’ve ever had. I’m in the best shape of my life. But honestly that is the truth for me. It’s the best training camp, I’ve gotten better, stronger every single day,” Dawson said. “October 11, I’m just ready to go.”
A day after Dawson and Tarver exchanged fiery responses in a national media teleconference, the 26-year-old Dawson again pointed out that he will prove to the world that he, not Tarver, is the sport’s best light heavyweight.
“Boxing is in a state right now where it’s not about titles anymore. There are so many titles, that no one knows who the real champion is anymore,” said Dawson, who gave up the World Boxing Council title he held for 17 months to make this fight happen.
“To be the best, or recognized as the champ you got to fight the best. So people say Antonio Tarver is the best light heavyweight right now and I’m ready to go after him and show everyone I’m the best.”
Dawson’s two sparring partners became quick believers.
“I think the early rounds will be real competitive, but I think his vast skill set, athleticism and strength will take over late and that he will win the fight,” Cooper said.
Andy Samuelson is a sports writer/editor for the Las Vegas Sun. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-948-7837.