5:45 PM AKDT, August 28, 2012
He agreed to drop to Andre Ward's weight class.
He agreed to fight on Andre Ward's home turf.
Either Chad Dawson is desperate, desperate for prestige, for bigger purses, desperate for the widespread respect he feels he has earned.
Or, even as a Vegas underdog, Dawson is confident he can beat one of the five best pound-for-pound boxers in the world Sept. 8 at Oracle Arena in Oakland.
Or maybe it's all of the above.
"A victory over Andre Ward would mean a lot for my career," Dawson said Tuesday on a conference call. "We're talking about someone very, very high on the pound-for-pound lists. An Olympic gold medal [the last American to do so in 2004], when you look at his resume, it doesn't get any bigger than that."
A week ago, Dawson answered a similar question in a more introspective way.
"Being willing to go down to 168 pounds and go to his backyard, I'm testing myself," Dawson said. "That's what champions need to do."
The unbeaten Ward, 25-0 and consensus 2011 Fighter of the Year, is rated the No. 5 pound-for-pound boxer in the world by The Ring magazine. Dawson, 31-1 and finally ridding himself of Bernard Hopkins, is rated No. 10.
Yes, this is the biggest test of Chad Dawson's life.
In terms of import, it is a big-time fight. In terms of entertainment on HBO, many wonder if it will deliver. It's a rare moment when two linear champions in the prime of their careers meet in the ring. Ward, 28, is risking his WBC and WBA super-middleweight belts. Although win or lose, he keeps his WBC light-heavyweight belt, Dawson, dropping down from 175 pounds, could be risking more: Relevance among the major names in a sport battling to remain a major sport.
"This is the first time I've been the underdog in a long time," Dawson said. "They're making the wrong bet. It will make me a better fighter."
As important as this fight is, as much as HBO is giving it the "24/7" treatment, it also isn't pay-per-view. Consumer demand, not the sweetness of the science, determines that part. Dawson is a defensive fighter. In the past, his attention span has wavered. He has not squeezed every precious second out of every fight in his career. Even in his home state, he has not built a fan base commensurate with his ability. His fights often end up on the other guy's home court. Dawson also is immensely talented, capable of rising to challenges. And this time around, he is losing weight in an attempt to gain weight, gravitas, in his sport.
If Dawson beats Ward, he will hold belts in two divisions. More than that, Chad Dawson of New Haven will establish himself at 30 as a force in boxing.
"I know how bad Chad wants this, how bad he wants the recognition this fight will bring," said Dawson's trainer, John Scully.
The fight is one matter. Fighting perceptions is another. Usually with a bout like this, there'd be a "catch-weight," of say, 170 pounds, or Ward would have moved up in class. Instead, Dawson readily agreed to drop a class. He laughs off the idea that it will mean a drop down in boxing class.
"People are so wrapped up in the fact I'm moving down," Dawson said. "I'm looking forward to proving everybody wrong."
Dawson said he regularly enters training camps at only 178-180, anyway.
"I'll make the weight comfortably," said Dawson, who last fought at super middleweight in 2006. "I just put on an extra mile on my run and I'm dieting. It's something I haven't done in years. When I fight at light-heavyweight, I eat what I want. This camp was great. It just made me a little meaner that I couldn't eat what I wanted. People think I'll be drained and dehydrated. That will not be the case at all."
Dawson's strength coach, Axel Murillo, takes care of Dawson's cooking.
"I didn't monitor the food at all in previous camps," Scully said. "I didn't realize he beat Hopkins on a diet I wouldn't have chosen. People are really focused on this weight thing. It's a misguided direction of energy."
This isn't like the nasty pre-bout narratives with Hopkins. Ward, nicknamed "S.O.G." for Son of God, is a religious man, a family man. The closest that Ward came to needling Dawson on Tuesday was saying that he made the mistake of saying right off on HBO that he'd fight Ward at 168.
"That's Negotiating 101," Ward said. "He negotiated against himself. I never demanded a weight."
It was later reported that Dawson preferred 170.
"I said 168, catch-weight or 175," Dawson said. "They said 168. I told [promoter] Gary Shaw, make the fight, I'll go to 168 and Oakland. I gave him every advantage. I know what I'm capable of doing."
Ward, of course, turned that around and pointed out that Dawson, a lefty, is an inch taller, has a reach advantage of 5 1/2 inches.
"Speed, strength, power, let them tell it, they've got every advantage in the book," Ward said. "That's just not reality. I'm not spooked by the height and reach deficit."
"We have an advantage in them having all the advantages," said Ward's Zen master trainer, Virgil Hunter.
Hunter was especially pointed in his remarks about people who say this fight might be boring. The casual fight fans, of course, love knockouts and fireworks. There's nothing close to an Arturo Gatti-Micky Ward brutal epic on the horizon here. Neither fighter has had a knockout in three years, a combined 13 fights.
"There are always going to be fans that can't grasp what this sport is unless they see 100 head shots in five rounds, and bloody noses and busted eyes," Hunter said.
"I'm on a one-track mission to get my hand raised," Ward said. "The masters are the guys who can still walk and talk when their career is over. I've been trained to be a master."
Dawson says if he wins, he'll have the best of both worlds. Super-middleweight, he says, is more loaded. Or he might wait for some of those guys to join him at light-heavy. Ward said he sees himself moving up to light heavyweight "around the corner" and not dropping back.
There are some who see Ward as a younger version of Hopkins, prone to elbows in the clinch and head butts. Others champion Ward as a chameleon, able to fight in a variety of fashions. Either way, the weighty question is can these two men, talented, at the peak of their careers yet not flamboyant, raise the action, the science, raise themselves to beautiful heights?
"As a trainer the whole thing is about winning, above the crowd, above the legacy," Scully said. "But I do think Chad has the potential to open up more and be more exciting. I honestly feel Andre will bring that out of him."
"Two guys, best in their divisions, in their prime, fighting for something big," Dawson said. "This IS going to be big and exciting."
Even if Bad Chad Dawson is a little smaller than he was.