Dawson just wants to be the best light heavyweight
Chad Dawson (right) and trainer Eddie Mustafa Muhammad work hard perfecting skill and strategy in the gym, which is why the southpaw has become the sport's top light heavyweight. Some say Dawson lacks popularity because he's too technical in the ring. Muhammad believes Dawson would be better known had he fought more on TV. Dawson, who who fights Jean Pascal for the vacant RING title on Saturday, doesn't care. He just wants to be the best and he thinks fans will eventually appreciate him if he keeps winning. Photo / Chris Cozzone-Fightwireimages.com
Chad Dawson wants to be the best light heavyweight in the world.
Not the most popular, or the most exciting, or the biggest draw or ratings grabber, but the very best 175-pound fighter on the planet.
This desire is a telling look into his character given the fact that Dawson, who fights Jean Pascal for the vacant RING title in Montreal on Saturday, is already considered the top 175-pound fighter by every credible boxing Web site and publication.
Dawson (29-0, 17 knockouts), however, wants to prove that he’s the best, which is why he is motivated the HBO-televised fight.
“This fight means a lot to me,” Dawson told RingTV.com from Montreal on Tuesday. “Every fight is important when you’re undefeated and you want to stay that way, but this one is very special because I’m going to Pascal’s hometown to defend my title (IBO) and take his title (WBC) and (win) the RING belt. The winner of this fight has to be viewed as the best light heavyweight.
“I know I’m seen as No. 1, but Pascal’s rated No. 2 (by THE RING)… so beating the next-highest contender further solidifies my position as the best.”
A victory over Pascal (25-1, 16 KOs) will indeed do that. The Haiti-born resident of Quebec, who has been adopted by the boxing-crazy fans of Montreal, is young, athletic, gutsy and not without skill.
The 27-year-old turned heads in the boxing community by engaging Carl Froch in a fight-of-the-year candidate for a vacant 168-pound title in December of 2008. Pascal dropped a competitive decision to the rugged Englishman, his only pro loss, then immediately jumped to light heavyweight. He has won four in row, including an exciting title-winning decision over then-undefeated Adrian Diaconu and a rematch victory over the RING-rated contender.
However, despite Pascal’s credentials, Dawson can’t beat the Canadian by boxing in a safety-first fashion as he did during his uneventful rematch with Johnson in November. Another boring victory would probably result in the 28-year-old southpaw losing fans.
Dawson says he’s OK with that reality.
“I know most fans want exciting fights but I don’t feel any pressure to change my style,” he said. “I’m a pure boxer. I use my skill and ability to win fights. I show my talent through the art of boxing. You’re going to see me using my jab, hand speed, footwork, and head movement when I box. I’m not just going to run out there and throw a bunch of wild punches like Tavoris Cloud.”
Cloud is a brutally aggressive young titleholder who beat Johnson by a unanimous decision in a competitive fight on Saturday. Cloud impressed many fans and members of the media with his performance but the tough pressure fighter looked raw in the few rounds of the fight that Dawson watched.
“I didn’t watch the whole fight but Cloud literally threw like eight punches the entire round in the ninth,” Dawson said. “Johnson won that round easily. All he had to do was jab. He wasn’t even throwing hard punches. He didn’t have to. Cloud had nothing for him because he punched himself out in the previous round. Needless to say, I see a big puncher in Cloud, but not much else.
“I heard him call me out after the fight but I don’t think he really wants a piece of me. Glen Johnson was there to be hit and he still had a hard time with him.”
True, but Cloud and Johnson delivered an entertaining, TV-friendly fight, one reminiscent of the kind of light heavyweight battles that were the norm when Dawson’s trainer, former titleholder Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, was a top 175-pound contender in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Cloud might not have Dawson’s level of skill, but the Florida native will be back on TV as soon as possible because he makes the kind of fights that bring in fans and ratings.
Muhammad, who beat Marvin Johnson in 1980 to win his title, said fans of that era appreciated boxers such as Michael Spinks as much as they did all-action fighters such as Johnson, Matthew Franklin (AKA Saad Muhammad) and Yaqui Lopez.
“You had your brawlers, who were popular, but you also had boxers that fans wanted to see,” said Muhammad, who beat Franklin early in the Philadelphia slugger’s career. “I could punch but I considered myself a boxer and that was OK back then. The difference between now and then was that the contenders fought each other, we fought often and we fought on network TV. That’s what’s missing in today’s game.
“When I won the title, it was on prime time along with the John Tate-Mike Weaver fight. Everyone saw us fight, not just boxing fans. People recognized pro boxers when we were walking down the street.”
Outside of hardcore fans, Dawson probably wouldn’t be recognized walking down any street in his hometown of New Haven, Conn. Muhammad believes a young fighter of Dawson’s talent would have nationwide recognition had the early part of his career been on network television.
Dawson has fought on Showtime six times. His last two fights were on HBO. However, subscription cable is not enough, according to Muhammad.
“Boxing used to have a farm system with ABC, CBS and NBC,” he said. “You have to grow into HBO and Showtime, and even ESPN. The sport will always be popular but a lot of good fighters are being swept under the rug because they just haven’t had the exposure. I think the loss of the networks took the sting out of the sport.”
Dawson believes he will eventually gain a solid television following, but he concedes that his lack of TV exposure before he became a Showtime and HBO fighter probably hurt his popularity.
“I guess you can say that I was under the radar,” Dawson said. “I started my career fighting only in Connecticut at the Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods (casinos). My first 17 or 18 fights were not on national television. In fact, I think my first Showtime fight was against Eric Harding. I was already 21-0 at the time and that was only a ShoBox.”
Dawson has been impressive since he got up from a first-round knockdown to dominate Harding and win a lopsided decision in June of 2006. He won his first title by out-pointing then-undefeated (31-0) Tomasz Adamek in July of 2007. He spent 2008 and last year by twice beating former champs Antonio Tarver and Johnson via unanimous decisions.
Dawson, who is rated No. 4 in the Yahoo! Sports boxing rankings and No. 6 in THE RING’s Pound-for-Pound Rankings, has earned “elite fighter” status with his accomplishments.
He’s confident that his obvious skill and talent will one day earn him the kind of crossover success that another pound-for-pound-level pure boxer has attained.
“My style is the same as Floyd Mayweather’s,” Dawson said. “He’s the best and he wins with skills. Aside from Ricky Hatton, he hasn’t knocked anyone out in a long time, but he’s still the biggest pay-per-view star in the sport.
“Eventually, I think fans will come around and see the skills that I have and come to appreciate my style.”
All he has to do is keep winning.
Dawson says he’s put in one of the best camps of his career to ensure he remains undefeated on Saturday.
“I’ve brought back in my conditioning coach, Axel Murillo, for this camp,” Dawson said. “I didn’t have him in my last two camps but I wanted him for this one because I’m fighting a young guy my age and I wanted to be fast, strong and agile.”
Muhammad is pleased with the form Dawson has shown in sparring sessions with crafty middleweight veteran Ishe Smith, super middleweight prospect Dyah Davis and capable cruiserweight Carlos DeLeon Jr.
“Chad looked great with Ishe, Dyah, DeLeon and a Cuban amateur star,” he said. “His final sessions were 10-rounders with 4-minute rounds and half-minute breaks. He’s ready. I believe my fighter edges Pascal in every department. My only concern is the officiating because we’re going into the lion’s den. We’ve all seen some funny stuff with the referees and the judging in Canada in recent years, so that’s the only thing I’m worried about.”
“If I see Marlon B. Wright in the ring, I will turn around and walk out of the arena until he’s replaced,” joked Dawson, referencing the referee who caused controversy with his final-round officiating in the first Lucian Bute-Librado Andrade bout.
Dawson has watched many of Bute’s fights. He views the undefeated Montreal-based super middleweight titleholder as a future opponent, along with other top 168-pound contenders.
“I can’t wait for the best super middleweights to step up,” Dawson said. “I believe Bute and most of the fighters in the Super Six (168-pound tournament) will soon come up to light heavyweight and make this division the hottest in the sport for the next couple of years.”
If that happens, Dawson intends to be the best fighter of a hot division.