Friday August 13th, 2010

Chad Dawson has skills.

Check that, Chad Dawson has serious skills.

At 6-foot-1 and 175 pounds, Dawson is a prototypical light heavyweight. With blazing hand speed, sneaky power and a body that looks like it was carved from granite, Dawson has all the tools to be a star, a once- or twice-in-a-generation fighter who could dominate a division like Floyd Mayweather, Joe Calzaghe or Roy Jones.

So here's the question: Why isn't Chad Dawson more popular?

He's not popular in Las Vegas, where Dawson saw swaths of empty seats for his two fights with Antonio Tarver. Not in Florida, where Dawson has fought six times since 2006 but has yet to build a serious fan base. Not in his home state of Connecticut, where Dawson drew a meager 5,000 fans for his 2009 win over Glen Johnson.


It's simple: Chad Dawson does not look for the knockout.

Run down the list of the most popular fighters. Manny Pacquiao. Miguel Cotto. Shane Mosley. Lucian Bute. Stylistically different fighters with one common link: They all look for the knockout. Pacquiao looks to decapitate his opponent from the opening bell. Cotto wears you down with that savage left hook to the body until coming up with a crushing KO blow ... which sometimes happens to be the left hook to the body. Mosley and Bute are skilled but each packs one-punch power.

There are exceptions. Mayweather isn't a power puncher and he might be the biggest draw in the sport. But Mayweather's popularity has been carefully cultivated over the years, a product of HBO's 24/7 series and the cocky persona he's adopted.

But it's the power guys who are the big draws. Certainly there is a large cluster of boxing fans who enjoy a good tactical fight, but a majority gravitates toward the fighter who produces the better climax.

Dawson doesn't. It's not that he's light-handed like Yuri Foreman or Paulie Malignaggi. He's got power. Of his 29 wins, 17 have come by knockout. His sturdy frame makes you believe he has it in him. But when the network lights are shining brightest, Dawson is going the distance. Sure, he'll put down Jamie Hearn, Jesus Ruiz and Epifanio Mendoza. But Tarver, Johnson or Tomasz Adamek? Better settle in, because those fights are going to the scorecards.

Dawson doesn't see anything wrong with that approach.

"I'm just not that type of fighter," Dawson said Thursday in a telephone interview. "I'm not going to change my style for nobody. I want to keep winning."

Winning is good. Winning will keep Dawson's record spotless, his face (relatively) unblemished and an assortment of meaningless title belts around his waist. But it won't make him a star. For that, Dawson needs big knockouts over big competition.

His first chance comes Saturday in Montreal, where he'll bid for Jean Pascal's WBC light heavyweight championship and the vacant Ring magazine title. Dawson should win -- he has a two-inch height and a four-inch reach advantage. But just winning wouldn't be taking advantage of the moment. The lights will be bright -- the fight will be televised by HBO -- and the arena will be packed. More than 6,000 tickets have already been sold and promoters are expecting 10,000 at the Bell Centre, the bulk of whom will be there for Pascal, a Haitian native who has made Canada his home.

Pascal (25-1) won't be running from Dawson, either. He has pledged to test Dawson's chin and make him fight in the middle of the ring.

That, Dawson says, would be a mistake.

"If he plans on coming in and charging, he falls right into my game plan," Dawson said. "He comes at me like that and I will knock him out."

If he does, it could be the start of an interesting two years for Dawson. The once-barren 175-pound landscape is now ripe with contenders. After wasting years chasing around Bernard Hopkins, Dawson could have the division's big names come to him. Tavoris Cloud, who defeated Johnson last week, wants a piece of him. Bute, the reigning 168-pound king, might want one too. Showtime's Super Six tournament won't conclude until next summer, but, after that, there could be a handful of well-promoted young stars looking to take down the king.

But it all starts on Saturday. Put down Pascal and the path to stardom opens up. Don't, and take your chances.

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