It's perhaps the most oft-asked, oft-pushed, oft-overused questions in boxing, one of the first questions a winning fighter is hit with in the ring and frequently one the top fighters get right before a scheduled fight. Which is why it was no surprise when on a recent conference call to promote his light heavyweight title showdown with Bernard Hopkins on Saturday night, Chad Dawson was asked about Nathan Cleverly, a rising alphabet titleholder fighting out of England.
Usually, a fighter will take the bait. Dawson, however, would not.
"The only person on my radar right now," Dawson deadpanned, "is Bernard Hopkins."
Indeed, for Dawson (30-1) there is no other fight. Dawson has been smoldering since the first meeting between the two last October was aborted in the second round, when a WWE-style takedown (if you believe Hopkins) or a defensive nudge (if you are listening to Dawson) sent Hopkins (52-5-2) to the canvas and dislocated his left shoulder.
Dawson believed Hopkins faked the injury then. Still does now.
"I guess it's all about his legacy," Dawson said. "If I was him, I wouldn't want to go out on a bad note like that. I wouldn't want to have anybody saying that you're ducking this guy. I'm not going to say he's scared because I don't believe any fighter is scared. If any man gets in the ring with another man, they're not a scared person. But if you look at the last fight, he said he dislocated his shoulder but we didn't see any weakness in his shoulder. We didn't see any doctor's notes or anything like that."
Part of Dawson's frustration is that he believes that before Hopkins bowed out he was on his way to an easy win. What Dawson lacks in pure entertainment value he makes up for in skill. Dawson expertly uses his long, 6-foot-1 frame, relentlessly tagging opponents with the jab and backing them up with the right hand. He owns wins -- convincing wins -- over Tomasz Adamek, Antonio Tarver and Glen Johnson, and is certain that if Hopkins had stayed in the fight his name would have been tacked onto the list.
"He showed that he really didn't want to be in the ring with me," Dawson said. "It's a confidence booster for me. I want to go in there on [Saturday] and I want to pick up right where we left off. I want to be the aggressor. I want to make him fight and hopefully we can give the fans what they came to see the last time, a real fight."
"I think the last fight I didn't get a lot of credit for being the aggressor and being the one that tried to press the fight. Bernard backed up the first two rounds. I was pressing the fight. I tried to get Bernard to fight, but he didn't show any signs that he wanted to fight until the fight was over. So, I mean I plan on going out there, using my jab, using my speed, my youth, and winning the fight."
Hopkins has been unusually quiet during the buildup for this rematch. He passed on the traditional stare down photo-op at a press conference last month and, according to Dawson's promoter, Gary Shaw, refused to participate in HBO's popular Face Off special. Part of it is because the fight will be televised on HBO, not pay-per-view, there is less of a need to promote it. Part of it is the mind games of a sage veteran trying, again, to climb into a younger fighters head.
"I admire everything [Hopkins] has done in the sport of boxing over the last few years," Dawson said. "Those are the things you can't take away from Bernard Hopkins. The only thing I have to do is go out there and dethrone him. I want to become the world champion. I want the same recognition that Bernard gets."
Dawson understands that even at 47, Hopkins is not to be underestimated. In recent years Hopkins has cleanly beaten younger, more powerful opponents in Jean Pascal and Kelly Pavlik. He knows Hopkins will come into the ring with a plan. Dawson just hopes that plan is to fight.
"I think I'm [much] different from all the other young guys he's beaten," Dawson said. "I have more will. I'm definitely smarter. I know Bernard's been around the game for a long time. I know he knows all the tricks and all of the tactics and everything, but I'm not worried about that. Like I keep saying, if Bernard comes to fight on [Saturday] then the fans will get a great fight and I will be the one who comes out on top."