Chad Dawson is 30, well spoken, and one of the most accomplished active fighters in boxing. He has beaten Tomasz Adamek and Bernard Hopkins and bested Antonio Tarver and Glen Johnson twice. On paper, he's on the cusp of having the credentials of a Floyd Mayweather/Manny Pacquiao level superstar.
Except he isn't. Not even close. The only time Dawson is mentioned in the same sentence as Mayweather or Pacquiao is when he tweets that he is buying one of their pay-per-views. Because for all his talent, for all his fearlessness, Dawson has one overriding factor working against him.
Algebra dull. Mr. Rogers dull. Ben-Stein-reading-the-phone-book-on-an-endless-loop dull. No, every fighter can't be Hopkins or Ricardo Mayorga on conference calls or at media events. But Dawson is about as quotable as a press release, his every word measured and delivered with the force of a feather duster.
Worse, he is dull in the ring, too. Fans of a crisp jab and a good pivot love Dawson. Those that like a good haymaker and a toe-to-toe war have not warmed up to him yet. Dawson's wins are usually wide on the scorecards but he has not had a knockout since 2009 and his most exciting fight to date was his 2010 loss to Jean Pascal, a fight that Pascal, a regular bull in a china shop, took to him.
This is a problem that Dawson -- and, not coincidentally, his next opponent, Andre Ward -- are faced with: Being great just isn't enough. It's likely Dawson, a light heavyweight titleholder for most of the last five years, would have thrived in any era. He's a rangy, 6-foot-1 southpaw with a diverse skill set. But his mild-mannered personality and beat 'em but, you know, don't beat 'em style in the ring have, to date, torpedoed his chances of raising his profile.
It's not entirely his fault. Dawson's career has been largely mismanaged. He has fought in Nevada, Florida and all over California instead of the northeast, where the New Haven, Conn., resident should have been building up a fan base. Ward (25-0) is no more aesthetically appealing than Dawson (31-1) but for the last three years he has fought four times in Oakland, which is the primary reason Saturday night's super middleweight title fight will be at Oracle Arena (10 p.m. ET, HBO), right in Ward's backyard.
Yet Saturday represents an enormous opportunity for Dawson. HBO has thrust its considerable promotional muscle behind Ward-Dawson, with a pay-per-view-like media blitz that includes an episode of 24/7 and a full slate of coverage available On Demand to hype the fight. When both fighters step into the ring, it will likely be in front of their largest television audience.
And Dawson will be a significant underdog. He is the recognized kingpin at 175 pounds, but he is dropping down to 168 for this fight, a cut that has forced him to shake up his diet and training regiment considerably. And, like it or not, fighting on Ward's home turf reduces his chances of winning a close decision.
"I gave him every advantage," Dawson said. "I think that credits my ability and what I know I'm capable of and what I know I could do in the arena. I don't care that the fight's in Oakland. I don't care that it's at 168 pounds because I know I'll be comfortable and everything is going to go my way."
Dawson won't promise fireworks, and given the slick defensive abilities of both fighters, no one is expecting Arturo Gatti-Micky Ward. But a prevailing sentiment from both sides is that the talent of the opponent and the stage this fight is on will bring out more exchanges than most are expecting. And even if it is a tactical contest, Dawson believes fans will appreciate watching two of the best in the sport.
"I say to everybody that's down on the fight and saying that it's going to be a boring fight, you can't say that because you've got two guys that are on top of their game, two guys in their prime, you got two guys that are the best in their divisions," Dawson said. "We're really fighting for something. What we're fighting for is something big, so I do believe that this is going to be a very exciting fight."
A win -- exciting or otherwise -- will catapult Dawson up the pound-for-pound rankings. But he is hoping the outcome will make people appreciate more than his record.
"I'm a warrior," Dawson said. "I've been in a ring 33 times, I've been hit, I've been hurt, I've been down, and I've gotten back up, and that's going to always be my style of fighting. Whenever I get hurt, the first thing that pops in my head is to come back. I come back meaner and I come back tougher, so that's just me, and that's the fighter I'm going to try to continue to be."