Chad Dawson is one of those boxers whose face should be on billboards, whose name should be on the lips of even the most casual fans.
If you like the fight game even a little bit, something about Dawson should appeal to you.
If you value boxing ability, Dawson is your guy. The former light heavyweight champion is a superb boxer who knows how to walk his opponents into shots and avoid blows while standing directly in the line of fire.
Dawson also can deliver knockout power. He's got the ability to come from behind, if need be, because he can take out just about anyone with one good shot.
There's little about boxing in which Dawson doesn't excel. The problem is, even though he almost always wins, it's like he's trying to tease the crowd with his talents.
He shows it only in short bursts and doesn't seem committed to being called great.
Because of that, because of his tendency to adopt a safety-first style, he remains a virtual no-name despite being one of the world's premier fighters the last five years. And he's had to chase a 47-year-old man in order to try to gain recognition for himself.
That's not the way it should be for a boxer with elite skills, but star talent alone doesn't make one a star.
He challenges Bernard Hopkins on Saturday at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J., for the 47-year-old Philadelphian's World Boxing Council light heavyweight belt. Win or lose, though, there's little chance Dawson will replace Hopkins as an icon in the sport.
He always seems to leave the crowd thirsting for more. He's oozing with talent, but his fights never seem to turn out the way his talents suggest they should.
Dawson has it all wrong, too. He insists he simply needs to win, but as many fighters have found out over the years, just beating "The Man" doesn't make you "The Man."
"I admire everything [Hopkins has] done in the sport of boxing over the last few years, becoming the oldest world champion," 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. So, on [Saturday], that's what I'm going out to get."
Just slipping by, pulling out a decision, is hardly going to get Dawson the recognition Hopkins receives. If Hopkins wins, he's clearly the story, further increasing his record as the oldest man to win a major world title fight. He'll be 47 years, three months and 13 days on fight night.
If Dawson wins, Hopkins likely will still be the story, as a loss would probably, though not definitively, end his spectacular career.
What he must do to get the recognition he craves is to dominate the fight and become the first man to knock out Hopkins.
Hopkins has lost five times and drawn twice in 61 pro fights, but never has he been knocked out and never has he been dominated. A young Roy Jones clearly out-boxed Hopkins in 1993, but each of his other losses was debatable. He lost his pro debut in 1988, when Ronald Reagan was president. He lost twice to Jermain Taylor and once to Joe Calzaghe in close bouts that Hopkins believes he won.
Hopkins was injured in the second round of his first fight with Dawson in October, when Dawson hurled him to the ground. Hopkins said he injured his shoulder, though Dawson and promoter Gary Shaw believe he faked it in order to end the bout.
Clearly in the first two rounds, Dawson was far faster than Hopkins and seemed to have the fight going his way. Yet, for the clear difference in speed between them, Dawson failed to land even one memorable blow.
Yes, he was ahead. Yes, he seemed as if he'd win the fight. But he gave no one a reason to want to see him again.
He's getting to a point where if he doesn't start to do that, it's never going to happen. He's 30-1 with 17 knockouts and was called the best fighter in the world by no less an authority than Floyd Mayweather Jr.
The best fighters, though, put on memorable shows. Is it possible to recall a memorable Dawson bout?
Hopkins understands the pressure facing Dawson. The pressure is not only on Dawson to win, but also to look good doing it. And as anyone who has even casually followed boxing over the last two decades knows, it's virtually impossible to look good against Hopkins.
"He can come the way he wants to come, but I don't think a 29-year-old … is going to dance away from a 47-year-old," Hopkins said on a conference call. "Y'all would embarrass him. Y'all would kill him in your papers. So as any -year-old is told … with an old guy or an older guy, what do you do? You make him fight harder than he wants to fight. Well, that's one way if you're dealing with an average 47-year-old, but what happens where he matches the same energy and matches the same speed and he isn't breathing [hard]?
"Is he going to use the excuse that [Jean] Pascal used and say I was on some kind of steroids? Is he going to use the excuse that I'm drinking some kind of jungle juice? Is he going to use the excuse that maybe sometime I might've seen some witch doctor?"
Dawson is going to press the action and try to use his physical advantages to wear Hopkins down and, eventually, take him out.
But he can't afford to fight a cautiously. He has no choice, if he's serious about gaining credibility and recognition, but to make an emphatic statement and become the first man to stop Hopkins.
"That's the goal, [to win emphatically]," Dawson said. "That's my plan. I want to go out there and I want to beat him. If it goes 12 rounds, I want to win 11 or 12 of those rounds. I'm looking to go out and I'm looking to beat Bernard in a great fashion, a fashion that no one can say, 'Oh, but this, but that. It was a close fight.' I don't even want a close fight. I want to beat him decisively."
For his legacy, a win in a close fight is pretty much like a loss. Dawson needs a knockout, an emphatic one at that. He wants to be a star, and to have a chance of being one, that's his only choice.
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