LAS VEGAS – The phone rang in Chad Dawson's dressing room Saturday, not long before the biggest fight of his life.
Dawson was set to fight Antonio Tarver for the IBF light heavyweight championship at The Palms when he received a call from one-time pound-for-pound champion Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Off in a corner, trainer Eddie Mustafa Muhammad watched as Dawson listened to Mayweather give him a pep talk.
And not long after they hung up, Dawson went out and did what both Mayweather and Muhammad had said he would do by routing Tarver and winning the IBF title.
Dawson, who won by official scores of 117-110, 117-110 and 118-109 (Yahoo! Sports scored the fight 118-109), earned something much larger than a gaudy trinket. Suddenly, it's not just Mayweather and Muhammad who are speculating that he is the best fighter in the world.
That post is held by WBC lightweight champion Manny Pacquiao, who has done nothing to lose it. But Dawson (27-0, 17 KOs) is so big, so quick, so smart and so agile in the ring, he's reminiscent of a larger version of Mayweather.
He outpunched, outthought and overpowered Tarver (27-5) in their grudge match, winning all but the third and sixth rounds on judge Max DeLuca's card and all but the third, sixth and 11th on judges' Dave Moretti's and C.J. Ross' cards.
Mayweather said Dawson "is the best pound-for-pound fighter in boxing," and there weren't many who witnessed his precise destruction of Tarver who could dispute that.
"Greatness knows greatness," Muhammad said, when asked if he were surprised that Mayweather would put in an unsolicited call to Dawson. "People in boxing, the ones who really know, this is no surprise to them. To me, Chad's been the best since the first fight I had with him [against Epfiano Mendoza] last year."
Tarver tried to make the fight, moving forward all night and trying to set Dawson up for one of the power shots he used to knock out Roy Jones Jr. at the high point of his career in 2003.
But though he flurried frequently, he took a lot more than he gave as it was clear that Dawson's fast hands and superior conditioning were having an impact.
"He's a young lion and he had a high work rate," Tarver said of Dawson. "I missed a few times with my power shot, but that's what this is, it's a game of inches."
Dawson sat at the postfight news conference as promoter Gary Shaw droned on, joking with Palms owner Gavin Maloof about casino losses and room service bills, caressing his son, Prince, while the title belt sat at his feet.
"I just want to fight the best now," Dawson said. "There's a new king in town."
Dawson isn't looking to make meaningless mandatory title defenses. He's anxious to fight the winner of the Nov. 8 bout in New York between Jones and Ring magazine light heavyweight champion. There is a rematch clause in Dawson's contract with Tarver and Tarver said he'd like a rematch, though he said he'd retire if Dawson beats him again.
But Muhammad said Dawson only wants those fights which will have people talking about them years down the line. Fights in which he just earns a payday and beats a no-name opponent aren't going to be high on Dawson's list of priorities.
"What Chad wants is for people to see him and say, 'See that guy, there goes the best fighter in the world,' " Muhammad said. "That's the kind of thing he's thinking about now. He's got everything you want. And we're on the same page. We think alike. I asked him a question tonight and he gave me the answer I was looking for. I said, 'What did I tell you I needed on Tuesday?' And he looked me in the eye and right away said, 'Focus.' He doesn't get rattled and his physical skills are as good or better than anyone's. So when you get a guy who is that skilled physically and he's solid mentally, he's going to be on top for a while."
Dawson is going to need another win or two before he receives widespread acceptance, because critics are going to point to Tarver's age (37) and the fact that Dawson wasn't in most top 10s beforehand.
But it's hard to imagine Jones being able to handle Dawson at this point and Calzaghe would have his hands more than full.
The Dawson camp is riding high – manager Mike Criscio bet $70,000 on Dawson to win, laying $2.70 to win $1 at the Belaggio down the street – and they're dreaming big dreams.
But when you have an athlete like Dawson who can fulfill those dreams, that's not necessarily a bad thing.
"This is the kind of a kid that trainers dream about all of their lives sometimes and never get," Muhammad said. "He's a great person, he's a great, hard worker, he'll do anything you tell him, he has terrific instincts and he has a fighter's heart. Now that he has a taste of what life is like up here at the top, you watch, he is going to be real, real solid, real hard to knock out of there. Get used to him."
- Antonio Tarver