Chad Dawson is 27, in the prime of his career, an unbeaten world champion and the most talented man in the light heavyweight division.
He'll headline a card in his home state on Saturday when he fights Glen Johnson in a bout televised nationally by HBO at the XL Center in Hartford, Conn.
Yet, a win over Johnson, as impressive as it may be, in a bout for the interim World Boxing Council light heavyweight belt won't carry a lot of significance since the division he hopes to rule is filled with graybeards and soon-to-retire fighters.
Dawson had hoped to be fighting Bernard Hopkins on Saturday, but Hopkins wasn't interested. And even if "The Executioner" changes his mind and decides he is interested next year, the window of opportunity for a bout is small. Hopkins is 44 and will turn 45 on Jan. 15. A day later, another veteran light heavyweight, Roy Jones Jr., will turn 41.
The man Dawson beat in his last two outings, Antonio Tarver, is 39 and will turn 40 on Nov. 21. And Johnson, boxing's popular "Road Warrior," is 40 and will turn 41 on Jan. 2.
Even Zsolt Erdei, who is widely regarded as among the top five or six 175-pounders in the world, is 35.
Dawson has already beaten Tarver twice and, thankfully, there won't be a third bout between them. He beat Johnson in an entertaining bout in 2008 and if he wins Saturday's rematch, Johnson will be very much in his rear-view mirror.
Erdei has only fought twice outside of Europe and is a virtual unknown in the U.S., meaning a fight with Erdei wouldn't be particularly lucrative for Dawson. Neither Hopkins nor Jones, who will meet each other in 2010, is likely to want to face Dawson given the high-risk, low-reward ratio.
That leaves Dawson in a precarious spot. He hasn't been a hot ticket so far in his career and would seem to need a high-profile opponent to help get him over the top. He's a low-key guy who doesn't seek the limelight and isn't in it much except when he fights.
Have no doubt, this is a superb boxer. He's ranked No. 8 in the Yahoo! Sports poll and nearly all major pound-for-pound rankings have him in or on the cusp of the top 10. He's got fast hands, terrific lateral movement and plenty of ring savvy.
He dominated Tomasz Adamek, who has gone on to win a cruiserweight title and recently defeated heavyweight Andrew Golota. He's the real deal.
Johnson will push him and make him work, as he did when they fought in Tampa, Fla., last year, but Dawson said he's learned from that mistake and won't stand in front of Johnson and trade.
"I want to do a lot of things differently this fight," Dawson said. "The first time, I got caught up in a lot of slugging and I'm not looking to do that this time. I'm not the type of fighter who goes in there looking for the knockout. I want to go in there and just showcase my talent in front of my hometown. I want to make it an exciting fight and definitely win convincingly.
"I know I won the last fight. I'm done talking about the last fight. I'm just ready to go into this one and win this one more convincingly than the last one. I want to put on a good show. I will fight anybody. Whoever they put in front of me I will fight."
Johnson relentlessly bores forward and wins many of his fans via sheer will. He's likely to try to take Dawson's heart, breaking him down with the constant pressure and beating him with hard, powerful shots.
Dawson, though, has grown much as a fighter since the last time the two met. Johnson has passed his 40th birthday and isn't the same fighter who once knocked out Roy Jones.
Assuming Dawson gets past Johnson on Saturday, the problem for him is there aren't a lot of positive options at light heavyweight. There aren't, at least, if he wants to engage in a big-money fight.
If he wants to keep his title and defend it against a succession of mandatory challengers for modest paydays, he can do that until a challenger emerges.
But he also may look toward super middleweight. Promoter Gary Shaw has already spoken openly of the possibility of Dawson facing the winner of Showtime's "Super Six" tournament when it concludes.
That, however, isn't going to be until sometime in early 2011, more than 18 months from now.
A vacancy likely soon will exist in the "Super Six," as former undisputed middleweight champion Jermain Taylor is expected to pull out and retire after having been brutally knocked out in three of his last five fights.
But if Dawson moves down, he'll risk burning bridges with HBO, which overbid for his rematch in May with Antonio Tarver because it so badly wanted him to appear on its network.
Dawson needs a great performance on Saturday against Johnson in order to make people demand to see him. And he needs someone else to emerge as a young, legitimate contender in the light heavyweight division.
If that doesn't occur, one of boxing's elite talents is going to go to waste far away from the spotlight he deserves.
- Chad Dawson
- Antonio Tarver
- Bernard Hopkins
- Glen Johnson