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Watch a few clips of Chad Dawson and it’s obvious that he's an elite talent. He's faster than just about anybody he faces. He has a ring awareness which far exceeds his age and experience.
See him in person and it will remove all doubt: You know you're watching one of the best fighters in the business.
"The way I see it, the only fighters you can really say are truly better than Chad are [Floyd] Mayweather and [Manny] Pacquiao," said Gary Shaw, Dawson’s promoter.
Dawson, though, is strangely low-key despite a 29-0 record, 17 knockouts and a position among virtually every major pound-for-pound Top 10 list. He's ranked fifth in the Yahoo! Sports poll. He's rated sixth by The Ring and fourth by ESPN.com.
Yet, his fight for the World Boxing Council light heavyweight title on HBO Saturday against Jean Pascal in Montreal is flying decidedly under the radar, particularly for one so talented. Mayweather once praised Dawson as the most talented man in boxing and Hall of Fame trainer Emanuel Steward raves about him as one of the sport's most complete fighters.
So why is he not embraced by the public?
Maybe it’s because he's a soft-spoken homebody who would rather play with his children than be the center of attention in a trendy night club. In the ring, he's preternaturally gifted, but he lacks the flash of Mayweather or the concussive power of Pacquiao.
As a result, Dawson's reputation is nowhere near that of elite boxers like Mayweather and Pacquiao despite the fact he's close to them talent-wise.
Part of it, too, is that there has been no natural rival for him. That's been the result of bad luck – his defining matches thus far have been against 40-year-old Glen Johnson and 39-year-old Antonio Tarver – and a bad decision.
Following the second of his two victories over Tarver, on May 9, 2009, Shaw declined to ask Dawson to consider a move to super middleweight. Instead, he insisted that any potential opponents would have to jump to 175 pounds to fight Dawson.
That was an attempt to position Dawson as the star, the power-broker who called the shots. But none of those potentially attractive opponents, men like Andre Ward, Mikkel Kessler, Lucian Bute and Carl Froch, gave much thought to making the leap to light heavyweight to chase Dawson. Nor did Bernard Hopkins, a slam-dunk Hall of Famer who had moved up to 175.
Instead of a potentially career-defining fight against Ward, who at 26 is only two years younger, Dawson had a rematch with the 40-year-old Johnson last November. Ward is tied up in Showtime's Super Six tournament for at least 10 more months and thus Dawson is relegated to fighting a string of opponents who are less accomplished and have less notoriety.
At least Pascal is 27 and a fresh face, taking Dawson out of the cycle of facing 40-somethings on the downsides of their career. That's what much of the last three years have been for Dawson. Since defeating then-24-year-old Jamie Hearn in his debut at light heavyweight on March 4, 2006, Dawson has fought eight times. His opponents were, in order, 33, 31, 33, 31, 39, 39, 40 and 40.
Finally, that ignominious streak will end with Saturday's bout on HBO, though Pascal isn't regarded nearly as highly as either Dawson or Ward.
Dawson, though, is nothing if not patient, and hasn't gotten irritated despite a steady stream of questions from media about his geriatric opponents.
"The fact that I'm not fighting someone who is 39, 40 years old is good," Dawson said. "[Pascal] is in his prime, I'm in my prime and that can lead to a good fight. It's not frustrating at all, though. I'm a world champion. I have a lot of time left in this sport and there are a lot of fights that I'll eventually get.
"I want to go where the best are and there are a lot of good fighters in the Super Six. That's turned out to be a great tournament, and those guys are eventually going to get to me. I've got plenty of time [to get the big fights]. I just have to stay ready and remain patient."
Dawson is clearly excited about facing Pascal, because if he wins, he won't be attempting to explain away Pascal's age, like he was forced to do after meeting Tarver and Johnson. He hasn't fought anyone other than those two since a Sept. 29, 2007, match against late replacement Epifanio Mendoza. Subsequently, he beat both Tarver and Johnson twice each, but gained little traction from the wins.
Pascal, who is three months younger than Dawson, is 25-1 with 16 knockouts and possesses an intriguing blend of speed and athleticism. Steward, in an HBO preview, compared Pascal to Roy Jones Jr., but said Dawson was the more talented of the two.
"I think Chad Dawson is probably a much more balanced-out fighter, physically and mentally [than Pascal], as well as a little notch better [with his] skills," Steward said.
That's just what Dawson wanted to hear, because he desperately wants to defeat a respected opponent to improve his standing.
"After the fights against Tarver and Johnson, all I heard was, 'Yeah, but he's 39,' or 'Yeah, but he's 40,' as if that meant they weren't good fighters any more," Dawson said. "This time, I'm fighting a guy just my age who is in his prime, who has a world title and who has some good wins."
A win for Dawson on Saturday would be something to proud of, but it's not going to help him achieve his goal, which is to one day be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
He's long set that as his goal, a dream that only become more real upon going to the induction ceremonies in Canastota, N.Y., a few years ago and meeting Hall of Famer Marvelous Marvin Hagler.
"My father (Rick) fought and I remember when I was 5 or 6, tagging along to the gym with him, and he had an autographed picture of Hagler taped on the wall there," Dawson said. "Hagler was a guy I just thought was so great. When I met him at the Hall of Fame, he introduced himself and he was such a great guy. He knew me. That just about killed me, that Marvin Hagler knew who I was and had seen me fight. He gave me some pointers and told me if I kept working hard the way I was, a lot of great things would happen to me.
"The thing about Hagler is, he was so tough but he never took his talent for granted. He wouldn't let anybody outwork him. He was always in great condition. And he always knew what to expect from the guy he was fighting. He was a true professional. I've never forgotten that and I've always tried to do those kinds of things, too."
The conditioning part is in his hands. The wild card is whether he'll ever land the kind of opponents Hagler faced. Hagler faced the elite men of his era, many of whom also happened to be among the greatest fighters of all-time.
Perhaps Pascal will become that opponent for Dawson. More likely, it will be Ward. Whoever it may be, Dawson hasn't lost faith that he'll one day be a central figure in the kind of mega-event that made Hagler a legend.
"The only fight I can win is the one I'm fighting [on Saturday]," Dawson said. "If I take care of my business and I keep looking for the best, sooner or later, that guy is going to come through and I'll have the kind of big fights these other guys have had. I just have to keep working and keep winning and it will happen for me."