Dawson throws caution to wind

Chad Dawson's passive approach to boxing has been thrown out the window in the hope of becoming a star this weekend.

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Chad Dawson (AFP)

It was the ultimate fail on the grandest stage. Just 11 months ago, Chad Dawson took what he believed to be a statement-making fight in Los Angeles against the legendary Bernard Hopkins.

To Dawson, it would mark his arrival as a top-level star. It would confer upon him a greatness that he had long ago believed he'd achieved.

But the fight on HBO Pay-Per-View was rejected resoundingly by the public. Given that Hopkins is one of the sport's top draws, the bout selling such a minuscule number on pay-per-view, reportedly just 40,000 units, seemed to say more about the public's lack of interest in Dawson than anything about Hopkins.

The fight lasted less than two rounds before it was stopped when Hopkins injured his shoulder in a freak accident.

But had Dawson fought most of his career with the intensity and aggressiveness he displayed in the round-and-a-half or so of the first Hopkins fight, the perception of him would be vastly different.

On Saturday at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif., Dawson will try again, and this time with momentum behind him.

He will drop from light heavyweight, where he holds the WBC title, to meet super middleweight champion Andre Ward in yet another potentially career-defining fight. It's one that, with the right kind of performance, could yet make him a star.

He enters the bout with much more momentum than he had entering the first Hopkins fight. After the unsatisfactory finish, a rematch was arranged. And while the pay-per-view in October was an enormous flop, the April 29, 2012, rematch in Atlantic City, N.J., turned out to be a rousing success.

It drew nearly 1.6 million live viewers to HBO, still one of the network's best performances for a boxing card this year.

In the past, the public has been indifferent toward Dawson because he's been pretty much indifferent about it. He never fought with much passion. He's always been a soft-spoken type, more willing to let his performance speak for him.

So the perception has often been that he’s a greatly talented guy who didn't really care, who was content to coast to wins.

He's never acted as if that perception bothered him until recently. After winning a clear decision over Hopkins in their rematch, he didn't take the easy path.

He could have sought bouts with one of a number of light heavyweights with a claim to a belt, but he instead sought, indeed demanded, the bout with Ward.

It was not only the toughest match he could find, but it was also the riskiest. He pretty much let Ward have everything he wanted in the negotiations in order to get the 2004 Olympic gold medalist into the ring.

"When I announced that I wanted to fight Andre Ward on HBO, I said 168 or you could do a catch weight or we could do 175," Dawson said. "That's what I said, and they said 168. I'm not the type of person who is going to go back and forth, back and forth. I told my promotor, Gary Shaw, to make this fight. I [said] I'd do 168 and I'd go to Oakland, so I gave him every advantage. I think that credits my ability and what I know I'm capable of and what I know I could do in the arena."

On talent alone, there are few fighters in the world better than Dawson. But being a top-tier boxer is more than just having been physically gifted.

Fighters become stars by accepting risks, overcoming odds and sneering at adversity. Dawson has always been a prudent, cautious, business-like fighter. That's helped his bank account, but it hasn't endeared him to his audience or earned him the respect of the sport's insiders.

Taking, and winning, the fight at Ward's weight and in Ward's hometown is a big step toward attaining both of those goals.

A generation before him, guys like Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns and Roberto Duran became legends for doing the same thing.

It may be too late for Dawson to earn legendary status in the sport, but it's not too late for him to be a star.

A little passion might be all he needs.

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