Dawson Fighting Ward, And Perceptions

He agreed to drop to Andre Ward's weight class.

He agreed to fight on Andre Ward's home turf.

Either Chad Dawson is desperate, desperate for prestige, for bigger purses, desperate for the widespread respect he feels he has earned.

Or, even as a Vegas underdog, Dawson is confident he can beat one of the five best pound-for-pound boxers in the world Sept. 8 at Oracle Arena in Oakland.

Or maybe it's all of the above.

"A victory over Andre Ward would mean a lot for my career," Dawson said Tuesday on a conference call. "We're talking about someone very, very high on the pound-for-pound lists. An Olympic gold medal [the last American to do so in 2004], when you look at his resume, it doesn't get any bigger than that."

A week ago, Dawson answered a similar question in a more introspective way.

"Being willing to go down to 168 pounds and go to his backyard, I'm testing myself," Dawson said. "That's what champions need to do."

The unbeaten Ward, 25-0 and consensus 2011 Fighter of the Year, is rated the No. 5 pound-for-pound boxer in the world by The Ring magazine. Dawson, 31-1 and finally ridding himself of Bernard Hopkins, is rated No. 10.

Yes, this is the biggest test of Chad Dawson's life.

In terms of import, it is a big-time fight. In terms of entertainment on HBO, many wonder if it will deliver. It's a rare moment when two linear champions in the prime of their careers meet in the ring. Ward, 28, is risking his WBC and WBA super-middleweight belts. Although win or lose, he keeps his WBC light-heavyweight belt, Dawson, dropping down from 175 pounds, could be risking more: Relevance among the major names in a sport battling to remain a major sport.

"This is the first time I've been the underdog in a long time," Dawson said. "They're making the wrong bet. It will make me a better fighter."

As important as this fight is, as much as HBO is giving it the "24/7" treatment, it also isn't pay-per-view. Consumer demand, not the sweetness of the science, determines that part. Dawson is a defensive fighter. In the past, his attention span has wavered. He has not squeezed every precious second out of every fight in his career. Even in his home state, he has not built a fan base commensurate with his ability. His fights often end up on the other guy's home court. Dawson also is immensely talented, capable of rising to challenges. And this time around, he is losing weight in an attempt to gain weight, gravitas, in his sport.

If Dawson beats Ward, he will hold belts in two divisions. More than that, Chad Dawson of New Haven will establish himself at 30 as a force in boxing.

"I know how bad Chad wants this, how bad he wants the recognition this fight will bring," said Dawson's trainer, John Scully.

The fight is one matter. Fighting perceptions is another. Usually with a bout like this, there'd be a "catch-weight," of say, 170 pounds, or Ward would have moved up in class. Instead, Dawson readily agreed to drop a class. He laughs off the idea that it will mean a drop down in boxing class.

"People are so wrapped up in the fact I'm moving down," Dawson said. "I'm looking forward to proving everybody wrong."

Dawson said he regularly enters training camps at only 178-180, anyway.

"I'll make the weight comfortably," said Dawson, who last fought at super middleweight in 2006. "I just put on an extra mile on my run and I'm dieting. It's something I haven't done in years. When I fight at light-heavyweight, I eat what I want. This camp was great. It just made me a little meaner that I couldn't eat what I wanted. People think I'll be drained and dehydrated. That will not be the case at all."

Dawson's strength coach, Axel Murillo, takes care of Dawson's cooking.

CHICAGO