By Lyle Fitzsimmons
He may be the best light heavyweight in the world.
Or he might not be.
But if a self-assured manner heading into a big fight was all that mattered, Chad Dawson’s status among the 175-pounders this weekend would already be undisputed.
“I’m in great spirits. I had a great camp. Everything is 100 percent compared to what it was for my last fight,” the suddenly ebullient 28-year-old said Tuesday, five days in front of a return to Montreal and a chance to exorcise the demons of that very Aug. 14 night.
“Everything’s gone according to plan this time.”
Last time… errrr, not so much.
Back then at the Bell Centre, the unbeaten southpaw saw adopted hometown hero Jean Pascal steal away with his gaudy jewelry, adding Dawson’s IBO belt to his own WBC title via 11-round technical decision in what was universally panned as the Connecticut resident’s worst pro night.
The intervening nine months have brought significant upheaval to the ex-champ’s support team, most notably in the form of top-shelf trainer Emanuel Steward – who’ll accompany Dawson for the first time when he faces fellow former champion Adrian Diaconu Saturday night.
The fight is the last semifinal to the main event rematch between Pascal and Bernard Hopkins, who fought to a controversial 12-round draw in Pascal’s initial unified title defense after the Dawson fight.
And if all goes well with Diaconu, Chad’s got next.
“It’s a very important night for me,” Dawson said. “The fact that I’m back in Montreal and Pascal and Hopkins are fighting on the same card. I want to win. I want to win impressively. And I want to strike some fear into the hearts of those two guys.
“When the night’s over, it’ll be clear I’m the best fighter at 175 pounds.”
He was largely considered so prior to last summer, when he entered the match with Pascal having twice dispatched division stalwarts Antonio Tarver and Glen Johnson, not to mention former champion and current heavyweight contender Tomasz Adamek.
But rather than adding a seventh straight win since dethroning Adamek in 2007, Dawson was outhustled through the early rounds and too far behind for scorecard validation when his rally was interrupted and the bout stopped short due to a headbutt-induced cut.
Pascal won the verdict by counts of 108-101, 106-103 and 106-103, leaving the former champ to clean house in the entourage and grow wiser to the perils of pre-fight distraction.
“It impacts a lot,” he said. “A fighter wants to be focused. He wants to be thinking of his opponent and nothing else, so he can concentrate on fighting his fight. I didn’t do that. I sat back and waited. And by the time he was on his way out, the fight was stopped and he got the decision.
“I didn’t perform well. I had one bad night and suddenly everyone turned on me. But by the time I get out of the ring Saturday, they’ll all be back on the bandwagon.”
And to those citing passion – or a lack thereof – as the root of his problems, Dawson calls bullsh*t.
“I’ve been boxing since I was 8 years old, and I never would have made it to the levels I’ve achieved if I wasn’t passionate for it,” he said. “I still have that. This fight shows it. The fact that I’m coming back to Montreal shows it. I didn’t have to take this fight. I chose this fight to prove a point.”
Presumably, his subsequent options will be many.
A win over Diaconu is expected to yield either a rematch with Pascal or a long-awaited showdown with Hopkins – pending the result of their second go-round.
Asked for a pick, Dawson likes Hopkins by decision.
“The way I look at it, I’m one step away from where I want to be,” he said. “I had a bad night, but I’m going to make it up and go far beyond it. Bernard was right when he called Pascal a four-round fighter. I think he’ll let him die out after the early rounds and dominate from there.”
Dawson had long campaigned for a shot at the Philadelphia veteran prior to the Pascal loss, and cited the irony that Hopkins was only too eager to make a deal with the new champ after years of not tangling with the former version.
He still expects it to be a hard fight to sign, but given his choice it’s the one he wants.
“It’s kind of a hard decision. But I’ve been chasing Bernard for two or three years,” Dawson said. “I’d definitely like to avenge my loss, but I think I want the Hopkins fight a little more so.
“He’s tailor-made for me and I’d definitely be the first one to knock him out.”
* * * * * * * * * *
This week’s title-fight schedule:
IBO/WBC light heavyweight titles – Montreal, Canada
Jean Pascal (champion) vs. Bernard Hopkins (No. 1 IBO contender)
Pascal (26-1-1, 16 KO): Fifth WBC/Second IBO title defense; Unbeaten in Montreal (20-0, 13 KO)
Hopkins (51-5-2, 32 KO): Twenty-eighth title fight (21-3-2, 13 KO); Three non-U.S. fights (1-0-2, 0 KO)
Fitzbitz says: “More determined Pascal erases doubt from initial meeting.” Pascal by decision
WBC super flyweight title – Tuxtla Gutierrez, Mexico
Tomas Rojas (champion) vs. Juan Jose Montes (No. 1 contender)
Rojas (35-12-1, 23 KO): Second title defense; Four-fight unbeaten streak since 2009 (4-0, 2 KO)
Montes (19-1, 12 KO): First title fight; Twelve-fight unbeaten streak since 2007 (12-0, 5 KO)
Fitzbitz says: “UPSET! Youngster Montes breaks through in first championship chance.” Montes in 9
WBO light heavyweight title – Greenwich, United Kingdom
Juergen Braehmer (champion) vs. Nathan Cleverly (unranked)
Braehmer (36-2, 29 KO): Third title defense; Five-fight unbeaten streak since 2008 (5-0, 4 KO)
Cleverly (21-0, 10 KO): First title fight; Seven KOs in eight wins since 2008 (8-0, 7 KO)
Fitzbitz says: “UPSET! Home cooking earns streaking Welshman his first world belt.” Cleverly by decision
Last week’s picks: 2-0
Overall picks record: 207-71 (74.4 percent)
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him at www.twitter.com/fitzbitz .