Chad Dawson may win us over yet

Chad Dawson's career has been messy and unfulfilling. Will an Andre Ward fight mark a new start? Al Bello/Getty Images

Sometimes there's just no nice way to sugarcoat the truth.

For all of light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson's considerable talent, it's hard to shake the feeling that he's about as insufferable a figure as there is in boxing today.

Armed with a public persona that's equal parts whiny, brooding and defensive (with an in-ring style to match), Dawson has trudged through a prime as unremarkable as anyone could imagine for a 30-year-old American champion with a 31-1 record.

He has been a hard sell to fans who rightfully believe Dawson's safety-first style is what's increasingly wrong with the sport. It's also hard to imagine that there has been a fighter as talented who looks so painfully uninterested in the performance aspect of his craft or the maximizing of his skills.

Most observers have long given up on the day when Dawson wakes up and realizes just how good he really is. That's what made his recent decision to willingly move down seven pounds to challenge super middleweight champion Andre Ward all the more puzzling -- and equally fantastic.

Has the prodigal son of boxing's pound-for-pound elite finally come full circle after years of us selling him short?

Although that question remains to be seen, Dawson's willingness to move down and challenge the best -- setting up a rare matchup between lineal champions -- is a positive trend that we can only hope becomes contagious. It's also a sign that he's moving his career in the right direction.

It wasn't so long ago that Dawson was almost universally lauded as an exciting prospect with a bright future, but soon something changed in his demeanor.

Dawson survived an all-action slugfest in his first meeting with Glen Johnson, in 2008. Despite showing a ton of heart in claiming a disputed victory, he never again displayed the same hunger and willingness to do more than the bare minimum to win, evidenced in uninspiring wins against Antonio Tarver (twice) and in a rematch with Johnson. Despite being an unbeaten champion, Dawson drifted into boxing purgatory as a high-risk/low-reward opponent with a sour attitude and limited marketing potential.

He continued to unsuccessfully lure Bernard Hopkins into the kind of marquee fight that would elevate his name, eventually landing the bout years later only by accepting step-aside money to allow for Hopkins' immediate rematch with Jean Pascal. And the ensuing fights with Hopkins couldn't have been more disastrous for Dawson, from the debacle ending of their first bout (a pay-per-view, no less) to his childish behavior in the aftermath. Dawson received little credit for winning the excruciatingly bland rematch, seeming reluctant to attack the 47-year-old Hopkins when he had him in trouble.

That's what made Dawson's decision to make the Ward fight so pleasantly surprising. Dawson publicly offered a drop to super middleweight without the aid of a catchweight -- in a fight that will be held in Ward's Oakland, Calif., hometown -- and enters as the underdog despite advantages in height and reach.

Finally, Dawson finds himself in a rare win-win situation. A victory would be the biggest of his career, catapulting him up the P4P rankings. Meanwhile, a respectable loss still leaves him as the champion at 175 pounds, in line for potential paydays in both divisions.

Maybe we have sold Dawson short all along, despite the fighter himself giving us plenty of reasons to disbelieve our eyes. Or maybe this is merely a case of an underachiever coming of age before the window of his prime passes him by.

By showing the boldness to move down in weight to secure a fight against an opponent on the verge of true stardom -- an undefeated champion and undisputed top-five pound-for-pounder, no less -- Dawson proved he is willing to go all-in on maximizing his true potential. Now it's up to him to produce a performance that's equally inspiring.