Chad Dawson finally has found himself in a peaceful place after a tumultuous couple of years.
After a frustrating -- yet ultimately successful -- pair of fights with Bernard Hopkins and an ill-fated move down to 168 pounds against unbeaten champion Andre Ward last September -- where a weakened Dawson was stopped for the first time in his career -- the 30-year-old light heavyweight champion has reunited with a former trainer (again) and is happy being back at his natural weight.
Despite the steady flow of criticism that has often followed him -- win or lose – throughout his career, Dawson (31-2-1, 17 KOs) remains one of the best pure boxers in the sport. He'll make his return to 175 pounds on Saturday in a title defense against hard-hitting Adonis Stevenson (20-1, 17 KOs) at Bell Centre in Montreal (HBO, 10 p.m. ET).
Dawson recently took some time away from training camp to talk to ESPN.com:
How has your body adjusted moving back up to 175 pounds and how good do you feel?
I feel great. My body is adjusting great and I think everybody will see that the night of the weigh-in. I'm back at my natural weight. I'm walking around at about 180 pounds every day and am leaving the gym each day at 176 or 177. As you can tell, light heavyweight is my natural weight. In the Ward fight, it took a lot out of me and I got to see how physically strong I was at 175 as opposed to being at 168. It was kind of a blessing in disguise to show me I shouldn't have taken the fight at that weight, but I did. It was my error and Andre Ward took advantage of it. Now I'm back at light heavyweight and I'm looking forward to continuing to be the best in the world.
You mentioned how the move to 168 was your mistake. But is there a part of you that is happy you took the chance and dared to be great by accepting such a difficult fight?
I take nothing away from the fight. I did show heart and courage by taking the fight at that weight, but it was an error on my part and wasn't my team's fault or anyone else's fault. It was my fault by taking that fight. We thought we could do it and be comfortable there. I made the weight, but unfortunately when we got into the ring it just took a spin on me. I should have never been at 168. I hadn't fought at that weight in six years. It was definitely my fault.
What was the point where you first realized moving down to 168 was a bad idea?
The night before the weigh-in when I had to lose nine pounds. [Dawson laughed.] But I made the weight and did everything that was asked of me. The fight happened and Andre Ward got the victory. I'm not going to hang my head low. The best thing that did come out of this fight was I got back in the gym and knew that in this [next] fight I have to take care of business and it's a tremendous boost to my confidence. I still have to go out there on the 8th and prove that I am still one of the pound-for-pound best.
You will be facing a very dangerous opponent in Stevenson, but a guy who at 35 still has yet to step up to the highest level against a top-end guy. What kind of difficulties does he bring to this matchup?
Just being a big puncher. I've watched him and all I can say is he is a big puncher. There is nothing he can do that makes me believe he is a better fighter than me. He's a big puncher and we understand that. That's what we worked on -- hands up, turning him, spinning him and making him look for me and just being an all-around boxer. If we get him hurt to just finish him.
You are one of the most talented fighters in the sport, your only losses have been to lineal champions and you always look to take on the best. Yet, with that said, you draw as much criticism as any fighter in boxing, even when you win. What do you think is the reason for that?
I don't know and honestly I can't say. But I try and just block those things out. I don't pay attention to what people say about me or my style or whether I'm a boring fighter. I don't pay attention to those things. I just go out and try to continue to be myself. People think that the Andre Ward fight took a lot out of me. People say I'm not an elite fighter anymore and I have to prove myself and things like that. I'm going to tell you right now that I'm still an elite fighter. I rate myself and I feel like I am still one of the five best pound-for-pound fighters in the world. That's how I feel about it. I watch fights all the time and I watch guys and there's nothing that guys do that I can't do or am not capable of. I don't worry about those things. I'm the light heavyweight champion of the world and I didn't get there from being a slouch.
You are just 30 years old and in your prime. What kind of goals do you have left in the sport?
Wow. I have a lot of goals still to set. I still want to get back on the pound-for-pound list and be considered the pound-for-pound best. I still have a lot of things to work on. I'm still young and I can only get better. I don't see myself getting any worse, only smarter and better and wiser.
You recently switched trainers again and reunited with Eddie Mustafa Muhammad. What led to the falling out between you and trainer John Scully?
It was a lot. I respect Scully and I respect his ability as a trainer. But at the end of the day, I had to be honest with myself and look back at my career and Eddie is the one that got me to where I was at. In order for me to be myself again, I had to go back to where I started. Like I said, Scully is a good trainer but he is no Eddie Mustafa Muhammad. Eddie has been there and was light heavyweight champion of the world himself. He fought on the level that I'm on right now. Can't say the same thing about John Scully, but definitely Eddie knows what it's like to be there and he definitely brought it back out of me. People are going to see on June 8 that I'm back and back to being myself.
Would you say that Muhammad is the only trainer you have had who can really get through to you and truly motivate you?
Yes, by far. People ask questions like, 'Why did you leave him in the first place?' I was young and fighters sometimes want to try new things and different things. I wanted to see if there was another trainer I might consider than him better. But since I've left Eddie I haven't found that trainer. It sums up his ability. I went with Emanuel Steward -- you know, rest in peace. He was a great trainer but not the trainer for me. I tried Scully, who is a good trainer but not the trainer for me. At the end of the day, I had to really sit back and think about it. I came to the conclusion that Eddie is the guy for me.
You've been known for having such a serious public persona in and around the ring. But which part of the job is the most fun for you?
I can honestly tell you, the last couple of years I haven't really had any fun with the sport. Not like I did when I first won the world title. I had fun those years but it's a difference when you are going into a fight and you had doubts. Did I do this or did I do enough of this? And then it's different going into a fight when you know you put the work in and the work is going to show in the fight. That's the difference between my last camp against Andre Ward and even before that in the rematch with Bernard. I kind of had doubts because I didn't know if who I had was the right trainer. But going into this fight I have no doubts. I know I'm going to shine on June 8 and I know because I put the work in. I put four months into this. I've been in the gym working hard and I want to give the fans something to see and something to appreciate.