- Dan Rafael, Boxing
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As somebody who has had many of his fights at casinos, light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson knows all about gambling. He even did some in September, although his had nothing to do with a gaming table or a slot machine.
No, Dawson gambled that he could effectively drop down in weight -- cutting an additional seven pounds from his already lean frame -- and defeat super middleweight champion Andre Ward when they met in Ward's hometown of Oakland, Calif.
But Ward, regarded by many as the best fighter in the world not named Floyd Mayweather Jr., toyed with a weight-drained Dawson. He dropped Dawson three times and stopped him in the 10th round of an overwhelming performance.
Obviously, Dawson's gamble didn't pay off. Instead, he crapped out.
"I look at it like this -- Andre Ward won the fight and he's a great fighter," said Dawson, whose 175-pound title wasn't at stake because he was challenging for Ward's 168-pound world championship. "I did everything that was asked of me. They wanted me at 168 pounds, they wanted me to come to Oakland, and I did it. No doubts and no regrets.
"I did something a lot of people wouldn't do, but I'm not going to second-guess myself or hold my head low. Now I'm back at my weight and I can continue being a great champion at 175 pounds."
That's Dawson's mentality as he heads into the first defense of the title, which he won by convincingly outpointing Bernard Hopkins 14 months ago. He will face Quebec's Adonis "Superman" Stevenson, an honest-to-goodness one-punch knockout artist, on Saturday night (HBO, 10 ET/PT) at Bell Centre in Montreal.
Dawson, 30, said making 175 pounds is no problem, especially compared to what he went through to make 168 for the Ward fight. He said he lost nine pounds in less than a day before the weigh-in.
"I was never hurt once by Ward, I was just exhausted," Dawson said. "I'm not making excuses, but anyone could see it wasn't me. I thought I could get down to the weight easily, but I found out the hard way.
"The night before the weigh-in, I ran on the treadmill for about an hour. Then I sat in the steam room for an hour. I didn't eat or drink anything until the next day until 4, 5 in the afternoon. That took a toll on me. Then I went into the fight at 190. My body didn't know how to handle the weight I put on after the weigh-in, but I was so hungry and thirsty that I ate and drank everything. But Andre Ward is a great champion. He won the fight. But I'd love to get another chance at him someday at light heavyweight."
In Saturday's opening bout, Miami-based Cuban defector and interim junior lightweight titlist Yuriorkis Gamboa (22-0, 16 KOs), 31, in his first fight since being implicated in the South Florida Biogenesis aging clinic performance-enhancing drug scandal, will move up to lightweight to face Colombia's powerful Darleys Perez (28-0, 19 KOs), 29, for a vacant interim belt.
Dawson said he has put the defeat against Ward behind him.
"It's not like I went down to 168 and challenged the No. 8 guy," said Dawson, who was the one who first suggested that the fight be contested at super middleweight. "I challenged the best guy in the division. There's nothing to b---- about. I fought the best guy in the weight class. Lesson learned. I've gotten smarter from it. I learned more about the boxing game and about my body.
"Now I get to go out there and show everybody I haven't lost anything from the Ward fight. With the Ward fight, I took a gamble and I lost."
Said Gary Shaw, Dawson's promoter: "Chad's not thinking about Ward. He's not dwelling on it. He's back where he should be and he's staying there. What's in the past is in the past. He is way over that."
Facing Stevenson (20-1, 17 KOs), a native of Haiti who moved to Quebec when he was 5, may be less of a gamble than facing Ward, but danger still lurks.
At 168 pounds, Stevenson, who emerged as a super middleweight contender during a seven-fight winning streak that began in 2011 by scoring one highlight-reel knockout after another, is a devastating puncher.
Although the 35-year-old Stevenson, who didn't start boxing until his early 20s (following a four-year stint in prison for pimping and assault), is moving up in weight to challenge Dawson, he's such a heavy hitter at 168 that there's no reason to think he won't carry his punch into the new division.
"I don't think he'll lose his power. He's got really, really good power," Shaw said. "Whether it's 168 or 175, he'll carry it. But my feeling is he hasn't fought the class of a Chad Dawson yet. This is also his biggest fight, and there's always that deer-in-the-headlights theory. Besides, Chad isn't going to stand there and try to trade with him or stick his chin out. We know Stevenson has a lot of power, but he will have trouble finding Chad."
Dawson (31-2, 17 KOs), who is from New Haven, Conn., but moved to Las Vegas a year ago, referred to the fight with Stevenson as a "tuneup" when they faced off at the kickoff news conference in April. He said he had never even heard of Stevenson when he was offered the fight and had to Google him. Dawson still comes off as unimpressed by his opponent.
"If the only thing you can say is he's a good puncher, I feel sorry for him," said Dawson, who added that he feels comfortable at Bell Centre, where he is 1-1 and will be fighting for the third time in six fights. "I've been in the ring with the best of them. The experience will play out on Saturday night. I have to be cautious and fight a complete fight, a smart fight, a strategic fight. But I know he's been knocked out already [against journeyman Darnell Boone in 2010].
"He can be touched and knocked out. But he's a big puncher, so I have to be smart, pick our spots and not let him get off first. And I'm fighting in his backyard, so I need to show the judges that I am the ring general and winning the fight, hands down. I'm not saying it's an easy fight, but it's a fight I should win. I watched his tape. He's reckless and comes in with his hands down. If he does that, it will be a short night."
Stevenson said his power will carry the day.
"I am going to jump on him like a hungry, wild dog," Stevenson said at this week's final news conference. "In the ring, you can't hide or fly out. I will catch him and knock him out cold. I am going to hit him, I am going to hurt him."
Besides returning to the division where he feels best, Dawson said he also has renewed confidence because of his reunion with trainer Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, himself a former light heavyweight champion in the early 1980s.
"A lot of people say, 'What does Eddie bring that other guys don't?' but we accomplished a lot of things together," Dawson said.
Dawson has run through several trainers since winning his first world title, against Tomasz Adamek, in 2007. Floyd Mayweather Sr. trained him for that fight, although Muhammad had worked with him in the gym, too.
Muhammad then became his head trainer and was with him for the next seven fights. But after Dawson suffered his first loss to Jean Pascal (at Bell Centre in 2010), he hooked up with the late Emanuel Steward for one fight, fired him and reunited with John Scully, who had trained Dawson early in his career. They were together for three fights, including the Ward debacle.
"Being with John Scully was a good experience, but he was not the right guy for me," Dawson said. "Emanuel, rest in peace, he was not the right guy for me. The new things I tried were not good for me.
"Eddie knows me and I know him. When I was with the other guys, I was trying to find myself and find my style and see what type of fighter am I. In that time, I lost track of the things I did so great and made me who I was. But Eddie put me back on track, where I need to be."
After gambling and losing to super middleweight champ Andre Ward at 168 pounds, Chad Dawson will put his light heavyweight belt on the line against monster puncher Adonis Stevenson on Saturday.