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After his breakthrough victory over Miguel Cotto in Dec. 2012, Austin Trout was standing on top of the world as an unbeaten junior middleweight titlist.
But a pair of high-profile defeats to Canelo Alvarez and Erislandy Lara in 2013 have sent Trout (26-2, 14 KOs) back to the drawing board.
The native of Las Cruces, New Mexico, returns to the ring on Friday in the main event of ESPN's "Friday Night Fights" against former world title challenger Daniel Dawson (40-3-1, 26 KOs) of Australia in a 12-round junior middleweight bout (ESPN2, 9 p.m. ET) at the Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula, California.
Trout, 28, who also got married in 2013, looks to get back on the winning track and re-enter the title picture at 154 pounds. He recently took time away from training for a candid talk with ESPN.com about Friday's return and more:
You endured a journey filled with ups and downs since your 2012 victory over Cotto. How would you describe the last 21 months?
There was definitely a peak with the Cotto win and then a decline. Even though the loss to Canelo was my first loss, it was a good fight and a good effort. It definitely wasn't the best I have been, although I did try my best. Don't get me wrong. I gave a good fight under the circumstances. It wasn't like I got demolished or dominated, but I did lose in the judges' opinion. So that was definitely hard coming down from the Cotto win and then getting schooled by Erislandy Lara was my low. I feel like I have nowhere to go but up from here and I'm not going to let what happened [against Lara] happen again.
How much did the open scoring format used in the Alvarez fight affect your performance?
I have to blame the open scoring for that. I felt like I was doing real good and getting into a rhythm in the fourth round. I went back after that round and told my coach that [Alvarez] was starting to get desperate. He was throwing wide shots and I was just picking him apart. But then later the scores came back and said I was losing on all scorecards. I was like, "Really? OK, so they don't appreciate my boxing. I've got to be the aggressor." So I became over-aggressive and started forcing things.
When you look back at your game plan and strategy in the Alvarez fight, what would you have changed?
I would have snapped the jab a lot more to create more openings. I would have stepped up the game plan that was working for the first four rounds without changing it up. I should have told my coach not to even tell me the scores. But I definitely would have kept it going with that quick jab because it was giving him problems.
There were more than a few people who felt you deserved at least a draw against Alvarez. How did you remain so humble following the decision, especially considering the absurd 118-109 scorecard against you?
Before every fight I always ask God to help me accept his will. If his will isn't for me to win, let me accept that and take the loss the same way I would take the win. And if I was to win, I wouldn't have had any excuses or any complaints. Believe you and me, I wanted to gripe and cry and show some passion. But I had to suck that up and take the loss as a champion would take a win.
What went wrong in terms of your game plan entering the fight last December against Lara?
I had a game plan that was to kind of go forward and go to him. But that's not my fight. I really should have just fought my fight, looking back now. We felt we had to be the aggressor. We saw how [Alfredo] Angulo was touching him and got to Lara. But he had to take a lot of punishment in the meantime. In my head, I'm just not built like Angulo. That's not me. Now, looking in hindsight where you have 20/20 vision, I know that now. I would love to get back in there and throw a different game plan at him. Had I fought my fight, it would have been a much, much more boring fight. There wasn't much action to begin with anyway. If there was any action to be made, it was because I was making it. But I would have been a lot more effective fighting my fight.
Boxing fans can be very fickle and quick to anoint you after one fight, only to forget you just as quickly following a loss. How hard were the lowest moments for you after the Lara fight?
The fans, and especially those Twitter "warriors," they can be brutal. They forget that this is my life and something that I have dedicated 18 years of my life to get to where I am. And for somebody that has never fought to sit there after and try to call me a bum or say that Trout sucks, I usually don't even listen to them and worry about it. But especially coming off a loss like that to Lara, it did get to me. Not to the point where I wanted to quit, but more to the point where I wanted to find these cats and whoop their ass. It's like: "You can't beat me up, I know that for a fact. Which is why you work in a cubicle and I'm fighting on TV." But you have to take the good with the bad. And boxing fans are some of the best fans and also some of the worst. You don't see basketball fans react like this. Look at teams like the [Dallas] Cowboys who are not good, but have some of the most loyal fans and stick with them through thick and thin. And you never see them really change sides. When you are winning, boxing fans love you. But some of the same ones that love you, once you lose it's like they never even cared about you in the first place.
The recent fight between Alvarez and Lara created plenty of debate over the scorecards. What was your reaction to the fight?
I thought Lara won. It came down to effective aggression and ring generalship. In my opinion, Lara definitely had the better ring generalship, which caused Canelo to not be effective with his aggression. But I kind of called that in the sense where I said I thought Lara was going to outbox Canelo, but that they were going to give the decison to Canelo anyway. There were a lot of opportunities there for Lara being so defensive-minded that he could have made the fight a lot more to his favor.
Considering the wild ride you had as an unheralded opponent taking fights in multiple countries leading up to the Cotto fight, how did that prepare you for the success that followed?
The path that I had to take was perfect for the situations that I ended up being in when I finally got to the big stage. Fighting in other people's territory, I was constantly used to the crowd not being on my side. So being in Cotto's home in front of all of those Puerto Rican fans in New York, I was able to take the crowd out of the equation.
What was your opinion of Cotto's recent victory over middleweight champion Sergio Martinez?
I was impressed by his performance. He looked better and strong. But the reason why he may have looked so good is because Martinez is shot. Still, it confirmed my belief that I'm still a threat in this game. I dismantled Cotto in his hometown and he went on to dismantle Sergio Martinez, who was a great fighter. Even though he was a hurt fighter, he was still a great fighter.
You had a messy split with promoter Greg Cohen over the last year and you remain aligned with adviser Al Haymon. How important was this change for your career?
I'm so happy to be away from Greg Cohen. That was probably one of the best things to happen in my career, to get from under him. Now I'm done with all of that. I have Al Haymon helping me out, along with my manager Bob Spagnola, who has had my back throughout my whole career. That is all I need.
You are facing a fighter in Dawson on Friday who has experience against top guys. What do you see when you watch the tape of him?
I see a tough guy. He lives up to his moniker "The Rock." I watched his fight against Daniel Geale a lot and that was a good fight. He lost but it was definitely a close fight and he took some good shots from Daniel Geale, who is a strong guy. I feel like my jab is going to be the key in this fight to set everything up and allow me to create and take advantage of opportunities. I've heard him say in interviews that he is going to do some boxing and utilize his lateral movements, but I still think my jab is going to be the key to neutralize all of that. But when you have somebody who has the heart of a lion and a will to win, it makes any fight dangerous in my opinion. We are in no way, shape or form taking him lightly. I'm ready to show the world that I'm still a threat in the 154-pound division.
What is the ideal scenario for you in terms of how Friday's fight plays out?
The ideal scenario would be to get a midround knockout after getting some rounds in. I need to show that I'm still a threat. I'm slick, I'm fast and I'm feeling really strong right now. We're not going to force it looking for the knockout, we're going to let it happen. But I have a good feeling that it will happen.