Rick Dawson had an entourage of one.
A former pro boxer back in South Carolina, Dawson moved his family up north to New Haven, Conn., in 1988 in order to find work, and as he went to the local boxing gym to stay in shape and show off skills that weren't reflected in what BoxRec.com lists as a 1-4-1 record, his son Chad would watch, learn, and begin to dream.
"He wasn't a well-known fighter -- he was an opponent," recalled the younger Dawson, now 24. "He was the guy that they brought into someone else's hometown to lose. But I just remember being a kid watching him in the gym and saying I wanted to be a fighter. That's all I remember."
His father's record from 1982 to 1984 didn't matter. When it comes to fathers and sons, the end result rarely does. All that mattered was that Chad Dawson's dad wasn't like everyone else's. He was a fighter. And that's what Chad was going to be.
"Boxing, working off my jab, and moving are my best attributes. I'm not the type of fighter that goes in there and makes it a dogfight. I don't make ugly fights."
Light heavyweight contender Chad Dawson
"When I was in school and we had to write papers about what we wanted to be when we grew up, I would write that I wanted to be a professional boxer, just like my father."
Rick Dawson taught his five sons about life through boxing. And though it may not have been something spelled out in bold fluorescent letters, he taught them lessons that were more important than how to hook off the jab, or the importance of keeping your chin tucked in.
"If he taught me anything, he taught me to be humble," Dawson said of his father.
He also learned that most elusive of traits -- discipline. It's something reflected throughout "Bad" Chad's five year pro boxing career -- which began in 2001 after a 67-13 amateur career that saw him earn the 2000 U.S. National under-19 amateur championship -- and evident when you ask him about the possibility that he could get drawn into a dogfight with gritty WBC light heavyweight champion Tomasz Adamek when they meet in Saturday night's Showtime main event (9 ET/PT) at Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee, Fla.
"If you watch me, you know I don't get into dogfights," he answered without hesitation. "I'm gonna go out there and use my boxing skills. Boxing, working off my jab, and moving are my best attributes. I'm not the type of fighter that goes in there and makes it a dogfight. I don't make ugly fights."
But Adamek (31-0, 21 KOs) may have a way of taking Dawson into the trenches and out of his game plan, especially since the champion from Poland was taken from boxing to brawling himself in his two memorable wars with Paul Briggs. Dawson (23-0, 15 KOs) disagrees.
"Most guys look at me, and I'm a thin guy, so they think I can't punch," he said. "Well, that changes when I crack them with a right hook or when I go to the body. Most guys will switch up and change their gameplan because they get confused. I'm always moving, always boxing, I never stand in one place and my jab is always pumping. That confuses a lot of guys, and if a guy wants to get in a dogfight, I'm gonna run my combinations, I'm gonna hold, and take the fight back to the center of the ring and start again. That's what me and Floyd Mayweather have been working on this whole training camp."
Mayweather Sr. is the new face in Dawson's corner, replacing Winky Wright trainer Dan Birmingham, and unlike a lot of fighters, Dawson hasn't been afraid to get out of his local comfort zone to seek out the best possible training as he moves up the ranks.
"A lot of fighters don't have the same mind set that I do," he said. "For me, to be away at training camp and away from family and friends is the best thing for me just to focus on the fight. And there's always better sparring in other places. I'm in Las Vegas sparring right now, and I have six different sparring partners."
As for working with the self-proclaimed "greatest trainer of all-time," Dawson said: "Working with Floyd Mayweather Sr. is the best. I've learned a lot and the guy knows so much. Boxing-wise, he's a genius. He's teaching me new techniques, he has me moving my head, working my jab more, throwing combinations and finishing with the jab -- he's incredible. Look who he's worked with -- he worked with [Oscar] De La Hoya, and look what he did for his son [Floyd Mayweather Jr.] early in his career. His son's a four-time world champion, and there's nothing he can tell me that I won't listen to.
"If [Mayweather Sr.] told me to go in there and throw 80 jabs a round, I'm gonna do it. I have confidence in him, and just listening to him you can tell the guy really knows boxing. Boxing is his life, so if you have the chance to get advice from someone like that, you've got to take it and run with it."
Through 23 fights without a defeat, Dawson has taken the opportunities that have been presented to him and ran with them with only a few minor hiccups, such as suffering knockdowns against Eric Harding and Willie Lee. But from Dawson's formative years on the New England scene, which was capped off by an 11th-round TKO of local rival Ian Gardner in November 2005, to a third-round stoppage of Jamie Hearn in his United Kingdom debut in Manchester last March and a clear-cut decision win over Harding, Dawson has made it abundantly clear that he is the real deal wherever he decides to hang his hat. (He has already competed from middleweight to light heavyweight, and at a thin 6-foot-3, could probably bulk up to at least cruiserweight in the coming years.)
Yet, refreshingly, you won't hear him boast about where he's been and where he's heading. That's got to be tough these days.
"It's not hard at all, you've just got to be yourself, and I'm being myself," he said. "I was blessed with the skill and talent to be a boxer and I'm just running with it. A lot of guys that have the talent just don't train hard or have the mind set to stay focused. Me, I'm focused, and being humble is the way you have to be about it. You can't go out there and talk trash and when you lose people say, 'Oh, he talked all that trash and then got knocked out.' I'm not that type of person. Every opponent that's put in front of me, I'm gonna respect. We'll get in the ring and see who the better fighter is. It's like a game, one on one. Who has the most talent, who has the better skills?"
"If you look at it on paper, it looks like it would be an even matchup, but I think I'm gonna have my way with him. Actually, I don't think, I know I'm gonna have my way with him."
On paper, this is a pick 'em match between two unbeaten up-and-comers looking to leap to the next level of international recognition. Look a little deeper, though, and Dawson has the better skills and has fought the better competition, while Adamek, despite his gaudy 31-0 record, has really fought no one of note outside of Briggs and Thomas Ulrich, neither of whom would be considered to be elite fighters. Of course, the champion has become the darling of some in the media for his entertaining two-fight series with Briggs, but the "o" word -- overrated -- seems to fit the bill here.
"I can't say he's overrated because I've never been in the ring with him," Dawson said. "But he's beatable, let's put it that way. If you look at it on paper, it looks like it would be an even matchup, but I think I'm gonna have my way with him. Actually, I don't think, I know I'm gonna have my way with him."
Then again, any fighter can be beatable at this level if he's not right mentally and physically. Dawson, who saw how unforgiving and cruel boxing can be when applied to his father's career, is not about to let this moment slip away.
"This is what I've been working for my whole boxing career," said Dawson of fighting for a world championship. "Even as an amateur, I was fighting to get to this point right here, and I'm fortunate enough to be at the point where I can make a change in my life and my career. I'm at a big turning point, and I just want to make the best of it. Mentally, physically, this makes me work harder. And mentally, I know that if I go in there with a good head on my shoulders, do everything that I did in training camp, and listen to my trainer, then everything will work out fine."
But before you start thinking Dawson is some cybernetic freak, with no emotions as he sticks and moves his way to victory, when asked if he's thought about Feb. 4, he reveals that he is human and is guilty of just a little bit of forecasting into the future.
"All roads lead through me after I win the title. If those guys want to get back on top, they have to come through me."
"I think about it, but then I try not to think about it because I want to take care of this fight first," he said. "It's gonna be a funny feeling to wake up the next day and say to myself, 'I'm a world champion.' But I don't want to say that yet and jinx myself."
So how does he picture life as a champion?
"I know I'm gonna get a lot of phone calls. My phone's gonna be ringing off the hook, but you've gotta stay humble and take whatever comes after that. Maybe a big fight with Bernard [Hopkins], Joe Calzaghe, or one of those guys, hopefully."
Hmm, high-profile veteran on the tail end of his career looking for a big-money, cash-out fight -- does Ademek fight a 24-year old southpaw who stands at 6-foot-3?
Uh-uh, not happening.
"Somebody has to step up to the plate," Dawson insists. "It's like one of my friends, AK47 Akinyemi [Laleye, an unbeaten light heavyweight from Nigeria], has been telling me, all roads lead through me after I win the title. If those guys want to get back on top, they have to come through me."
Well, at the very least, it's a good problem to have, since being feared and on top of the 175-pound division is a far cry from what Chad Dawson's father Rick went through while fighting in spots like Steelworkers Hall in Baltimore or Tyson's Corner in Virginia. But the son doesn't look down on the father's career -- he celebrates it for what it was, knowing that his father's genes have helped him get to where he is today, and that sometimes in this life, luck has a lot to do with where we end up.
"He wasn't fortunate enough to make it as far as I have in the game," said Chad Dawson, "but my father's proud of me being me. To make it this far in the game, he's happy, I'm happy, and my family's happy. It's in the blood."