Chad Dawson has been down this road before: Should he fight a mandatory bout with little commercial value against a relatively unknown opponent? Or go for the money in a fight against a top opponent that fans and media are pushing for?
Just like he did last summer, Dawson went for choice No. 2.
Rather than be forced to fight obscure mandatory challenger Tavoris Cloud this fall in a bout that HBO, which has Dawson under contract, had no interest in televising, Dawson vacated his IBF light heavyweight belt on Wednesday.
Dawson's move paves the way for his team to finalize negotiations for a fall rematch with former champion Glen Johnson, who dropped a controversial decision to him 13 months ago in one of the best action fights of 2008.
Last summer, Dawson vacated the WBC version of the 175-pound title so he could fight former champion Antonio Tarver for the first time, a match Showtime had designs on for more than a year. Dawson did that rather than go to Romania for a mandatory defense against Adrian Diaconu, an unknown fighter in the United States.
Promoter Gary Shaw, Dawson's promoter, is in Panama City, Panama, at the annual IBF convention this week and delivered the letter to the organization in which Dawson relinquished the title. Dawson would have been stripped of the title had he not vacated it.
"The IBF rejected our request for an exception to making an immediate title defense against mandatory challenger Tavoris Cloud and inasmuch as no major television network was willing to buy the fight, the IBF left us little choice," Shaw said. "I respect the IBF's decision but the fight they were forcing us to do was commercially unviable. On behalf of Chad, we thank the IBF for the opportunity to fight for its title and to defend it. It's an honor Chad will always cherish. Now it's on to bigger and better [fights]."
Dawson (28-0, 17 KOs), coming off a second consecutive victory against Tarver on May 9, still holds another minor belt that he will defend against Johnson, a fight likely to take place in September or November.
"It's a shame that Chad had to give up his title, but bottom line is that we have to go where the money fights are," Mike Criscio, Dawson's manager, told ESPN.com. "We would have liked to have fought Cloud and kept the title. But if Cloud was in front of me right now I would have no idea who he is. If he delivered me a pizza, I wouldn't know who he is. HBO wouldn't buy the fight so we go back to Glen Johnson, which is fine. Chad is disappointed, but at this point it's about the money. He's got a family to support. He would have liked to keep his belt. He would have liked to keep all of his belts, but this is the way it goes.
"People want to see Chad in a rematch with Johnson, not against Cloud. Johnson deserves a rematch and now we're giving it to him."
Cloud (19-0, 18 KOs), 27, is an exciting puncher but has virtually no name recognition. He hasn't fought since stopping former titleholder Julio Gonzalez in the 10th round in his only televised fight last summer on ESPN2.
In order to help build to a potential fight with Dawson, Shaw said he offered Cloud's team a deal under which Cloud would fight on HBO's Dawson-Johnson II televised undercard with the guarantee that if Cloud and Dawson, 26, both won, Dawson's next defense would come against Cloud on HBO, which had approved the plan.
Shaw said Cloud's team turned it down, even though Cloud would have made "way more money" under that plan that he will now by fighting for a vacant belt without HBO's backing.
"The networks aren't interested in Cloud and he would be a step down for Chad at this point in his career," Shaw said. "But we were willing to fight him under that deal. Cloud's people turned it down. To me, Cloud's people are mismanaging his career and not doing what is best for him. He may get a title shot, but so what if he's not making any real money? The exposure and money on HBO two times in a row would be way better for him, so in my mind it wasn't a good business decision for Cloud. Chad will go on with his career."
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.