There's no denying the pure, natural talent that Chad Dawson has, nor the fact that he's put in the work to become a world-ranked fighter, one of the best in the game today. And at 27, he has a lot of time left to become even better than he already is.
But he has one major problem that may haunt him for years to come: Star power. He doesn't have any.
At least not yet, anyway. The XL Center in Hartford, Conn., sold 5,230 tickets for Dawson's rematch with Glen Johnson. That's hardly the worst crowd you'll see at an American venue, but the fight was taken to Connecticut because that's Dawson's home state, where he theoretically has his most fans. And unfortunately for "Bad" Chad's immediate business future, that crowd of just over 5K probably was the most he's going to draw.
It's not all his fault, but you also can't say that his promoter, Gary Shaw, is really at fault either. What more could Shaw have done? We often can point at the fact that the promoter and fighter never really built a home base for the fighter, but for Dawson, that isn't the case. Dawson's rematch with Johnson on Saturday was his 18th fight in Connecticut in 29 professional bouts.
According to just about everybody, there was no real buzz about the event. Was that a promotional mistake, or was it more that Dawson just hasn't captivated anybody's imagination? A mix of both is most likely, but one is easily fixable. The other -- Dawson's appeal -- is not. As much as he might improve as a boxer, he's unlikely to become any more charismatic.
There was also noticeable booing near the end of the fight on Saturday. A portion of the crowd also chanted for Dawson, which seemed a combative measure. Dawson's post-fight interview also didn't get the warmest reception.
He's not a great presence. I don't know how to measure these things, but as good as he is, as many fine performances as I've seen from him, and as closely as I follow boxing, I've yet to be truly excited for Dawson, and it seems as though that's the case for a great many fans. He's been a feature, main event fighter on both Showtime and HBO. He's taken challenges from established stars. And he's never lost. Generally, he's even pretty dominant.
But name a great fight from Dawson -- you can't. Outside of the first fight with Johnson, he really hasn't even had one that's been all that much fun to watch.
Now, you can say the same about Floyd Mayweather Jr., the sport's biggest money man, but for years Floyd also had these problems. He wasn't a live draw (still isn't, relative to his stature), and was never a big draw on TV or PPV either until he met up with Oscar de la Hoya and was able to let his personality shine, whichever way you lean on that.
Will Dawson "sell out" like that? Will he become a villain to attempt to attract a bigger audience, even if that audience largely wants to see him lose? It's a great tradition in combat sports and even more so in professional wrestling. If you can't get them to really cheer you, get them to boo you. It's easier and you just might make a lot more money in the meantime.
Even Shaw understands (also from Dan Rafael's post-fight article):
"I don't think he is going to change. He's one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world but just like there are some that don't like the style of Floyd Mayweather or a Pernell Whitaker, Chad dominates. ... He has lightning fast hands so I don't understand why he doesn't throw more or walk someone down. I don't think he still has the confidence he can take people out and I really do think he can. If he throws the combinations he can hurt anybody."
Lou DiBella, who co-promotes Glen Johnson, has similarly mixed feelings on Dawson:
"I think he's a tremendous talent but he needs to be more cognizant of being an entertainer. He has the ability to be a whole lot more pleasing than he is. I think maybe he will be but he needs to make adjustments. When you're in your hometown and the fans are booing you that says something."
It does indeed. And it's that "something" won't be changing any time soon.