Just nine months ago, Chad Dawson resided in the pound-for-pound top tens of many fans and analysts. Then in August 2010, Dawson met Jean Pascal to put a new link into the lineage of the light heavyweight championship.
Dawson, then 29-0, was the heavy favorite over Pascal, even fighting on the road in Montreal, which was necessitated by the fact that Dawson's home base (Connecticut) had not only not really turned out for his previous fight, but had wound up booing his performance in a routine rematch win over Glen Johnson.
The warning signs were there going in, but few picked Pascal, just suggested that he would be a new challenge for Dawson. Dawson's youth had served him very well in four straight fights against old men Johnson and Antonio Tarver. Against Pascal, he didn't have that 15-year age advantage. Whether that was the problem or he just wasn't there mentally, Dawson was off, and Pascal did his job, defeating the visitor in one of the top upsets of the year.
Dawson did rally late in the fight, but it was too little, too late. The fight was stopped on a Dawson cut from an accidental headbutt in the 11th round, and Pascal won a technical decision, just as he was starting to reel from a Dawson attack.
The problem for Dawson was that the attack came too late. A passive boxer by nature, Dawson's level of aggression has now proven to be not just a problem attracting fans, but a problem winning fights. His first fight with Glen Johnson was also a major struggle, and many felt Johnson won the bout. Dawson easily defeated Johnson in the rematch, and beat Tarver twice, but was impressive in none of those fights. He won, it seemed, simply because the other men were old, rather than his exposing their age.
There is no denying Dawson's talent. It's there. But since parting ways years ago with Floyd Mayweather Sr. as his trainer, it seems as though Dawson has stagnated and grown complacent, if not outright seen a decline in his performances. As "Bad" Chad turns 29 in July, the time for kid gloves is over. He's not a pup in the ring anymore. He's a ten-year veteran with 30 pro fights under his belt.
It's all a far cry these days from the Chad Dawson that dominated Tomasz Adamek in 2007, a breakout performance that pushed him to the upper echelon of the light heavyweight rankings.
On Saturday, Dawson finds his way back to the ring, and back to the Bell Centre in Montreal. This time, he won't be facing Pascal, but will be on Pascal's undercard. While the Haitian-born Canadian champion takes on Bernard Hopkins for a second time, Dawson has stepped aside from a contractually obligated rematch against Pascal to fight Adrian Diaconu, another Canadian name (this one born in Romania) with top ten-like credentials. Diaconu is probably best-known for two losses to Pascal, both in entertaining fights, in 2009.
At 5'9" with a 72" reach, Diaconu will be at a physical disadvantage against Dawson (6'1", 76" reach), and doesn't have the American's athleticism or well-rounded game -- that is, when Dawson chooses to use his well-rounded game.
Dawson's return will also feature a new trainer, as Hall of Famer Emanuel Steward takes over in his corner. On paper, it's a fine move, but there's no denying that it feels like Eddie Mustafa Muhammad was simply a fall guy. It's not up to the corner here -- it's up to Chad Dawson. And one thing that worries me, personally, about Dawson paired with Steward is the last time we saw Steward paired with a talented but passive fighter, it was Jermain Taylor. Taylor and Steward could not have been a worse fit.
The winner of Dawson vs Diaconu is apparently in line for a fall shot at the winner of Pacal vs Hopkins II, and obviously, the expectation is that that will be Dawson. But when a highly-regarded but largely untested fighter takes his first loss, you really never know what to expect, and have to wait until the bell rings.
Is Dawson ready for the pressure-bringing Diaconu? Will the move to Steward pay off? We've got five days until we find out.