There is palpable excitement for Saturday night's fight between Chad Dawson and Andre Ward (9:45pm, HBO), and for good reason. In the ring will be two young American fighters with impressive resumes and both with realistic aspirations of topping the pound-for-pound list one day. Both can take a big step towards that with a win this weekend.
The oddsmakers have the undefeated Ward as the favorite. Maybe it's because he's never lost. Maybe it's the home-field advantage, with the fight in his hometown of Oakland. It could be the skill he's shown in going 25-0 since turning pro after winning Olympic gold in 2004. It may even be that Dawson is coming down from 175 pounds (light heavyweight) to 168 (super middleweight) to meet Ward, or even more likely, it is because of all of these reasons.
Yet Dawson, 31-1 himself, and coming off a win over Bernard Hopkins, doesn't believe any of those factors will push the fight in Ward's favor.
"It's a lot of motivation," he said of being the underdog. "It's excellent motivation. I don't think I've ever been an underdog in my career. This is my first time and it's beautiful. I'm going over to Oakland, his home town, and showing that I'm a true champion."
Seven pounds may seem like a big drop for one fight, but Dawson has never had an issue making weight, and believes those who think he will be weakened by the drop in poundage will be sorely mistaken come fight night.
"They're definitely making too much out of nothing. I've never struggled to make 175, so why would I struggle only seven pounds south. I'm 175 pounds [11 days before the fight]. I'm getting to Oakland at 170, taking off the next couple pounds, and making weight easy."
Once he rehydrates, Dawson says he will be as strong as ever in the ring. He has not changed much in camp, eating smaller portions, but still making sure he got four meals a day. While all of those aforementioned advantages Ward has were downplayed by Dawson, the ones he holds, mainly a three-inch height advantage, and a reach advantage, will be his keys to victory.
"My height, reach, and size the night of the fight are going to play a big factor. I'm a naturally bigger guy. My training camp went great and my head's in the right spot. I'm confident, calm and everything is going great right now."
The 168-pound division is loaded with names like Carl Froch, Lucian Bute, Anthony and Andre Dirrell, Arthur Abraham and others as potential matchups for the winner of this fight. If it is Dawson, he will have a decision to make about defending the belt (only Ward's super middleweight belts are on the line) or going back to light heavyweight, where he is a title holder himself.
"I don't know. I haven't thought that far yet," he admitted. "Like I tell everybody else, I think 168 is coming up to 175 soon including Ward, and when they do, I'll be right there. If I see a big fight at 168, I'll definitely stay there, but in all honesty, I do believe those guys will be coming up soon."
Ward's pedigree as an Olympian and his current status as a top-five pound-for-pound guy on many lists, are also on the line come Saturday night. After defeating a legend in Hopkins, this is an opportunity for Dawson to propel himself into boxing's upper echelon, and knowing what an opportunity stands before him has him more than prepared to take that step.
"Expect a super 'Bad' Chad Dawson," he says. "I had a great training camp and by the time the fight gets here, I'll have had nine weeks of training. I haven't done that in two years. Really, after Hopkins, I went right back into camp, so I didn't have a chance to get out of shape. I'm ready to prove people wrong and show I'm the best at 168 and 175."