by Kieran Mulvaney
It was once so different for Chad Dawson.
Two and a half years ago, he was poised to fight Antonio Tarver for the IBF light heavyweight championship; as he sat in his locker room that evening, his phone rang. It was Floyd Mayweather, Jr.
Mayweather, who knows about such things, said that night that Dawson was the best fighter, pound-for-pound, on the planet , and after Dawson dominated and outpointed Tarver, there was no shortage of observers who felt that, if Dawson wasn't quite there yet, he was certainly on his way.
After all, Dawson had already won, and made several defenses of, the WBC belt, a series of victories that included wins over Tomasz Adamek and Glen Johnson, and he had done so with a slick effortlessness that suggested there were still higher levels yet to be reached.
But over his next couple of bouts, doubts began to creep in, suggestions that maybe what had appeared consummate ease in fact owed more to a lack of passion. It was a suspicion that appeared to be borne out last August, when Dawson meekly surrendered his crown to Jean Pascal at Montreal's Bell Center.
On Saturday, he returns to the scene of that loss; but whereas his conqueror earns a second shot at future Hall-of-Famer Bernard Hopkins, Dawson must content himself with a spot on the undercard, against another hometown fighter, Adrian Diaconu. In his corner this time, for the first time, will be Emanuel Steward, who has been extolling his fighter's attributes while encouraging him to make subtle changes in his style that will enable him to be more effective.
Diaconu - who, like Dawson, has lost only to Pascal - has in many ways been preparing for this bout for four years, after being forced to pull out when they were scheduled to meet in 2007. He has every intention, says his trainer Pierre Bouchard, of stealing the show on Saturday night - from Pascal, from Hopkins, and most of all from Dawson.
But Dawson is equally determined to use Diaconu as a springboard back to the top: "It's a very important night for me," Dawson said. "The fact that I'm back in Montreal and Pascal and Hopkins are fighting on the same card. I want to win. I want to win impressively. And I want to strike some fear into the hearts of those two guys. "When the night's over, it'll be clear I'm the best fighter at 175 pounds. "I didn't perform well [in August]. I had one bad night and suddenly everyone turned on me. But by the time I get out of the ring Saturday, they'll all be back on the bandwagon."