EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is adapted from Bob Trieger’s book, New England’s Greatest Boxers.
Three-time world light heavyweight champion Bad Chad Dawson ranked among the top pound for pound fighters in the world, defeating six world champions. Dawson was known for his lightning-fast jab, defensive skills and the ability to recover from a hard hit.
Dawson was born in South Carolina and moved to New Haven in 1988. He enjoyed being a New England-based fighter despite its unique challenges for visibility. He noted that 11 of his first 12 pro fights were at Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun. His second fight was in Cranston, RI. His first 18 pro bouts were in New England, including HamptonBeach, NH, and Providence.
“It was hard being a New England-based fighter getting recognition,” Dawson said. “You had to leave to get boxing fans to know your name. But that was the best part, making it out of New England, and becoming world champion. I left New England to train and live in Las Vegas for four years. That was the most exciting time of my career. Las Vegas was and still is the destination for fighters.”
Dawson started his career as a junior middleweight, knocking out Steve Garrett in the second round at Mohegan Sun Arena. The southpaw mowed down all opponents through his first 14 pro fights, including 10-1 Willie Lee (KO3) and 31-11 Brett Lally (TKO4); his first title winning performance in 2003, when 14-5-1 Dumont Welliver retired after eight rounds for the vacant WBC Youth World Middleweight Championship.
In his next fight, Dawson didn’t lose, but his six-round shutout of Aundalen Sloan was changed to a “no contest” after Chad failed a post-fight drug test in a non-title bout. An impressive ten-round unanimous decision (100-90 x 2,98-91) win against 8-0-1 Darnell Wilson followed for Dawson in his first WBC Youth title defense at Foxwoods Resort Casino.
In 2004, Dawson faced former world champion Carl Daniels (494-1) at Foxwoods in his second title defense, stopping Daniels in the seventh round. And Dawson’s final WBC Youth title defense came next, at home in New Haven, when 17-4-1 Efrain Garcia was unable to continue after four rounds.
Intra-New England foe Ian Gardner (19-2) – fighting out of Brockton, Massachusetts – and Dawson were matched in 2005 for the vacant North American Boxing Organization (NABO) super middleweight championship in New Haven. Dawson stopped Gardner in the 11th round.
Three fights later, Chad moved up to light heavyweight against fellow Connecticut fighter and defending NABF champion Eric Harding (23-3-1). Dawson overcame a first-round knockdown, cruising to a 12-round unanimous decision (117-110 x 2, 116-111) to obtain a new title belt.
The Harding fight in 2006 kick-started Dawson’s amazing run and also positioned him for his first world title fight on Feb. 3, 2007 in Florida, against defending, undefeated WBC world light heavyweight champion Tomasz Adamek (31-0), an extremely popular Polish fighter. Dawson fully displayed his overall skills throughout the fight, winning a 12-round unanimous decision and world title.
Dawson successfully defended his WBC strap three times versus, in order, 19-4 Jesus Ruiz (WTKO6), 28-4-1 Epifanio Mendoza (TKO4) and former world champion Glenn Johnson (47-11-1) by 12-round decision.
Dawson abdicated his WBC title, and in late 1980 he challenged IBF light heavyweight world champion Antonio Tarver (27-4) in Las Vegas. Dawson out-boxed Tarver for a 12-round unanimous decision (118-109, 117-110 x 2) to become a two-time world champion. In Las Vegas, seven months later, Dawson and Tarver fought again and the second time around played out similarly to their original match as Dawson won another 12-round unanimous decision (117- 111 x 2, 116-112).
A rematch with Johnson (49- 12-2) followed in Hartford for Dawson’s IBO crown and the Interim WBC World Championship. Dawson, who vacated his IBF title and had been stripped of his WBC crown, defeated Johnson once more by way of a 12-round unanimous decision (117- 111, 115-113 x 2).
“Johnson II was my most memorable fight in New England,” Dawson said. “The first fight was tough; I won a decision, but it was maybe the toughest fight of my career. A dog fight! The rematch, I beat him easy, winning 10 of 12 rounds.”
In only his second fight outside of the United States, 25-0 Dawson traveled to Canada for an Aug. 14, 2010, fight in Montreal against 25-1 Haiti native Jean Pascal, who lived in Montreal, for Dawson’s IBO world title and an opportunity for Chad to regain his full WBC world crown. Dawson suffered his first loss as a professional when an accidental headbutt opened a large cut over Dawson’s eye. Dawson was unable to continue as Pascal was awarded a controversial technical knockout victory and the titles. Pascal was winning on the scorecards by scores of 106-103 x 2, 108-101).
Dawson recovered to beat 27-2 Adrian Diaconu nine months later, again in Montreal, by 12-round unanimous decision (118-110, 117-111, 116-112), setting the stage for a Los Angeles showdown with Philadelphia boxing icon Bernard Hopkins (52-5-2), who had decisioned Pascal to become the WBC light heavyweight world champion. Dawson initially won the WBC and lineal world light heavyweight titles when Hopkins was unable to continue after getting awkwardly thrown from a clinch in round two.
Five days later, though, the TKO was ruled a Technical Draw by the WBC, deciding Hopkins was unable to continue because of an injury caused by the referee’s mistake. Hopkins remained the WBC world champion. The California State Athletic Commission followed suit nearly two months later, changing the decision to a “No Contest.” The WBC then ordered a rematch between Dawson and Hopkins.
“The first time I fought Hopkins,” Dawson said, “he thought I was from Hartford – a lot of people get New Haven and Hartford mixed up.”
Hopkins-Dawson II was held April 28, 2012, in Atlantic City, with Dawson controlling the action and relatively slow pace of the fight, outworking the defending champion for a hard-earned 12-round majority decision (117-11 x 2, 114-114) to become a three-time world light heavyweight champion.
In a highly unusual act, Dawson decided to drop down one full weight class to challenge Olympic gold medalist and undisputed world super middleweight champion Andre Ward (25-0) for his WBA, WBC, and lineal world titles on Sept. 8, 2012, in Ward’s hometown of Oakland, California.
A clash of heads in the third round changed what had started out as a chess match, as Ward started to consistently hit Dawson with some telling shots, dropping Dawson to one knee after he caught him with a right to the body and short left hook to the head. Dawson got to his feet for an eight-count, and although buzzed, he managed to survive the round. Dawson was sent to his knee again in the fourth round when Ward struck him with another left hook for another eight-count.
A sluggish Dawson was somehow able to avoid Ward’s lethal hooks for the next four rounds. Ward finished off Dawson in the tenth round when Dawson ate four punches and voluntarily took a knee. Referee Steve Smoger stepped in, asking Dawson if he wanted to continue, but he didn’t receive a response, Dawson looking like a beaten man. Smoger called off the fight at that point.
Dawson was still the lineal and WBC light heavyweight world champion, and in mid-2013 he went to Montreal once again, this time to battle dangerous southpaw Adonis Stevenson (20- 1), who would be fighting for the first time as a light heavyweight. Fighting in his adopted home as a slight underdog, Stevenson decked Dawson early in the fight with a left hook. Dawson beat the count, but referee Michael Griffin felt Dawson was in a crisis and, questionably, he stopped the fight at 1:11 of the opening round. A year later, Dawson returned as a cruiserweight to knock out 23-5 George Blade in the first round.
Back at light heavyweight, Dawson was upset by 23-4-1 Tommy Karpency via a 10-round split decision (96- 94, 94-96, 94-96). Dawson fought only once apiece in 2015, 2016, and 2017, shutting out 12-8 Dion Savage, stopping 23-4 Cornelius White in four, and suffering a 10th round technical knockout loss to world title contender Andrzej Fonfara (28-4).
Dawson didn’t fight again until mid-2019, when he won an eight-round unanimous decision over 15-5-2 Quinton Rankin, repeating that exact outcome four months later against 19-8-1 Denis Grachev for the vacant WBC United States light heavyweight title.
“I think I was overlooked because a lot of people didn’t think I’d make it as far as I did,” Dawson said. “I started as a junior middleweight and was still growing. I grew into light heavyweight champion of the world and brought my power with me. I never got the recognition and respect; I had a great career. I was one of the best pound-for-pound fighters for a few years. I take pride in that I fought anybody, anywhere, and in most of those fights I was the underdog, even after I won the world championship. You have to fight the best to be the best. I never turned done the best fighters and I was willing to fight anybody, anywhere, to be a real-world champion.”
Chad Dawson may not receive the respect and recognition he richly deserves for beating the best of the best – Hopkins, Tarver, Johnson, and Adamek – but he was at the top of mountain for his incredible six-year span.
Bob Trieger was born and raised in Boston and lives in Salem, MA. He first started writing about boxing in 1975 as sportswriter for various newspapers and magazines, ranging from neighborhood weeklies to major daily newspapers. Trieger’s interest and role in boxing increased in the early 1990s when he served as Director of Communications and Assistant General Manager at Wonderland Greyhound Park in Revere, MA. He oversaw closed-circuit boxing events to provide additional revenue and marketing opportunities for the then-struggling racetrack. In 1998, Trieger founded his combat-sports publicity agency, Full Court PRESS.