There are many reasons why some professional fighters hang on longer than most people think they should. Some need the money. Others miss the limelight. Former world champion Chad Dawson is simply motivated by the thrill of victory and an opportunity to reclaim his throne atop the light heavyweight division. "If I didn't think I had anything left, I wouldn't be doing it right now," said Dawson who returns to the ring Saturday, June 29th at Foxwoods Resort Casino after two and a half years away from the sport. "I want to get back in the spotlight, back into contention and back into the ring with the guys who are at the top now."
Dawson (34-5, 19 KOs), who turns 37 in July, faces North Carolina's Quinton Rankin (15-5-2, 12 KOs) in the eight-round main event of CES Boxing's pro-am show. The event streams live on Facebook via FightNight Live and also features a ten-round featherweight bout between fellow New Haven boxer Tramaine Williams(17-0, 6 KOs) and Filipino Neil John Tabanao (17-5, 11 KOs). Limited tickets can be purchased online at www.cesboxing.com or www.foxwoods.com, by phone at 401-724-2253 or 800-200-2882 or at the Fox Theater Box Office.
Dawson is not the first -- and he certainly won't be the last -- fighter to return to the sport following a long layoff or retirement. Comeback stories are part of the fabric of pro boxing. Everyone loves an underdog and fans are inherently drawn to the inspirational, yet cautionary, tale of an ex-fighter looking for one more shot at glory.
Some end better than others. Sugar Ray Robinson retired at the age of 31 in 1952, only to return two years and win the world middleweight two more times before finally calling it quits in 1965 with a whopping 201 pro bouts on his resume. Former heavyweight champ George Foreman ended a ten-year layoff in 1987, returning to the ring at 38 and winning an additional 27 fights before he stunned world champion Michael Moorer with a 10-round knockout victory in 1994 at the age of 45.
Sugar Ray Leonard tried, but failed, returning to boxing after a six-year layoff at the age of 40 to face Hector Camacho Jr., who dismantled him en route to a devastating fifth-round knockout. More recently, former junior welterweight king Zab Judah, now 41, suffered a brain bleed following a knockout loss to Cletus Seldin earlier this month in his third fight since ending a four-year layoff.
Judah's recent setback is fresh in Dawson's mind, yet hasn't deterred the former two-time champ in the quest to take over the 175-pound division, a weight class he ruled swiftly and effectively during the best stretch of his career between 2007 and 2012.
In that timeframe, Dawson defended his WBC world light heavyweight title three times, including the first of two wins over legendary road warrior Glen Johnson, then captured the IBO and IBF titles by beating Antonio Tarver in 2008. The two fought again a year later and it was more of the same as Dawson won by unanimous decision for the second time. Dawson then closed out the year with a second win over Johnson, re-adding the WBC belt back to his repertoire.
A setback against Jean Pascal in 2010 forced Dawson to go back to the drawing board. Two years later, he regained the WBC title by beating Bernard Hopkins in a rematch of their first bout that ended in a no contest.
Having beaten everyone the light heavyweight division had to offer, Dawson dropped to 168 pounds to challenge unbeaten pound-for-pound king Andre Ward in 2012, a fight that ended with a battered Dawson bowing out in the 10th round of their scheduled 12-round title bout.
The next five years, as Dawson put it, were particular hard both for he and his family. The well-wishers and support staff that stuck by him through the good times could no longer be found. The phone stopped ringing. In an effort to "stay away from the negative stuff," Dawson relocated to his family to Nevada for a few years before returning to Connecticut in 2015.
During that stretch, Dawson's performance in the ring was sporadic at best. He absorbed a knockout loss to Adonis Stevenson in 2013 in an attempt to regain the WBC light heavyweight title, but then won three of his next four before another setback against Andrzej Fonfara in March of 2017.
He knows there are still naysayers who don't think he should come back or doubt his ability to compete at the highest level, but Dawson wouldn't be doing this if he wasn't confident he could make another run at a world title. The time is now, he says, based on a few important factors; Ward retired two years ago after crushing former world champ Sergey Kovalev a second time, and, Dawson said, Kovalev is not the same fighter he was when he surged to a 30-0 record in capturing the WBO, WBO and IBF world title. Furthermore, Dawson is unimpressed with Oleksandr Gvozdyk, who recently pummeled Stevenson to capture the WBC title.
"There a lot of good fighters in this division, but I think a Chad Dawson in tip-top shape can beat these guys," Dawson said.
We may soon find out, but first Dawson must get past Rankin, a scrappy underdog who enters this fight with, in his own words, "nothing to lose." This is a good barometer for Dawson to test himself and see just how far along he is in his quest to recapture the magic that earned him a spot among the sport's elite.
"Honestly, it's a fight I should win," Dawson said matter-of-factly. "With my pedigree, my background and my experience, I should come out on top."
While there have been detractors -- mainly anonymous profiles and faceless names on social media -- Dawson says he's felt an overwhelming amount of support since announcing his comeback, perhaps a sign that he's finally learned to block out the negativity that clouded his judgment for the last five years. Dawson recently alluded to this on social media with a lengthy post about the highs and lows athletes experience in professional, quoting Golden State Warriors power forward DeMarcus Cousins, who recently said, "We're idolized as superstar athletes, not human beings."
"What I went through is what all fighters go through," Dawson said. "Boxing is a brutal sport. Some are fortunate to leave with money and some aren't. I wanted everyone to understand where I'm coming from. We all have families to take care of -- kids, wives, mothers, fathers, people who depend on us.
"We're fighters, but we're regular people like everyone else. When you're on top, the phone is ringing off the hook. All that stuff stops when you take a couple of losses. When you're not on top, people forget about you."
With his family back in Hampton, roughly 70 miles north of New Haven, Dawson has reunited with his first promoter, Jimmy Burchfield Sr., who helped guide him to his first 17 wins as a pro, including a WBC youth world title in 2005 when Dawson was just 23 years old.
"He's the first one who took a chance on me," Dawson said of Burchfield. "I owe a lot of this to him. He got me in the position to be able to fight on Showtime and HBO and get the big fights that put me in position to fight for a world title.
"What better place to be than with Jimmy and CES? I'm back home. It'd be great to finish my career with Jimmy."
That all-important first step in less than two weeks away and Dawson feels like a new man, both physically and mentally. He's taking his training day by day to ensure he doesn't overdo it so that he's in "perfect shape" come fight night.
Walking away is never easy, whether it's boxers, baseball players or football Hall of Famers, but most know when their time has come. Dawson isn't there yet. There's still something left in the tank and he's ready to put it all on display on June 29th.
"Athletes in generals, we always feel we have more to offer," Dawson said. "We can do more regardless of what our body or mind tells us. For me, the last five years haven't gone the way I wanted them to go. I've done a lot. I've accomplished everything I said I wanted to do in boxing.
"Now I'm doing this for me. It's not for anybody else. It's not for money. I want to show everyone I still have something left."
Manchester, Conn., junior middleweight Jose Rivera (7-4, 5 KOs) battles Luca Podda (7-3, 3 KOs) of Miami in a six-round bout and Oscar Bonilla (5-3-2, 1 KO) of Bridgeport, Conn., faces Julio Perez (4-3) of Worcester, Mass., in a six-round lightweight bout.
Also featured on the main card, New Haven female flyweight Marisa Belenchia (0-0) makes her professional debut against Delaney Owen (0-2) of Clearwater, Fla., and featherweight Nathan Martinez (3-0, 1 KOs) of Bridgeport puts his unbeaten record on the line against Minnesota's Jose Homar Rios (2-6-1, 1 KO), both in four-round bouts. Junior welterweight Wilson Mascarenhas (1-1) of New Bedford, Mass., faces Joshua Oxendine (0-0) of Pembroke, N.C., and undefeated featherweight Jacob Marrero (3-0, 2 KOs) returns to Foxwoods for the third time in a separate four-round bout.
Showtime for the main card is 7 p.m. ET, preceded by a 10-fight amateur preliminary card featuring Dawson's son, Chad Dawson Jr., and the debut of Lennox Estrada, the son of U.S. Olympian Jason Estrada of Providence, R.I.