Talk about a devastating 1-2 punch! One night before the most anticipated rubber match in recent history between World Boxing Council (WBC) Lightweight Champion Diego Corrales and former two-time WBC titleholder Jose Luis Castillo, Eric Harding will defend his North American Boxing Federation (NABF) light heavyweight belt against undefeated Chad Dawson in a battle of world-ranked southpaws on SHOWTIME.
It is one thing for a promising, up-and-coming boxer to “step up” and face a “name” opponent. It is an entirely different scenario, however, to engage a “name” that has defeated Antonio Tarver and performed well against three other former world champions, including Roy Jones, Jr.
Such is the intrigue as Dawson (21-0, 1 NC, 15 KOs) is set to challenge Harding (23-3-1, 7 KOs) in the 12-round “ShoBox: The New Generation” main event Friday, June 2, on SHOWTIME (11 p.m. ET/PT, delayed on the west coast). In the co-feature, undefeated Mario Santiago will face Lenny DeVictoria in a 10-round featherweight match for the vacant USNBC, a minor title of the WBC. Gary Shaw Productions, LLC, will promote the doubleheader from the Chumash Casino Resort in Santa Ynez, Calif.
Harding says that Dawson erred by taking this fight.
“I am willing to fight for winner-takes-all,’’ Harding said. “Dawson has made a big mistake. This is like a man against a young kid. He better be ready. Every fight is a must-win for me.”
Harding, of West Hartford, Conn., via Philadelphia, outpointed Tarver in a WBC eliminator on June 23, 2000, from Biloxi, Miss. The other ex-world champs Harding fought were Montell Griffin and Glen Johnson. Harding, who is the WBC No. 10/International Boxing Federation (IBF) No. 9 contender, won the United States Boxing Association (USBA) and NABF 175-pound crowns in his last two starts, taking 12-round decisions over David Telesco and Daniel Judah, respectively.
“You can tell a lot about what management thinks of a young fighter by the quality of the opposition chosen,” said “ShoBox’’ expert analyst Steve Farhood. “The fact that Chad Dawson is fighting Eric Harding speaks volumes about their confidence in their fighter.
“Dawson is new to the light heavyweight division and a highly touted prospect. In Harding, he is facing a superb counter-puncher and fighter who gave a prime Roy Jones one of his best fights. Harding is coming off of two nice wins, so he clearly has plenty left.
“This is a supreme test for a young fighter and the exact type of match-up we love on “ShoBox.” We are going to learn tons about Dawson on June 2.”
Dawson, 23, of New Haven, Conn., by way of Hartsville, S.C., is quietly confident.
“I am looking forward to this,” the WBC No. 7/World Boxing Association (WBA) No. 15 contender said. “It is a great fight for ‘ShoBox.’ I am a still-improving, young fighter who is stepping up in competition.
“Harding is a great fighter. He has a good resume, but I definitely think I am the stronger fighter. I am in great shape. The world will know my name when I walk out of the ring with a victory.”
Dawson started boxing at age 11. As a Junior Olympian, he was a three-time State champion, a two-time regional titlist and a national runner up. In addition, he earned top honors at the 2000 Golden Gloves, captured the U.S. National title at the Under 19 Championships, won a bronze medal at the World Under 19-Championships and was named U.S.A. Boxing Athlete of the Month in November 2000.
“I was blessed with a good amateur background,” Dawson said. “I always had a pro style, so it was not hard for me to make the adjustment from amateur to pros.”
Since his debut at age 19 on Aug. 18, 2001, Dawson has campaigned at middleweight, super middle and light heavy. Like one of his boxing idols, Thomas Hearns, the 6-foot-3-inch Dawson always was tall for his weight class. So, it was only a matter of time before he settled in for good as a light heavy.
“I knew that I eventually would move up permanently to 175 pounds,” said Dawson, who won belts at 168 pounds (North American Boxing Organization) and at 160 (WBC junior youth).
Dawson captured the WBC junior youth title in his 14th outing by scoring an eighth-round TKO over Dumont Welliver, who had defeated him in the 1998 U.S. Junior Olympics Championships.
In one of his best early victories, Dawson registered one knockdown en route to retaining his WBC belt with a seventh-round TKO over former world champion Carl Daniels on Dec. 10, 2004. “I knew I was taking a risk,” Dawson said. “Beating Daniels was a big boost to my confidence.’’
In his “ShoBox” debut and New Haven homecoming, Dawson won the vacant NABO title with an 11th-round TKO over Ian Gardner on Nov. 18, 2005. After a slow start against the reluctant and awkward Gardner, Dawson scored four knockdowns to win impressively.
“I could have done more, but Gardner made the fight ugly,” Dawson said. “There were times I could have taken him out, but I did not pull the trigger.”
Nineteen out of Dawson’s first 20 starts originated on the Eastern seaboard, but this will be his third in a row away from “home.” After opening 2006 with a bout in El Paso, Texas, Dawson stopped James Hearn on March 4 in Manchester, England.
“You cannot beat the exposure you get on SHOWTIME, but showcasing your talents in front of different people and places is important, too.”
Promoted by Gary Shaw, Dawson will make his sixth start with trainer, Dan Birmingham.
“I have learned a ton working with Dan,” Dawson said. “I have Darryl Hudson as my strength and training coach. I am with the best. As for Gary (Shaw), everything he has told me has happened.”
Dawson has risen from prospect to genuine contender in five years. The soft-spoken, undefeated fighter knows his shot at a world title will come if he continues to triumph.
“My ultimate dream is to become a world champion and have a different lifestyle,” Dawson said. “But I do not want to just be the best champion. I want to be one of the best champions ever. I am not talking just fighting wise, but by being a good guy. It is not about going in and knocking people’s heads off and holding a title.”
Dawson has been down once as a pro. In his 11th fight, he was dropped by Willie Lee in the first round on March 21, 2003. He got up to flatten Lee in the third.
Santiago (14-0, 9 KOs), of Ponce, Puerto Rico, will attempt to knock out his fourth consecutive opponent in his second “ShoBox” appearance. In his debut on Oct. 21, 2005, Santiago picked apart Cornelius Lock en route to a fifth-round KO from Santa Ynez.
During a stellar amateur career, Santiago captured the Puerto Rican national championship twice, was a member of the Puerto Rican National team and compiled a 45-7 record. The southpaw made his pro debut at age 22 and recorded an opening-round knockout over Antonio Martinez on April 27, 2001, in Hatillo, Puerto Rico. In his last outing, Santiago registered an eighth-round TKO over Terry Lantz on March 4, 2006, in Bayamon, Puerto Rico.
“I am very excited to be fighting on SHOWTIME again,” Santiago said. “It was like a dream the first time when my father got to watch me fight on national television. This is even better.’’
DeVictoria (8-3, 2 KOs), of Philadelphia, has won five out of his last six starts since losing his fourth and fifth outings on decisions. He is coming off a fourth-round TKO over Yamin Mohammad on Feb. 16, 2006, in Uncasville, Conn. The loss came in his outing before last when he dropped a majority six-round decision to unbeaten Melvin Cumba (9-0 going in) on Dec. 16, 2005, in Philadelphia. DeVictoria lost a good, close fight by the scores of 76-76 78-74 and 79-73.
The telecast represents the 77th in the popular, critically-acclaimed “ShoBox” series, which debuted on SHOWTIME in July 2001. “ShoBox” features up-and-coming prospects determined to make a mark and eventually fight for a chance at a world title. A number of fighters who have appeared on the series have gone on to become world champions, including Kermit Cintron, Juan Diaz, Leonard Dorin, Joan Guzman and Scott Harrison.
Nick Charles will call the action from ringside, with Farhood serving as expert analyst. The executive producer of the telecast is Gordon Hall, with Richard Gaughan producing.
For information on “ShoBox: The New Generation” and SHOWTIME CHAMPIONSHIP BOXING telecasts, including complete fighter bios, records, related stories and more, please go the SHOWTIME website at http://www.sho.com/boxing