Chad Dawson is one of the best fighters pound-for-pound in the world, though that hasn't always translated into blockbuster ticket sales. Only a few thousand people turned out in his own backyard last fall to see him defeat rugged veteran Glen Johnson.
The affable Dawson insists he didn't feel slighted, though, and he said this week that he isn't bothered about heading into someone else's territory, either.
Dawson takes on fellow titleholder Jean Pascal on Saturday night in Montreal.
"I am here to prove I am the best light heavyweight in the world," Dawson said earlier this week. "I like Montreal, the fans and the organization, so far."
Dawson has never lost in 29 fights, but has struggled to gain a foothold anywhere in the United States. He defeated former cruiserweight champ and heavyweight contender Tomasz Adamek at a small arena in Florida, beat Johnson in their first meeting in Tampa, then won back-to-back fights against former 175-pound kingpin Antonio Tarver in Las Vegas.
By the time they've filled their closets with as many titles as Dawson, most fighters have also built a substantial fanbase, often around their hometowns. But that's yet to happen for Dawson, who has a decent knockout rate and engaging personality but struggles at the gate.
That's one of the reasons why his promoter, Gary Shaw, tried to put his second fight against Johnson last fall in Hartford, Conn., a short drive from his home in New Haven.
Everything worked out in the ring, if not at the turnstiles. Dawson only managed to draw about 5,200 people to the 16,500-seat XL Center, even against a marquee opponent.
Now he's fighting Pascal at the Bell Centre in Montreal, where a huge crowd is expected.
"This is my country, my town and my belt," said the Haiti-born Pascal, who now lives in Laval, Quebec. "I hope Chad Dawson is coming to fight like a champion, but if he thinks he is going to run like a chicken and leave with my title, he is making a big mistake."
Pascal (25-1) has succeeded in building his own fervent fanbase in Canada, and he realizes that Dawson hopes to leech some of those fans away. A victory could set up another big-money showdown against 168-pound titleholder Lucian Bute, who also calls Canada home.
"Chad Dawson is with no doubt the best fighter I have ever faced," Pascal said. "I know I am against the odds and people can predict anything they want, but me and my team are ready to rise to this challenge."
Pascal holds the WBC light heavyweight title by virtue of his victory over Adrian Diaconu last summer, while Dawson holds the interim title from the same alphabet organization.
But gaudy trinkets mean little to Dawson, who has already relinquished both the WBC and IBF belts when the sanctioning organizations wanted him to fight weak mandatory opponents. Instead, he went after high-profile fights against Tarver and Johnson in a quest to prove that he's the best in the world, which isn't easy to do in a division that has lost much of its luster.
Not long ago, names such as Roy Jones Jr. and Bernard Hopkins made the 175-pound division one of the toughest in boxing. They've both quietly slipped off the radar, and the focus in boxing has trended toward the lighter weights and guys such as Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr.
That hasn't helped Dawson become a fan favorite.
Perhaps this is his chance, though, an opportunity live on HBO against a highly regarded opponent to prove to the world — and yes, those fickle fans in the United States — that Dawson is worth shelling out money to see in person.
If nothing else, his next opponent is already a believer.
"I have a lot of respect for Chad Dawson as an athlete, a family man and as a boxer," Pascal said. "He would be the biggest challenge for any fighter of the world right now."