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The light heavyweight division's one-man youth movement

4/7/2008 - Boxing
Chad Dawson, left, may wear a world title, but he's still fighting for recognition as a top-flight boxer. AP Photo/Fred Beckham

When Roy Jones first won a piece of the light heavyweight title, Bill Clinton was still serving his initial term as President, Brett Favre was a young quarterback without a Super Bowl ring, George Costanza had just discovered the power of abstinence and only your obscenely rich friends had cell phones.

Eleven years and four months later, much has changed, but the Roy Jones light heavyweight era continues. Though Jones himself is diminished and has been dethroned, he carries on as the division's biggest name, while his contemporaries and rivals -- Bernard Hopkins, Antonio Tarver and Glen Johnson -- stand at or near the top of the weight class.

Of the 12 fighters ranked at 175 pounds by either ESPN.com or The Ring, five are 39 years of age or older, while only three are below the age of 30.

Hopkins, the generally recognized champion, is 43. Jones, Tarver and Johnson are all 39. Another Johnson, Reggie, is back in the mix at 41. Clinton Woods and Danny Green are 35, Zsolt Erdei is 33 and Paul Briggs is 32.

Meanwhile, 40-year-old Sven Ottke and 39-year-old Dariusz Michalczewski are coming out of retirement to fight each other and 37-year-old Chris Byrd announced last week that he's dropping down from heavyweight to light heavyweight.

This division must be serving an early-bird special or something, because the senior citizens are lined up around the corner.

The only 20-somethings in the ratings are Adrian Diaconu, who will turn 30 this June, Chris Henry, who is 27, unproven and untested (and, interestingly, scheduled to face Diaconu on April 19) and Chad Dawson.

In a division full of geriatrics, Dawson, the lone member of the under-30 crowd ranked in the top five, stands out like Nicolai Valuev in a hobbit village.

"Without a doubt, he's the future of the division," veteran trainer Kenny Adams told ESPN.com when asked for his opinion of Dawson.

The question is whether the time has finally arrived for the future and the present to become one.

This Saturday in Tampa, Dawson takes on Glen Johnson in a classic crossroads clash. If Dawson wins, it's the dawn of a new era.

If he loses, maybe it's time to accept that the torch is never getting passed and that the Jones era is something our grandkids will be telling their grandkids about.

That latter scenario, however, is not likely. On a Showtime doubleheader that also features Tarver vs. Woods, Dawson is positioned to be the show-stealer. Johnson, Tarver and Woods are all on roughly the same level (Tarver and Johnson are 1-1 against each other, and Johnson and Woods went 1-1-1 in three fights), but the 6-foot-3 southpaw from New Haven, Conn., has the potential to be a level or two above -- particularly at this stage of everyone's respective careers.

My first glimpse of Dawson came on May 18, 2002, in his seventh pro fight, an off-TV undercard bout at Mohegan Sun. In destroying trial horse Gary Grant, Dawson gave us only 96 seconds of action upon which to judge him, but sometimes a minute or two is all it takes. With the then-19-year-old prospect, you could tell immediately that he was going places.

He's taken very gradual and deliberate steps since: faded ex-titlist Carl Daniels in 2004, light-punching fellow prospect Ian Gardner in '05, aging southpaw slickster Eric Harding in '06, dangerous belt holder Tomasz Adamek in '07.

A unanimous decision win over Adamek netted Dawson his first title, but two meaningless defenses against severely overmatched Jesus "Chuy" Ruiz and Epifanio Mendoza followed, wasting the rest of what appeared to be Dawson's breakout year.

It's time now for Dawson, at 25 and 25-0 (17 KOs), to make his annual climb to the next level.

Enter Johnson, a former world champion and former Fighter of the Year with a knockout win over Jones on his résumé.

On paper, the Jamaican pressure fighter is the toughest opponent of Dawson's career.

"Johnson's a strong fighter, he keeps trucking, but Dawson's definitely the favorite," Adams said. "If he's smart, uses his boxing abilities, keeps stepping around the guy, without a doubt he should win. He has great height, good reach, great boxing ability, a lot of depth, good jab, hook, pretty good power. He has everything you want in a fighter."


Everything, that is, except recognition from the public. And when you're young, dangerous and relatively unknown, it can be hard to land a fight with an older fighter whose reputation needs protecting more than it needs establishing.

Luckily for Dawson, Johnson is the type of competitor who shies away from no challenge, giving Dawson the opportunity that Tarver, Jones and Hopkins seem reluctant to offer him.

"I've had the title for a year now, and none of those other guys even mention my name," Dawson told ESPN.com. "It's always in the back of my mind that they're going to avoid me.

"Glen Johnson, Tarver, Roy, all those guys, they've been around, they've won world titles, they've accomplished a lot, but I think it's really time for me to grab the torch. I feel like now is my time to take over. I need to beat those guys -- not just to become the number-one guy in the division, but to claim my identity in the sport of boxing. I need to beat a big name to make my name known."

On the one hand, a division overflowing with old-timers means there are plenty of established names to use as steppingstones; on the other hand, those old guys generally prefer fighting opponents in their age bracket.

Hopefully, an emphatic win over Johnson will create demand from the public that Dawson get a crack at the Tarver-Woods winner or the Hopkins-Joe Calzaghe winner.

The time has come, at long last, for a youth movement at 175 pounds. In this case, however, the movement consists of just one young fighter trying to supplant an entire generation by himself.

Father Time hasn't been able to finish off these guys who've ruled the division for the last decade or so. Maybe Chad Dawson can.

Eric Raskin is a contributing editor for and former managing editor of The Ring magazine.