Local boxer returns for ‘homecoming’ contest

Chad Dawson, like many of his New Haven childhood friends, began boxing at the Ring One program on Congress Avenue when he was 11 years old. But unlike Dawson’s peers who, for the most part, have since given up boxing, Dawson could soon become one of the Elm City’s most famous athletes.

Middleweight “Bad” Chad Dawson, now 22, is hoping to prove that he is deserving of national — and even international — boxing fame. Two years after turning professional, Dawson is currently ranked No. 12 in the world. And after his “homecoming” fight tonight night against Texan Efrain Garcia at the New Haven Athletic Center, Dawson does not just want the world to see him in a better light; he wants New Haven to be seen differently as well.

The match will be the first professional fight in New Haven in four years, and in a city lacking major league sports, the match is bound to draw the attention of local fans. Dawson is heading into this bout after a Dec. 10 match with former World Champion Carl Daniels, whom he finished in seven rounds.

A New Havener through and through, Dawson, the son of a professional boxer, said he has been boxing since he “came out of the womb.” Dawson’s trainer, John Scully, said even though Dawson’s personality may not be what one would expect for a potentially world-class boxer, Dawson throws a strong punch.

“He’s the type of guy who could be in a room with you, and you wouldn’t know it. He’s not the type to make a scene or be loud,” Scully said. “His fighting style is very laid-back also, but at the same time, also very dynamic when he wants to be. He’s very strategic. Watching him is like watching a chess match, then, all of a sudden, the bombs start coming, and he’s very exciting to watch.”

Dawson’s style was enough to get him noticed as an amateur by Classic Entertainment and Sports, a sports management company. A three-time state champion, two-time regional champion, national runner-up and bronze medalist in the Under-19 World Championship, Dawson began to garner attention at a young age.

Jimmy Burchfield, Dawson’s promoter at CES, said he tracked Dawson, an alum of Hillhouse High School in the Dixwell neighborhood, throughout his amateur career. CES has been promoting Dawson for about three years and was responsible for his transition to the pros.

“Before he turned pro, he was one of the top amateur fighters, so we kept a close eye on him because he was doing so well,” Burchfield said.

Success has continued to come for the Elm City native as a pro: He is currently undefeated with 16 fights under his belt. Moving from amateur to professional status did not pose any challenges, Dawson said.

“I was the first fighter from New Haven in a while to turn pro,” he said. “All of the guys who grew up with me stopped. The transition wasn’t hard because when I was an amateur, I had a pro style. The only real adjustment I had to make was to smaller gloves.”

About to break into the top 10, Dawson could soon receive a new level of interest from the public. Dawson’s fight on Friday night against Garcia is not only important for Dawson’s rankings, but also for his image in New Haven.

Although perks often accompany fame, Scully said he is already instructing Dawson about the perils of a higher profile and about the aggravations that come with it.

“The problem with him getting all of this notoriety is that now people in New Haven don’t know him, but, after this fight, he’s going to be a big fish in a small pond,” Scully said. “Every hustler from the street is going to be on him.”

Dawson, however, is looking forward to the positive impact that his success can have on the city. He said because of New Haven’s reputation, everyone expects a rowdy crowd at matches that could turn violent. He hopes that a smooth fight with a calm crowd on Friday could help to rectify that image and draw more fans to future events.

“Hopefully after [Friday], ticket sales will be good, and we can get the city and the state behind us,” Dawson said. “We could do a fight like this every six months. Everybody looks at New Haven as a bad place, so if we could get people come out and see a fight, and for there not to be violence and for everyone to have a good time, it would be good. Everyone is expecting something bad to happen.”

Especially important to Dawson is the impact he could potentially have on kids in New Haven. As someone who “loves kids,” Dawson said he sometimes goes to New Haven schools just to hang out. His young fan base will most likely expand after Friday, and as Dawson continues to gain renown in the city, Scully said.

“There’s already a good program at Ring One with a lot of good little kids,” Scully said. “After this fight, as early as next week, a couple hundred will want to start boxing. They’re going to read the paper or hear their dads or brothers talk about [Dawson]. Every kid pretty much starts out boxing because of another boxer.”

Dawson said he feels prepared to take on the added responsibilities of a role model for New Haven youngsters. Already a father himself, to one-year-old Prince Chadwick, Dawson said he can let all external pressures go during a fight.

“When I’m in the ring, I think of all the hard work I put into it,” Dawson said. “When I’m in the ring, everything comes into play.”

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