Daniel Dawson has been through too much to be daunted by having the odds so heavily stacked against him when he returns to the Pechanga Resort and Casino in California next week.
The Perth light-middleweight will be a big outsider when he takes on former World Boxing Association champion Austin Trout in a likely title eliminator to face Mexican superstar Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez.
Trout was on top of the world just 20 months ago when he took apart Miguel Cotto in Madison Square Garden.
Now the American southpaw is desperate for a rematch with Canelo, who last year inflicted his first career loss.
This is the biggest fight involving a West Australian since Danny Green’s glory days and for Dawson an opportunity four years in the making. He first fought at the Temecula venue in April 2010 when, as a late substitute, he put up a creditable challenge before being stopped in the 10th round by then World Boxing Organisation champion Serhiy Dzinziruk.
But it was the defeat to fellow Aussie Frank LoPorto in Joondalup five months later which proved the watershed in Dawson’s career. Not only did it cost him a world title shot at Trout – instead LoPorto met the champion a year later and lost in six – it made him take stock of his whole career.
“With the world title fight with Dzinziruk, I did take it at late notice but I had actually stopped training while I was there as well,” he said.
"My father passed away just before it. Then with LoPorto, maybe I shouldn’t have been in the ring at that time.
“But there has been a huge change in me in the last three or four years. I’ve moved on from a few issues I had with my father (dying) and in my childhood, things like that,
“But these past few years I’ve been performing at a great level. I fixed a few things with my body. Physically I’ve been getting into a good place and mentally I’m in a really good place.”
Central to that change was Dawson teaming up with Burswood trainer Bobby Mayne, who harnessed his natural aggression with a more refined approach.
“It’s like anything, it’s a learning process and it takes time,” Mayne said. “He comes from a kick-boxing, Muay Thai (background) and previously he was trained to come forward and to use his strength, which is his power, and his determination. But you also need to have the basics in boxing and that’s what he seemed to lack.”
So was losing to LoPorto and missing the fight with Trout a blessing in disguise?
“Yes, I don’t think he was ready for Austin then,” Mayne said. “If he’d beaten LoPorto and fought Trout, he’d have been pretty much finished. Trout at that time, he’d won the world title, was smoking hot … it was set for him. Plus Dan was still the old fighter, we were like a work in progress then. Now it’s different. Now I think I’ve pretty much got him how I want him.”
Dawson, who flew to the US earlier this week, says being stripped back and rebuilt as a boxer was a necessary evil.
“The frustrating thing was probably the amount of time it took. It did take a lot of time and practice. But to do it, I was relieved,” he said.
“But, man, it’s exciting, I feel proud, grateful and I think it’s well deserved for us, it’s the path that we’re on.”
Dawson, whose only other loss in a 44-fight career came against Daniel Geale, put his new skills into practice last September when he boxed beautifully for 11 rounds at the WA Italian Club against American one-time contender Alex Bunema. But he was tagged early in the 12th before somehow hanging on for the remainder of the round.
“The Bunema fight was the catalyst which said Dan is on that level now,” Mayne said. “He showed the heart of a champion. Same as Trout. Trout’s been decked, but he gets back up. In his points loss to Erislandy Lara in his last fight, he got up. And against Canelo he got up and won back that chunk of the round. These are two guys who are fighters who have got big hearts.
“But Trout has to win this fight. He’s lost to two of the best in that weight division. He’s got a point to prove because he wants to get back to the top. He has to impress to get those rematches, but that’s where we take our opportunity. It’s a good position to be in.”
The fight will be shown live on ESPN2 from 9am next Saturday