LOS ANGELES—Chad Dawson's eyes light up when he imagines his ideal boxing career. He would spend every day training in his gym and every night at home in Connecticut with his wife and four sons, far away from everything else he finds so annoying about this sport.
Trash-talking with opponents, squabbling with past managers and trainers, defending his passion to people who don't know his heart -- the business of boxing repulses Dawson, whose formidable skills are often obscured by everything the former light heavyweight champion doesn't have.
"I'm ready to go home and see my kids," Dawson said after a workout at a Hollywood gym. "I've been doing this for two months now. I want to do this job and get home to see my kids."
Yet Dawson (30-1, 17 KOs) first will get the fight he's been pursuing for a half-decade: a showdown with 46-year-old Bernard Hopkins on Saturday night at Staples Center.
The 29-year-old Dawson realizes this bout with the sport's toughest, craftiest veteran will define a career without a signature moment. A convincing victory could even make him the man who ended Hopkins' remarkable mid-life renaissance, securing Dawson's place in boxing history.
"This is what I've been waiting for my whole life, since I was a little kid, to be fighting on this stage," Dawson said. "The best light heavyweight in the world was Bernard Hopkins, but Saturday night it's going to be me."
Yet 10 years and two title belts into his professional career, Dawson still has no interest in being what other people want him to be.
Dawson realizes his dispassionate exterior alienates those boxing fans who thrive on fury. He's an unapologetic technician, dissecting opponents with precise punching and defense in the philosophy favored by Floyd Mayweather Jr., Andre Ward, good friend Winky Wright, even Hopkins himself -- all outstanding fighters with small fan bases, except Mayweather.
"That's what I want to do, to be the master boxer," said Dawson, whose last home-state fight two years ago barely filled a third of the arena. "People think boxing is just about knocking people out. To me, that's not what it's about. It's about going out and showing your skills, showing what you can do. ... At the end of my career, I want people to say, 'This was the best technical fighter ever, right here.'"
That discipline sometimes leads to fan-repellent declarations. Dawson has described his boxing style as "laid-back" while openly acknowledging he doesn't usually try to knock out his opponents, and he acknowledged getting bored with training before his only loss to Jean Pascal in August 2010.
Hopkins' charisma and inspirational penitentiary-to-penthouse story dominate every promotion, but Dawson doesn't care about the spotlight, even before his biggest fight.
"I get it all the time," Dawson said. "Even when I'm at home, people tell me, 'Hey, you've got to talk more trash. If you talk more trash, you get more attention.' But me doing that, that's me stepping out my character. That's not something I feel comfortable doing. Even with all the trash Bernard has been talking, I just keep it quiet and low-key. The best storm is a quiet storm. That's the one you don't see coming."
Dawson was born in South Carolina, but moved to hardscrabble New Haven, Conn., when he was 7 years old. His father, Rick, is a small-time boxer who moved north in search of more work and better training while his wife, Wanda, raised seven children.
Dawson, the third of five brothers, tagged along to the gym. The right-handed Chad fights in a southpaw stance because he mimicked his left-handed father.
"I've always been quiet. I don't know what it is," Dawson said. "I've got four other brothers, and they're all quiet. My whole family, we're all quiet. We're not loudmouths. Even with all my success, my career, my family is still low-key. We don't brag. That's not something we were raised to do."
Dawson played football and basketball in high school, and he briefly gave up boxing before the 1998 Olympic trials to focus on basketball. He returned after academic problems ended his hoop dreams, turning pro in 2001 and winning his first world title in February 2007 with a decision over Tomasz Adamek.
Although he relishes control in the ring, Dawson knows upheaval outside the ropes. He changes trainers more often than some fighters change mouth guards, and he has endured at least one nasty split from a former manager.
"I've known him for probably eight years, and this is by far the best place he's ever been in," said Herman Woodard, Dawson's lawyer. "Sometimes you can get one (aspect of life) right, and the other one is OK, but everything is fantastic now. He's in a totally different place. Right now, his mind is in that ring and no place else."
In the past few years, Dawson cycled through respected trainers Dan Birmingham, Floyd Mayweather Sr., Eddie Mustafa Muhammad and Emanuel Steward, who got dumped right before this training camp when Dawson declined to train in Detroit's Kronk Gym. Instead, Dawson set up camp in the Poconos with John Scully, a fellow Connecticut fighter who trained Dawson early in his pro career.
"He watched me grow from an amateur to a pro," Dawson said. "He knows my strengths and my weaknesses. Even when I wasn't with him, I'd come home and check my Facebook, and he'd be on there, saying, 'Chad, here's what you're doing wrong that we need to work on.'"
Scully first met the 11-year-old Dawson in a gym, and he doesn't think his fighter has changed much.
"When he really puts it all together, when he shows everything he can do, I really think he's going to be one of boxing fans' favorite fighters," Scully said.
Even if he beats Hopkins, Dawson will head home from Hollywood next week to his quiet New Haven suburb, back to family life outside the madness of boxing.
"I plan on staying that way for the rest of my career," he said. "No matter what fortune and fame I get, I'm still going to be humble Chad Dawson."