LOS ANGELES (AP) — Chad Dawson spent 11 years climbing to the top of boxing. With two disastrous fights, he fell most of the way back down.
The former light heavyweight champion has spent the past year out of the ring after consecutive knockout losses to Andre Ward and Adonis Stevenson.
Dawson (31-3, 17 KOs) wasn't tired of his sport, but he realized he had to rethink his approach to it.
"It's the process of boxing, and I had to accept that," Dawson said. "You take one step forward. You get knocked down. You take one step back."
He returns Saturday night in the outdoor ring in Carson, fighting far down the undercard against 39-year-old journeyman George Blades (23-5, 16 KOs).
It's an unlikely place to find Bad Chad, the former HBO headliner who has held multiple versions of the 175-pound title. Dawson lost his belts and much of his prominence with that first-round stoppage loss to Stevenson, but he kept the fire that got him to the pinnacle.
"I'm older and I'm smarter, and I wouldn't be a former world champion if I wasn't confident," Dawson said. "As long as I do what's asked of me, I'm going to get back to the top. I don't have anything to prove to anybody. I've had those belts. I do it for myself and my family."
Dawson certainly didn't look like a shot fighter as he showed off his usual stealthy movement and quick hands while going through a workout at the Westside Boxing Club this week in preparation for his comeback fight.
Yet when Dawson stepped on the scales Friday at 182 pounds, missing the contracted 179-pound weight limit and receiving a $3,000 fine from his already modest $15,000 purse, Dawson raised even more online whispers about his dedication and toughness.
But redemption is the common theme of a busy card at StubHub Center.
Robert Guerrero returns from his 2013 blowout loss to Floyd Mayweather Jr. in the headlining bout against Yoshihiro Kamegai, while former two-belt champion Devon Alexander is back from a loss to face Jesus Soto Karass. Vasyl Lomachenko, the two-time Olympic gold medalist from Ukraine, attempts to win a title in his third pro fight after losing in his first shot at a belt in March.
But nobody has farther to go than Dawson, who sees his mistakes of hubris and miscalculation when he looks back on the last two years.
He acknowledges he shouldn't have cut down to 168 pounds before his fight with super middleweight kingpin Ward, who pummeled the dehydrated Dawson in a 10th-round stoppage.
When Dawson returned nine months later for a self-described "tuneup fight" against Stevenson, he was caught with a vicious left cross and left wobbly-legged just 76 seconds in.
Dawson believes he should have been allowed to keep fighting against Stevenson, but he knows he underestimated the man who replaced him as the WBC's light heavyweight champ.
Dawson's life changes were in motion even before he lost his belts: He left his suburban family home in Connecticut and relocated to Las Vegas two years ago. After switching trainers more frequently than some fighters change mouth guards, he reconnected with Eddie Mustafa Muhammad for his comeback.
"I just had to get away from all the negativity," Dawson said of leaving the state where he grew up and came to prominence. "People can be so disrespectful. I think that was the best thing for me, just to let everything die down. I had the whole year to spend with my wife and my four boys. That's a great feeling, to be able to take your kids to school. My family is happy. I'm happy, and I figured this was the right time to come back."
Perhaps most importantly, Dawson signed with adviser Al Haymon, the mastermind behind Mayweather and countless other fighters in recent years. Haymon set up a plan for Dawson's return to prominence, and Dawson said he is committed to a schedule that hopefully includes two more fights in 2014.
"I'm going to be a three-time world champion," Dawson said. "I can see it."