While this week's Austin Trout-Daniel Dawson junior middleweight bout will serve as the main event on the final "Friday Nights Fights" card of the season, Trout hopes it will be the beginning of another run to a world title.
Trout and Dawson meet in a scheduled 10-round fight (ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes, 9 p.m. ET) at the Pechanga Resort & Casino in Temecula, California, with Trout's career as a main event-level fighter perhaps hanging in the balance.
Trout won a 154-pound world title in 2011 and made four successful defenses, including his name-making upset decision win against Miguel Cotto in 2012 as he shut down the Puerto Rican star and handed him his only defeat at Madison Square Garden, his home arena. In June, Cotto knocked out Sergio Martinez in the 10th round to win the middleweight world championship. That makes Trout's victory look even better doesn't it?
"That confirmed to me that I am still a threat in this game," Trout said. "The Austin Trout who beat Cotto is still here. I can still do things like that."
Trout, a skillful southpaw, was so highly-thought-of in the wake of the victory against Cotto that when the prospect of a unification fight with Canelo Alvarez was broached, there were those in Alvarez's inner circle who did not want him to fight such a dangerous opponent.
But Alvarez ignored his team and insisted on the fight, which drew a crowd of some 40,000 to the Alamodome in San Antonio in April 2013. Alvarez knocked Trout down in the seventh round and went on to win a unanimous decision as he unified belts in a highly competitive fight.
Then Trout lost again in December, getting dropped again and outclassed in a one-sided decision to Erislandy Lara, who befuddled him and also gave him a beating.
"I was never comfortable in the ring with Lara. The style clash was horrible," Trout said of facing a fellow southpaw, who is very defensive. "I do care about what the crowd wants in the fight and what the crowd thinks. They started booing and I fell into his game plan. He don't care if they're booing. I tried to make the fight, and I fell into his trap."
The Lara debacle was the end of a lost 2013 for Trout, who is coming off an eight-month layoff to face Dawson (40-3-1, 26 KOs), 36, of Australia. Dawson, coming off his own long layoff -- 11 months -- will be fighting in the United States for the second time. In his first fight in the U.S., Dawson suffered a 10th-round knockout in a 2010 world title challenge against Sergey Dzinziruk in Santa Ynez, California.
"I had a bad year last year. Let's leave it at that," Trout said.
As bad as his year was professionally, it was even tougher personally, as his grandmother, whom he was very close to, died at his wedding, which was a month after the loss to Alvarez. He also went through a difficult legal battle during a split from promoter Greg Cohen.
Although Trout (26-2, 14 KOs), 28, of Las Cruces, New Mexico, didn't face Lara until seven months after his grandmother's death, Trout said he was a basket case going into the fight because it took place in Brooklyn, New York, his grandmother's hometown. It made him think a lot about her, and he said he was an emotional wreck going into the fight.
Now with a good rest behind him, Trout said he is ready to work his way back to a world title fight.
"I'm back to my undefeated self," Trout said. "The guy who beat Cotto is back. I'm not focusing on anything else. I'm just doing me. [Dawson] is going to have a lot to deal with when he faces me in there. The two fights I lost, I couldn't get comfortable. But I'm flowing right now. Like Bruce Lee said, 'Be like water.' I was comfortable in sparring and when I was hitting the mitts. I was letting my shots go. That's what I have to do against everybody and this is the start."
Trout is the kind of fighter who relies on precision punching and getting into a rhythm. He said the long layoff might be a problem, but that to limit its impact as much as possible he had an extra-long training camp.
He usually trains for six or eight weeks for a fight. He said he trained for 12 weeks to get ready for Dawson.
"My timing is everything, my rhythm is everything, so we started early, and I'm glad I did because I feel like I'm really clicking now," Trout said. "The jab is razor-sharp and will set up all kinds of opportunities for me. The layoff had a bit of an effect, but that's why I made sure to give myself the time in camp to fine-tune everything."
When Trout held his title, he knocked out Frank LoPorto in the sixth round of his second defense in 2011. Three fights earlier, in 2010, LoPorto won a 12-round decision against Dawson in Australia.
Trout said he is not paying any attention to that.
"We know what Dawson has done recently. He hasn't lost in seven fights [6-0-1]," Trout said. "We didn't look at the tape [of LoPorto-Dawson]. I don't want to think this is a walk in the park. If it is easy, it's because we worked to prepare to make it an easy fight. I did look at his fight with Dzinziruk because he was also a left-hander."
With a victory against Dawson, Trout hopes to position himself for another title shot. However, he said he is prepared to work his way back to the opportunity and does not expect to be handed one immediately.
"I'm going to have to force my way into another title fight," Trout said. "So I gotta keep winning. I have to beat everyone around [the titleholders], so there's nobody left to fight them except me. I understand I have to work my back to a title fight and I am willing to do that.
"I'm not spoiled by the boxing game. I'm still hungry. Once you get complacent, you get comfortable in that position. Yes, I want to get back to the spotlight, but I never forget the grind it took to get there. My goals are to stay at 154 as long as there are fights to be made. I don't see a reason to go up, but if Cotto gave me the opportunity, of course, I'd move up in a second. I would have no problem going up for a title shot. I am very world-title-minded. I am also rematch-minded. I want rematches with Lara and Alvarez."
A third consecutive loss, however, would probably kill the chances of those rematches or of another world title shot for the foreseeable future.
"A third loss in a row, that never crosses my mind," Trout said. "I won't let that happen. The ultimate goal is to win [against Dawson] in great fashion so they talk about me again. Winning is the No. 1 goal. I want to be exciting and effective to win, but if I can't be exciting and effective and I have to be boring and effective, that's what I have to do. I can't afford another loss."