OAKLAND, Calif.-- Super middleweight champion Andre Ward and light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson -- not just mere titleholders, but the legitimate kings of their divisions -- are among the best fighters in the world, and they are doing something not common enough in boxing: They are fighting each other.
Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. won't fight each other, but Ward and Dawson? Heck, they are happily doing it. There wasn't even much drama making the deal, either.
They both sensed the fight coming.
"I think Ward is a great fighter," Dawson said. "I studied him for years. I've been watching him. I knew one day we would be fighting."
"I've kept tabs on Chad for a very long time," said Ward, the 2011 fighter of the year. "We had the same managerial team years ago [when Dawson used to be managed by James Prince], and I'd ask, 'How's Chad?' not necessarily trying to scout him out but because I'm a student of the game.
"I've followed Chad for many years. I know a lot about Chad. I got a lot of respect for Chad. We didn't pick Chad because we saw weaknesses. We picked Chad because he's the best in his division and I'm the best in my division, and when's the last time two fighters in separate divisions met because they were the best?"
The 28-year-old Ward (25-0, 13 KOs) -- who unified 168-pound titles with an easy decision win against Carl Froch in December to punctuate his dominant run to the Super Six World Boxing Classic championship -- was watching in April as Dawson polished off the great Bernard Hopkins for a decisive decision win in their rematch to reclaim the light heavyweight title.
Afterward, Dawson (31-1, 17 KOs) called out Ward in his postfight television interview, going so far as to say that he was willing to drop from 175 pounds to 168 to challenge Ward, even though it's highly unusual for a fighter in a heavier weight division to cut weight to challenge for a championship in a lighter weight class. Shortly thereafter, the fight was made.
And now Dawson, 30, of New Haven, Conn., is not only sacrificing to make the lighter weight, he has come to Ward's hometown for their pound-for-pound showdown. They will meet Saturday night (9:45 ET/PT) at Oracle Arena in one of the most significant fights of the year.
"I wanted to fight him," said Dawson, who watched all of Ward's Super Six fights and said he picked him to win it all before the tournament began. "I think it's a great fight for the sport. I think Andre Ward is a great fighter. I believe in my skills. I just think that it makes for a great fight -- the best two fighters in their divisions fighting each other.
"The state boxing is in, we need a great fight like this."
Some critics have slammed the match by saying it won't provide a lot of action because of the technical styles Ward and Dawson rely on. The fighters are having none of that.
"No matter what people say, I think it'll be an explosive fight," Dawson said. "I think it'll be a fight that brings the best out of both of us."
Said Ward: "We're in an era now where, if it's not blood and guts, it's not a good fight. That's just the reality. I don't know if it's MMA or what, but if it's not blood and guts, people are told they got ripped off. But the boxing fans I run into in my hometown or in Vegas, they're excited about this. This fight has two of the highest-skilled guys in the sport of boxing. I think it will be a highly entertaining fight."
HBO's senior vice president of programming Kery Davis pursued the fight despite the possibility that the fighters' styles might not mesh well.
"I think in terms of the quality of the matchup, in terms of the accomplishments of the two guys, it's one of the best live fights we can do," Davis said. "It's just a very high-quality matchup of two of the best fighters in the sport. We have both of them in their primes."
In the co-feature, lightweight titleholder Antonio DeMarco (27-2-1, 20 KOs) of Mexico will make his first defense against mandatory challenger John Molina Jr. (24-1, 19 KOs) of Covina, Calif.
In addition, the HBO telecast will open with same-day tape-delayed coverage of heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko (44-2, 40 KOs) of Ukraine making his ninth title defense against Germany's Manuel Charr (21-0, 11 KOs) at Olimpiyskiy Arena in Moscow.
Even before Dawson called out Ward, their promoters -- Gary Shaw (Dawson) and Dan Goossen (Ward) -- were talking about the high-stakes fight.
"Two champions; you've got one guy that's taking a risk by coming down in weight in Chad Dawson. You've got me, who's taking on a bigger man," said Ward, a 2004 Olympic gold medalist who will be making his fifth title defense. "I'm bringing all my belts in the ring and they're all on the line come Saturday night. So I'm risking a lot, and in this sport you can't afford to lose. So we're both risking a lot. This is a fight that you should be able to kick your feet up and get the popcorn ready and just appreciate it. Or come buy a ticket if you're in the Bay Area. We'd appreciate that, too."
One of the central storylines of the fight is Dawson's willingness to cut weight rather than Ward taking the traditional step up in weight to challenge for Dawson's title.
But all along, Dawson has said he not only could make 168 pounds, but that he wanted to do it.
"I've been wanting to go down to 168 for the past year or two," said Dawson, who did look a bit drawn at Thursday's final news conference. "I make the weight just fine. I came into camp at 180 pounds."
Dawson had many of his early bouts at super middleweight but moved up before he had a chance to fight for a title.
"I feel like now it's time to go down to 168," Dawson said.
There have been recent notable title fights in which one of the fighters didn't make weight -- Adrien Broner and Brandon Rios, for example -- but Dawson said the weight isn't an issue, and Ward said he hasn't thought about what he would do if Dawson missed weight.
"There will be some ramifications," he said when the topic was broached. "But we have not really talked too much about it. But I don't think that would be a good look for Team Dawson based on how confident they are that they'll make the weight. As of right now, I don't think there will be any problems. [But if Dawson misses weight], definitely more money, I'll tell you that."
Said Dawson: "People are so wrapped up about the fact that I'm moving down to 168, but I'll make the weight comfortably and I'll be ready to fight."
Besides the weight, Dawson, who will have the height and reach advantage, also agreed to go to Oakland, where Ward has a small but growing fan base; despite his talents, Dawson has almost no fan base.
"At first I wasn't too high on it, but you gotta do what you gotta do. I don't mind. I don't mind at all," Dawson said of going on the road, even though his lone loss was to former champion Jean Pascal on his turf in Montreal in 2010. "I didn't have to go to Canada to fight Pascal, but I did it. I didn't have to go Oakland to fight [Ward], but I'm doing it just to make myself a better fighter. I'm just happy the fight is going to happen. We're two guys fighting and it doesn't matter where the fight is."
Dawson is surprisingly a roughly 3-1 betting underdog in Las Vegas, but it's of no concern to him or his team.
"Can you believe that the 175-pound champion of the world is a 3-1 underdog?" Shaw said. "[Ward's team] said we made a mistake. Saturday night we'll find out who made the mistake taking the fight."
Said Goossen: "Andre has done a tremendous job throughout his career of demonstrating his skills against the more experienced champions, as well as bigger champions. The odds are a sign that people are now recognizing the exceptional fighter that he is. There is no doubt in my mind, Andre is going to prove the odds are right and take a further step to greatness."
The way any fighter can prove greatness is by fighting the best. And that is exactly what Ward and Dawson are doing.