TAMPA — Chad Dawson's chance at a fight with Tampa's Antonio Tarver — a fight he has been chasing for two years — got better with each passing round he fought with Glen Johnson.
Fans who watched that April fight in the St. Pete Times Forum also watched a future bout being negotiated.
Each punch Johnson landed to Dawson's mug made the undefeated fighter from Connecticut a more attractive future opponent. Each one nudged him closer to Saturday night, when Tarver and Dawson finally meet in a light heavyweight bout in Las Vegas.
Dawson's manager, Mike Criscio, said afterward that had his fighter been more impressive in beating Johnson, Saturday's fight would not be happening.
"(Taver has) been ducking Chad for years. Now, he thinks he sees something that isn't there. But that's good for us,'' Criscio said.
What's there is a young, rising fighter many consider to be the future of the light heavyweight division. Dawson is 26-0 and intent on proving his worth — and settling a score with a boxer he has grown to dislike. He gave up his belts to take on Tarver.
With the light heavyweight division aging rapidly — Johnson, Tarver and Roy Jones are 39, and Ring Magazine champ Joe Calzaghe is 36 and says he is retiring after his next fight -— the 26-year-old Dawson seems primed to take over.
"Tarver is old news,'' Dawson said at the final news conference for the fight Wednesday. "What happens to old news? People forget about it. Tarver will be old news on Saturday.''
But Tarver is not nearly ready to abdicate his place.
He was in top form when he dismantled overmatched Clinton Woods in Tampa on that same April card as Dawson. And Tarver is young for his age with only 31 pro fights, 27 of them victories.
"I've been a fixture in this sport for 11 years. I've been here before,'' Tarver said. "(Dawson) hasn't done anything. He'll have a game plan, but all that (stuff) is going to be thrown out the window once he gets hit in the mouth.''
Tarver's best skill is still getting under people's skin. He has derided Dawson for two years now, denied him a fight, said Dawson had to earn it.
Compare the resumes, he bellows. Watch what you wish for, he warns.
While Dawson has seethed, Tarver has smiled through it all.
Saturday, the smiling stops.
"This is a big fight for me,'' Tarver said. "I came from nothing. This is big money to me. Believe me, I know how big this fight is. It's my chance to prove that I'm still the best.
"Chad will not be safe on Oct. 11. His handlers made a big mistake rushing him into a fight with me."