Photos by Sumio Yamada
BERNARD HOPKINS vs CHAD DAWSON
Bernard Hopkins shows no sign of slowing down at 46. How long, though, can he keep defying age? That, once more, is the question everyone asks as the seemingly ageless wonder heads into his light-heavyweight title defence against Chad Dawson at the Staples Center, Los Angeles on Saturday (HBO PPV).
Dawson, 29, was once thought of as having a style that was “wrong” for Hopkins, being a rangy, fast southpaw. This perception has changed. Hopkins looked much younger than his age in the two fights with Jean Pascal while Dawson has now given two lacklustre performances in a row, losing the title to Pascal and then labouring to a points win over Adrian Diaconu.
While Dawson is a slight favourite in the betting, no one is counting out Hopkins. The bout is billed as “Believe It or Not!” as a nod to Hopkins’s astonishing achievements at an age when most boxers are long retired.
Dawson doesn’t seem to be intimidated by the Hopkins aura, though. Frustratingly passive in the fights with Pascal and Diaconu, Dawson has promised to be aggressive.
For his part, Hopkins says he wants his opponent to stand and fight: “ Let’s work together to see who whoops whose ass worse.”
If Hopkins and Dawson do indeed meet in the centre of the ring and let their punches go, the crowd and a worldwide TV viewing audience could be treated to a memorable fight.
Hopkins has vast experience, savvy and physical and mental toughness, and his right hand will be a threat to Dawson, who had to get off the floor to win against Eric Harding and Tomasz Adamek. Dawson, though, is capable of throwing dazzling combinations, and it is easy to overlook the fact that he is a mature fighter who has been the 12-round distance seven times.
Pascal did well when he was throwing punches against Hopkins but it seemed that he lost confidence and allowed himself to be bullied. If Dawson stands up to Hopkins and runs off combinations the way he is capable of doing, he can win.
“Chad can’t relax for a moment, he can’t go drifting out of the fight mentally,” Emanuel Steward, who trained Dawson for his last fight, said over the phone from his Detroit home. “Hopkins is a very strong-minded man and he will be looking for any weakness he can find so that he can exploit it.”
However, Steward, pointed out: “Chad’s always wanted this fight. He’s wanted it for three years. It’s like Evander Holyfield always wanting the fight with Mike Tyson, and Antonio Tarver always believing he had the style to beat Roy Jones. When a fighter has wanted a certain fight for a long time, he will usually produce a great performance.”
Dawson chose not to train with Steward in Detroit for this fight, instead reuniting with “Ice” John Scully, the ex-fighter who trained him earlier in his career. Dawson did the bulk of his training at the Poconos in Pennsylvania.
“I feel very upbeat and confident about Chad’s chances,” Scully told me over the phone. “The beautiful thing about Chad is, when he’s on top of his game mentally, emotionally and skill-wise, he can do many different things, he’s very versatile. He told me he’s been watching videos of Hopkins religiously for three years now and he told me: ‘I’m definitely going to win this fight.’ He feels he knows this guy inside out.”
Dawson has worked with several trainers — Scully, Floyd Mayweather Sr., Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, Steward for the one fight, with Diaconu, and now Scully again — so I don’t think yet another change of trainer will be detrimental. As I understand it, Dawson simply didn’t feel comfortable training in Detroit. I believe that he has worked hard for the fight and I do sense an air of quiet confidence.
There is a perception that Hopkins will go in and rough up Dawson, unsettle him and take him out of his stride, but Dawson showed true grit in coming through 12 punishing rounds with Glen Johnson in their first fight, and he fired back after Adamek knocked him down, so I see him as having a fighter’s heart and a strong will to win.
It is, of course, impossible to ignore Dawson’s lackadaisical showings in the fights with Pascal and Diaconu, but he had Pascal hurt in the 11th round and he was coming on strongly at the time the fight was stopped. If Dawson hadn’t been cut from the clash of heads there just possibly might have been a different outcome — a late stoppage win by Dawson wasn’t entirely out of the question.
I’m going to give Dawson the benefit of the doubt over the Pascal and Diaconu performances and take him at his word that he had distractions and simply lacked the necessary drive and desire.
For this fight — a fight he has wanted for a long time — I think we will see the best Dawson that we have seen in some time.
This is, obviously, a very tough fight for Dawson against a durable, resourceful, masterful ring mechanic. He is going to come under pressure and he is going to have to be prepared to take some jarring right-hand shots from a crafty sharpshooter. I believe, though, that Dawson’s youth, speed, legs, combinations, and — in this fight — ambition, will see him through with a narrow victory on the scorecards.
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