Photos by Sumio Yamada
CHAD DAWSON vs BERNARD HOPKINS
After the disputed ending to their first fight, Saturday's rematch between Bernard Hopkins and Chad Dawson wasn't exactly made by public demand but nevertheless interest has grown. I get the sense that people are looking forward to the HBO-televised fight more than perhaps they thought they would — I know that is the case with me.
Hopkins, the betting underdog but still formidable at 47, is defending the WBC light-heavyweight title that was briefly in Dawson's possession, until the original TKO win was changed to a no decision. Hopkins says that Dawson threw him down in the Los Angeles fight that ended in such a disappointing fashion, Dawson says he was just shouldering Hopkins off him in a protective move.
Let's hope that the sequel settles all doubts.
It is no secret that Dawson believes that Hopkins faked a shoulder injury to get out of the fight in the second round rather than face what Dawson believed was going to be a long and difficult night that faced the older man. Hopkins says that once again adversity will motivate him to victory in a fight he isn't expected to win.
I feel solid about Dawson’s chances, just as I did when he fought Hopkins the first time. Simply put, I see him as being too young, too big, too fast and too strong. Yet we underestimate Hopkins at our peril. His fighting pride is at stake and he won't be easily beaten.
One thing we know is that Hopkins stays focused throughout a fight, always thinking of the next move. The big risk in backing Dawson is that Bad Chad tends to drift out of fights mentally. That’s how he lost to Jean Pascal, and there was a concentration-lapse when Tomasz Adamek knocked him down. For this fight, though, I believe that Dawson so urgently wants to win that he will stay on full alert from rounds one to 12.
Hopkins surprised me in his two fights with Jean Pascal, especially in the rematch, when Hopkins fought as if he were the younger man, even doing pushups at the end of a round, which must have been demoralising for Pascal. However, I believe that Pascal allowed Hopkins to upset him emotionally, to get into his head as we now say. There was something about Hopkins that seemed to unnerve Pascal, who used up so much nervous energy that he ran out of steam. I don’t think that Dawson will feel this sort of anxiety.
My understanding is that Dawson has wanted to fight Hopkins for the past two years at least. Sometimes, boxers have told me, they know when they are going to win. I believe that Dawson feels this way about fighting Hopkins. Certainly Dawson went towards Hopkins in an assertive manner in the first fight. The “thrown down” incident and Hopkins’s claim of a shoulder injury made this an easy night for Dawson backers, but I believed that Dawson was on his way to winning anyway.
Hopkins has surprised me several times. He has pulled off some big upsets. Hopkins is an excellent ring mechanic and he hits hard. His quick right hand through the middle can be highly effective against a southpaw, and he has had comfortable wins against left-handers such as Antonio Tarver, Winky Wright, Keith Holmes and John David Jackson. So it is unwise to write off Hopkins in Saturday’s fight. I do feel, though, that Dawson is “wrong” for Hopkins. Dawson can move, jab and counter, or he can bring pressure. I think he will be carrying the fight to Hopkins. Dawson’s combinations will, I think, be a problem for Hopkins. There have been fights in which Dawson has looked tremendously gifted, while in others (the Pascal, Adrian Diaconu bouts in particular) when he has struggled. My thinking is that on Saturday he will be in the right place mentally and physically, and ready to put on one of his best displays.
Dawson is the younger man by 18 years but he is a seasoned, mature fighter. I’ve given up thinking that Hopkins must grow old sometime: The man is a physical marvel. Still, the fact is that Hopkins is 47 years old. He tends to conserve energy in the early part of a fight, slow down the pace, pick his moments to attack and then come on strongly in the later rounds. I believe that Dawson can rack up points in the early rounds simply by being busier, and then stave off Hopkins’s late charge by firing right back at the older man. Dawson showed his character when weathering some extremely torrid moments and blazing back with barrages of punches in his first fight with Glen Johnson (who, like Hopkins, is one of the ring’s ageless wonders). So, we know he has heart, and I feel that Dawson can fight his way through the rough patches and come back with his own shots to recapture the initiative on Saturday.
I don’t for a moment think this is going to be easy for Dawson, I can picture him getting caught by right hands and maybe rocked at times, but I see Dawson fighting the more consistent, higher-activity fight — and while Hopkins’s right hand is a threat, he hasn’t stopped an opponent since a smaller Oscar De La Hoya went out from a body shot in the ninth round, and that was back in 2004. Also, Dawson isn’t at all a bad puncher — remember how he buckled Pascal’s legs with a left hand in the 11th round? He can hurt Hopkins. Indeed, I don’t think that Hopkins will want to get into too many exchanges with Dawson. I see the old campaigner looking to fight in spurts, punching and clutching, circling the ring and trying to draw Dawson onto right hands, and I see Dawson fighting a steady fight, jabbing, triggering off fast punches, and simply not allowing Hopkins to bully him or intimidate him.
So, I'm going with Dawson, most likely by decision, but whoever wins let us hope there isn’t another deeply unsatisfying and controversial finish — boxing doesn't need that.