by David P. Greisman, live at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City
Cleaner is better.
Bernard Hopkins is the master of dirty tricks, of head butts and low blows thrown in with thrown punches, a master of grabbing and mauling and doing everything he can to make sure his opponent can’t.
But what Hopkins doesn’t always do enough of is land clean punches himself. And instead of allowing Hopkins’ tactics to take him out of the fight, Chad Dawson weathered the dirty stuff and let his clean punching speak for itself.
That mindset, successfully implemented, has made Dawson the new light heavyweight champion of the world, the winner of a majority decision over Hopkins in front of an announced 7,705 people at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.
It was the sixth loss for the 47-year-old Hopkins, who believes he has only ever truly been defeated twice, by Clinton Mitchell in his 1988 pro debut and to Roy Jones Jr. in 1993. The rest — two dropped decisions to Jermain Taylor in 2005, one to Joe Calzaghe in 2008, and even a draw with Jean Pascal in 2010 — were wrong, Hopkins believes.
This fight was no different.
“What did he do to win that fight?” Hopkins said afterward. “They did what they wanted to do. The only way I knew I would win is if I knocked him out. The public can judge for themselves.”
But while segments of the public agreed with Hopkins in 2005, 2008 and 2010, there likely are fewer who side with him about this bout with Dawson.
It was ugly— as everyone expected to be. And that was Hopkins’ fault — as everyone expected to be.
There is Hopkins’ reputation. His beautiful “vintage Hopkins” performances, most recently against Kelly Pavlik in 2008 and Pascal in their 2011 rematch — were exceptions to what has become the rule.
Instead, there were bouts like the first Hopkins-Dawson match, two rounds of ugliness in October that ended when Hopkins came forward, Dawson ducked, Hopkins leaned over Dawson’s back and Dawson shouldered Hopkins to the canvas. The fall injured Hopkins’ acromioclavicular joint, which connects the collar bone and shoulder blade. That sequence of events, excepting the shouldering and falling, repeated itself several times in the rematch.
This bout had both the “vintage” Hopkins of old — beautiful right hand leads and counters — and the old man Hopkins, mauling and swatting.
Dawson continued to work behind his southpaw right jab, and Hopkins started to time his right hand in response.
Yet what did the damage to Dawson early was an accidental clash of heads that opened a cut on the side of his left eye, a cut that opened up when Hopkins was lifting his head after throwing a body shot.
Later in that round, however, Hopkins landed a crisp, hard right hand, then missed when trying again. He seemed to have found his weapon of choice against Dawson.
Dawson came out in the fifth seeking to show that not to be the case, strafing Hopkins against the ropes. Later, he dug down to Hopkins’ body with both hands and tossed in a left uppercut.
Hopkins battled back in the round, though, and had Dawson momentarily hurt toward the end of the stanza — this was the ebb and flow of the bout, which had some beauty in its ugliness, though mostly it was ugly in its ugliness.
“My head is hurting from all of the head butts,” Dawson said afterward. “I got to give him credit — he’s a future Hall of Famer. He’s a hell of a fighter. He’s a dirty fighter. But if you can get through 12 rounds with him, you can get through anything.”
Dawson got through another butt that opened another cut, this one to the side of his right eye. While Hopkins was mauling him, though, he was landing punches, a clean single shot here, two punches there, some body shots sent forth on occasion. He began to throw more when Hopkins ducked his head down, a hard target approaching him.
Dawson was credited with landing 151 of 431 shots, a 35 percent connect rate, according to CompuBox, including 126 of 263 power shots, or a 48 percent connect rate. Hopkins, meanwhile, landed just 106 of 400 punches, about 9 a round, a 26 percent connect rate. Of those, he landed 82 of 276 power shots, or 30 percent.
The even scorecard belonged to judge Luis Rivera, who had it 114-114. Richard Flaherty and Steve Weisfeld scored it 117-111, giving Dawson the victory.
Dawson, a 29-year-old from New Haven, Conn., regains the championship he lost to Jean Pascal in August 2010 and improves to 31-1 with 17 knockouts and 2 no contests.
Hopkins, of Philadelphia, falls to 52-6-2 with 32 knockouts and 2 no contests.
David P. Greisman is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Follow David on Twitter at twitter.com/fightingwords2 or on Facebook at facebook.com/fightingwordsboxing, or send questions and comments to [email protected]