By Cliff Rold
A decade ago, 60-40 wouldn’t cut it for Roy Jones. A Showtime promise of three fights, to have included Harry Simon and Joe Calzaghe, wasn’t enough to override the desire to ride out a contract with Don King and shoot for top dollars with De La Hoya.
Following his win over Felix Trinidad in 2001, Bernard Hopkins was tough to pin down and many wondered aloud if he was the lottery winner who lost the ticket. What fools Hopkins made of the world. Questions of his competition between Trinidad and De La Hoya all those years ago are good for a chuckle now.
It turns out Hopkins was just saving himself for later.
How to explain a man who goes on his most consistent run of top threats from the age of 40 forward? It’s remarkable. An undefeated Jermain Taylor (twice) ended his historic Middleweight title run in 2005. The judges said he lost his title and took it from him. Matters in the ring said otherwise.
A move to Light Heavyweight to face division leader Antonio Tarver in 2006 was supposed to be a shot at icing on the cake. It turns out Hopkins was simply doing a whole new batch of baking. From Tarver, through his regaining the Ring Magazine Light Heavyweight belt and capture of the lineal crown against Jean Pascal earlier this year, Hopkins is 6-1-1 against one of the best levels of competition anyone has faced in the sport over the same time.
It is also, over the course of his now 23 professional years, Hopkins’ best run of competition, period.
Four foes were easily found in mythical pound-for-pound ratings when Hopkins faced them. Tarver entered with only three losses, all close and all avenged, and barely won a round. The still undefeated and reigning Super Middleweight Champion Calzaghe, better late than never, was the only man to best him over the run and in a competitive affair. At 170 lb. catchweight fights, leading Middleweight contender and former Jr. Middleweight Champion Winky Wright took the most decisive loss of his career; then reigning, and undefeated, Middleweight king Kelly Pavlik was whitewashed.
Humorously, Hopkins looked like he would finally step off the gas after losing his Light Heavyweight title to Calzaghe. Fringe Middleweight Enrique Ornelas gave him a workout. Former rival Roy Jones was coming off a first round knockout loss. At the same time, Chad Dawson was creeping into conversations about top fighters across the scale, emerging as the new leader of the Light Heavyweights.
Hopkins didn’t seem interested. It looked like a concession to Father Time.
Dawson’s upset loss to Pascal was Hopkins’ opportunity. Hopkins came off the floor twice to outbox Jean Pascal and earn a draw that many thought he won in late-2010. The rematch verdict had no knockdowns and scoring was simple.
But Dawson hadn’t gone away. To get the rematch with Pascal, Hopkins had to agree to meet a younger man short on charisma but long on talent.
Dawson will enter the ring at the Staples Center in Los Angeles trying to redeem his lone loss and demand his perch back atop 175 lbs. Hopkins will try to be Hopkins one more time.
Let’s go to the report card.
Current Title: Lineal/RingWBC World Light Heavyweight (2011-Present, 1st Attempted Defense)
Previous Titles: Lineal/Ring World Middleweight (2001-05, 6 Defenses); IBF Middleweight (1995-2005, 20 Defenses); WBC Middleweight (2001-05, 7 Defenses); Ring/WBA Middleweight (2001-05, 6 Defenses); WBO Middleweight (2004-05, 1 Defense); Ring Light Heavyweight (2006-08, 1 Defense)
Average Weight - Five Most Recent Fights: 173.85 lbs.
Hails from: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Record: 52-5-2, 32 KO
Record in Major Title Fights: 23-4-2, 13 KO, 1 No Contest (including Ring Mag. Title fights)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Defeated: 14 (Lupe Aquino, John David Jackson, Glen Johnson, Simon Brown, Keith Holmes, Felix Trinidad, Carl Daniels, William Joppy, Oscar De La Hoya, Antonio Tarver, Winky Wright, Kelly Pavlik, Roy Jones, Jean Pascal)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced in Defeat or Draw: 4 (Roy Jones, Jermain Taylor, Joe Calzaghe, Jean Pascal)
Previous Titles: WBC Light Heavyweight (2007-08, 3 Defenses; Vacated); IBF Light Heavyweight (2008-09, 1 Defense; Vacated)
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 174.2 lbs.
Hails from: New Haven, Connecticut
Record: 30-1, 17 KO
BoxingScene Rank: #2 at Light Heavyweight
Record in Major Title Fights: 6-1, 2 KO (7-1, 2 KO including interim title fights)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Defeated: 5 (Carl Daniels, Tomasz Adamek, Glen Johnson, Antonio Tarver, Adrian Diaconu)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced in Defeat: 1 (Jean Pascal)
Pre-Fight: Speed –Hopkins B; Dawson A
Pre-Fight: Power –Hopkins B; Dawson B
Pre-Fight: Defense –Hopkins A; Dawson B+
Pre-Fight: Intangibles –Hopkins A; Dawson B+
The stingy Hopkins defense will be his key to the fight, even if the Pascal fights proved he could still endure a stiff shot and find his legs to recover. Hopkins is a master of pacing. He may not start a house afire, but he can build tempo and is patient enough to take what openings emerge and exploit them. Against Pavlik and Pascal, Hopkins offense steadily built over the rounds until he had his foes boxed in. Pascal, with raw aggression and athleticism, saved his title with some late rallies the first time.
Aggression doesn’t describe Dawson but his quiet personality is a ruse when contrasted with his boxing personality. He’s shown fire and come off the floor to win fights against veteran Eric Harding and Tomasz Adamek. A big criticism has been that Dawson’s concentration lapses in fights, but the circumstances bear closer examination.
As noted, Dawson was dropped late in winning his first belt against Adamek and gave up late rounds in both of his wins over Tarver. Include the Harding fight as well and what is evident in all those contests is a ridiculous level of dominance when off the floor. Dawson was barely competed with after coming the deck against Harding in the first round of his last pre-title bout. He’d barely lost a second to Adamek, badly outclassing the Pole before a trip to the canvas, only to resume control in the final round. Tarver’s winning rounds versus Dawson were a lot like when a football team pulls its starters in a rout, late and with the game out of reach.
Dawson seems to get bored when he’s too far ahead but doesn’t have the killer instinct to go for a devastating finish. His temperament is suited to decision wins.
The problem, of course, is that there is no second string in boxing. Letting concentration lapse can be a disaster. What Dawson can accomplish, fully focused, was evident in his rematch with Glen Johnson. Johnson had already shown Dawson how dangerous he was. Dawson never let him into the fight the second time.
The Pascal loss was something different. For the first time, Dawson saw someone who had greater athletic speed than he and it froze him in spots. That happens sometimes to fighters who are used to a speed advantage but he was adjusting well and still in range of possible victory before an accidental headbutt sent matters to the judge’s in the 11th round.
Hopkins has no speed advantage here and hasn’t shown one punch power at Light Heavyweight. He does have the mental edge. He’s seen it all, never gets bored, and maintains an admirable focus both in fights and in his monk-like year round physical maintenance. If Dawson gets a lead and steps off the gas, Hopkins will be there will right hands, taking rounds and getting into Dawson’s head. It’s also easy to envision Hopkins trying to dirty the contest up, frustrating Dawson with tricks where the treat of landed blows isn’t working to win the bout.
The big question might be how big a lead is built. It’s hard to imagine the fight not beginning with Dawson putting a few in the bag. His physical advantages, and long jab, almost demand it. Dawson wanted this fight for years. Did he want it enough to be his best for twelve full rounds?
Following his win over Pascal earlier this year, it’s hard to pick against Hopkins. It’s doesn’t matter how many times Hopkins teaches the world otherwise; history says eventually youth just wins. Youth with speed, range, and accuracy is a good bet. Throw in the intangible of Hopkins seeming to not want any part of Dawson for a couple of years and the intrigue increases. This particular fight is a mental game as much as physical and the chance that we may actually see them thinking, instead of punching, for long stretches is foreboding. If Dawson can let his talent take over, he can potentially dominate this fight. It says here Dawson digs deep and finds the fire for this fight that he showed in battling through the first Glen Johnson war, winning a clear decision over Hopkins in fight that turns out, like the Hopkins-Pascal bouts, to be a pleasant surprise action wise.
Report Card Picks 2011: 33-12
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]