By Lyle Fitzsimmons
All that stuff you thought you knew last fall, you still know.
Or maybe you don’t.
The reality is, whether you went into October’s fight at Staples Center believing Chad Dawson would be an easy winner – or had no business in the ring with a guy like Bernard Hopkins – nothing happened over five-or-so minutes to give reason to believe otherwise.
Which is why their rematch Saturday night along the Jersey seashore remains so breathlessly compelling to some, and so impossibly irrelevant to others.
If you liked it going in, go ahead and get ready.
If you didn’t, go ahead and get movie tickets.
For his sake, it’s safe to say former world title challenger John Scully is among the former.
Come the weekend in Atlantic City, he’ll again be manning challenger Dawson’s corner as they again face Hopkins in a bid to regain the WBC 175-pound title belt the long-time Connecticut resident won and defended three times over a 14-month period in 2007-08.
And amid the swirl of opinions over whether Hopkins could have actually continued following his Dawson-induced tumble to the canvas in their first encounter in California, count Scully in as having a provocative view of his own.
“The general consensus is that there was a certain degree of acting going on,” he said. “Not that he wasn't hurt or injured in some way. Not that he didn't feel discomfort and all that. But I think it was exaggerated a bit. At certain moments while he was there on the ring floor Bernard kind of had to force himself to make himself look more in pain than he actually was.
“I'm no doctor, but it seemed to me that one second he was grimacing as though he'd been stabbed in the heart with a steak knife and then the next second he looked bored. Then he'd catch himself and look extremely pained again.”
Whether Hopkins consciously embellished the ending or not, the truth that remains for the 44-year-old trainer is that the 47-year-old fighter simply won’t have what it takes to handle Dawson – who’ll be 30 in July – over a consistently violent 12-round interaction.
It was so in 2011, he contends. And it’ll be so on Saturday.
And it’s that fact, Scully claims, that has Dawson working in camp with the notion that a mere scorecard verdict won’t be enough to spring him into Hopkins’s top-end perch on many of the sport’s most respected pound-for-pound lists.
Instead, his pupil acknowledges superstar status requires a superstar impression.
“I'm very aware of that and so is he,” Scully said. “It’s always been clear to me that he has the ability and potential to showcase himself in a way that makes people sit and up and say ‘Wow.’ Winning is always, always, always the first priority, but I definitely feel that he is in the mood this time to put it all together and win in more of a ‘Wow’ fashion.
“We've all seen him shine and sparkle for sections of fights, often times with pound-for-pound type skills, and I'm sure he is now more aware that he's more than capable of doing that for much longer and extended periods.”
Saturday’s fight will be the second try at a reunion for trainer and fighter, who have known each other for several years and worked together briefly in Dawson’s pre-championship days.
Dawson had been with Emanuel Steward for a pre-Hopkins meeting with Adrian Diaconu in August 2010, but the two split up before Hopkins I when Dawson was reportedly unwilling to head to Detroit to work with Steward at his Kronk Gym home base.
Enter Scully, a Hartford native who fought professionally for 13 years and had a pair of failed challenges – in 1996 and 1998 – for shares of a championship in the weight class his charge intermittently controlled through a listless loss to Jean Pascal in 2010.
This time, Scully insists, listless is not an option.
And as for tools, the advantages from the fall remain in the spring.
“(Chad) is more focused and determined and just has an overall feeling of happiness,” he said. “He reported to camp earlier for this fight than for any other fight he's had in his career, so that speaks volumes to me about his willingness to do what he has to do to win.
“Obviously his athleticism will be a big factor, but also his range, his speed, his size, his reflexes and his boxing brain. Hopkins gets a lot of credit for being a smart fighter, and he is, but you'd better believe Chad Dawson is very smart himself. Sometimes I think Chad's smoothness and fluid movements in the ring mask his intelligence to a certain degree because he makes certain things look so easy.”
But not so easy that looking ahead is an option.
In spite of the fighter’s brash statements that Hopkins never wanted the initial fight and only took the rematch because of WBC mandate, Scully said Dawson’s single-minded training camp demeanor has kept him from looking ahead to potential foes after a victory.
He did admit, however, that he’d most expect a newly-crowned Dawson to avenge his lone defeat against Pascal, who lost the belt to Hopkins after one title defense.
Also on what could be a crowded horizon – a bumper crop of well-known names climbing the ladder after Showtime’s recent 168-pound cable TV tournament.
“Just for the sake of putting it out here and planning on a hypothetical future, I would say that my gut feeling has always been that the next fight would be against Pascal,” Scully said. “It would seem to make the most sense from where I'm standing.
“Chad has an excellent strength coach in Axel Murillo and for the time being I think he is very comfortable at 175. I think he could get down to 168 again without a tremendous amount of difficulty provided he went about it the right way but, without looking too far ahead, I think the top 168-pounders moving up to face him would be a more logical scenario.”
Regardless of path, it’s a lot of ground to cover before Hopkins age sets in.
“He has several more years planned, but (he’s) still not planning to be fighting at 40,” Scully said. “Chad is still young enough and fresh enough where he can still perform at an extremely high level for several more years. I have no doubts about that.”
* * * * * * * * * *
This week’s title-fight schedule:
IBF junior lightweight title – Cancun, Mexico
Juan Carlos Salgado (champion) vs. Martin Honorio (No. 1 contender)
Salgado (24-1-1, 16 KO): Second title defense; Held WBA title in 2009-10 (zero defenses)
Honorio (32-6-1, 16 KO): Second title fight (0-1); Unbeaten in Mexico since 2002 (7-0, 4 KO)
Fitzbitz says: “The 32-year-old may indeed be on the downside here, but I can’t shake the feeling he’s got enough in him to get the upset.” Honorio by decision
WBA light flyweight title – Pomona, Calif.
Roman Gonzalez (champion) vs. Ramon Garcia (No. 10 contender)
Gonzalez (31-0, 26 KO): Fourth title defense; One fight in United States (1-0, 1 KO)
Garcia (16-3-1, 9 KO): Third title fight (1-1); Winless outside of Mexico (0-2)
Fitzbitz says: “Young Nicaraguan has enough pop to maintain a long run at 108 and maybe generate some regional interest in California.” Gonzalez in 7
WBC light heavyweight title – Atlantic City, N.J.
Bernard Hopkins (champion) vs. Chad Dawson (No. 1 contender)
Hopkins (52-5-2, 32 KO): Second title defense; No stoppage wins since 2004 (7-3-1, 0 KO)
Dawson (30-1, 17 KO): Tenth title fight (7-1, 1 NC); Unbeaten in rematches (2-0)
Fitzbitz says: “Anyone claiming insight from five minutes in October is reaching, so I’ll simply renew my feel from that lead-in preview. Dawson is too young, too good.” Dawson by decision
WBC featherweight title – Cancun, Mexico
Jhonny Gonzalez (champion) vs. Elio Rojas (not ranked)
Gonzalez (51-7, 45 KO): Fourth title defense; Sixteen straight wins by stoppage (45 total rounds)
Rojas (23-1, 14 KO): Third title fight (2-0); Held WBC title in 2009-10 (one defense)
Fitzbitz says: “The comebacking Rojas is either fresh enough – or too rusty – to deal with a slugging champion after a long layoff. The guess here is the former… and an upset.” Rojas by decision
WBA welterweight title – Donetsk, Ukraine
Vyacheslav Senchenko (champion) vs. Paul Malignaggi (No. 2 contender)
Senchenko (32-0, 21 KO): Fourth title defense; Twenty-nine of 32 fights in Ukraine (29-0, 18 KO)
Malignaggi (30-4, 6 KO): Seventh title fight (3-3); Third fight against unbeaten opponent (2-1, 2 KO)
Fitzbitz says: “Challenger’s only lost to elites – Cotto, Hatton, Khan – in title fights, so a lesser light like Senchenko will seem a step down. If playing field is level, go with the visitor.” Malignaggi by decision
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. For example, fights for WBA “world championships” are only included if no “super champion” exists in the weight class.
Last week's picks: 2-0
Overall picks record: 299-99 (75.1 percent)
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.