By Jake Donovan
Chad Dawson pursued Bernard Hopkins for more than three years. His reward for waiting so long was a night that didn’t even last two rounds in a fight that doesn’t count in the record books.
A lethargic first round gave way to a wrestling match in the second round. The fight ended with a clinch gone awry. Hopkins’ body was draped over Dawson’s back, causing the former light heavyweight titlist to react by nudging the division’s current king off of him. Hopkins stumbled and fell to the canvas, landing on his elbow and claiming a shoulder injury that left him unable to continue.
Dawson was originally declared a TKO winner that evening, a ruling that left him as the lineal light heavyweight champion. The honor lasted about two months before the California State Athletic Commission overturned referee Pat Russell’s decision from that evening (with Russell himself testifying that he made the wrong call after reviewing the fight), making the fight a no-contest.
Hopkins remains the light heavyweight champion as he heads into Saturday’s rematch with Dawson at the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Ever the optimist, Dawson views it as a blessing in disguise.
“It was a good thing - not a great thing - that the fight didn’t go past the second round,” Dawson suggests of their anticlimactic light heavyweight championship fight last October. “I didn’t really break a sweat, so we got a chance to get back into camp and go back to work.”
Dawson is correct in viewing the sequel as a way to right a serious wrong. Their first fight last October was a disaster in every imaginable way. Both Dawson and Hopkins are based in the East Coast, as were most of the fighters on the undercard. Yet the event handlers saw it wise to stage the show more than 3,000 miles away in Los Angeles and on pay-per-view, despite neither fighter being a draw.
The rematch is being staged where it belongs – on the East Coast, where more than 7,000 fans are expected on fight night. HBO televises the event, rather than once again going the pay-per-view route.
All that’s left is for an actual fight to take place. Dawson can’t vouch for his opponent, but on his end promises the performance of a lifetime.
“I have every advantage. I got the fire in my eyes and people saw that at the last fight,” Dawson believes. “I really wanted to go out and I really wanted to beat Bernard Hopkins. Bernard had other plans. I'm going to keep saying this; Bernard did not want to be in the ring with me that night.
“Maybe he undertrained and he didn't expect to see what he saw that night. Maybe he needed more time to get in better shape. I don't know, but I'm here and I'm for real and I'm coming to fight.”
Dawson’s reaction in his 2011 campaign to the lone loss of his career showed a different side than has been showcased in the past several years. A dominant – though off-the-canvas – win over Tomasz Adamek in 2007 had the young southpaw pegged as a can’t-miss heir to the heavyweight throne.
Somewhere along the way, Dawson lost sight of what led him near the top. Two fights each with aged veterans Glen Johnson and Antonio Tarver saw a fighter who appeared too comfortable with what he had already achieved. The truth was that the fighter was stuck between styles and struggling to figure out how he managed to reach that state.
It took for his points loss to Jean Pascal two years ago in Canada for Dawson to realize that he had drifted too far from the blazing young talent he once was. A comeback win over Adrian Diaconu last May was a step in the right direction, an industry-wide reminder that there was still plenty of life left in the 29-year southpaw.
There was still one more step to take before the journey came full circle.
The constant in Dawson’s boxing life going as far back as when he was 12 years was the man who guided his career. John Scully – once himself a former light heavyweight contender – made the seamless transition from fighter to trainer, taking on young talent in the New England area.
Chief among them was Dawson, who went through his amateur career and into his pro career with Scully before playing the game of musical trainers. There was no shortage of knowledge surrounding the Connecticut native through the years. In no particular order, top trainers such as Dan Birmingham, Floyd Mayweather Sr., Eddie Mustafa Muhammad and Emanuel Steward all had their swing at teaching Dawson the sport from their own varying perspectives.
For a while it was good enough to win – until it wasn’t. Dawson eventually realized this and decided it was time to finally go back home, bringing in Scully prior to his first fight with Hopkins last year.
“I wanted to become myself again,” Dawson admits. “Me being with so many different trainers, I think that kind of derailed my own style and going all of these different ways. One trainer wanted me to work on this and another trainer thinks I'm better at this so I should be working on that.
“Well Scully is different because Scully knows all of my strengths. So we add to that. I've known Scully since I was 12. I sparred with him when I was coming up younger, earlier in my career. So Scully knows me. He knows everything about me. We've been in the ring together. So he knows my strengths and he knows my weaknesses. So we had the chance to work on all of those things.”
Though the five or so minutes that their fight lasted didn’t quite serve as the truest indicator, more than a few observers believed that the Dawson of old was on hand to contend with an old Hopkins.
There exists the suggestion that Dawson had that old fire in his eyes. The fighter himself insists he saw something entirely different when staring down his opponent.
“I looked into Bernard's eyes that night and Bernard did not want to be in the ring that night,” Dawson believes. “He may tell you otherwise and (Golden Boy CEO) Richard Schaefer may say otherwise but I'm telling you, Bernard didn't want to be in the ring that night.
“Like I said, maybe he undertrained and he underestimated me. Maybe he needed a little more time to get in a little better shape. Maybe that's what he did by taking the rematch. He wanted to get in better shape than he came into that fight, but he didn't have that fire that night.”
Dawson isn’t counting on that same Hopkins to show up on Saturday. Instead, he expects the version that has terrorized the sport for more than two decades, the one that is Hall-of-Fame bound.
Anticipating the best possible version of boxing legend is undoubtedly the best way to be prepared for a fight. Stay ready so you don’t have to get ready.
What Dawson would like the industry to ready themselves for is the dawning of a new day more than three years in the making. A cherry on top would be to become the one to hand Hopkins his first ever stoppage loss.
“That would be a big statement to make,” Dawson states. “Due to the fact that he's never been knocked out before, I can't say that I'm going in there looking for the knockout. I had a great training camp. We've been in training camp seven weeks already and everything's been great. We've worked on a lot of different things.
We know Bernard is not going to come in the same fighter he was the last fight. We know he's a little stronger than he was the last fight. I hope Bernard comes to fight. He took the fight. He wanted the fight. So hopefully we'll be fighting on the 28th and we'll get our fans their money's worth.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected]