By Jake Donovan
Bernard Hopkins versus Chad Dawson for the lineal light heavyweight championship of the world.
It was always a fight that was intriguing on paper from a historical context but threatened to bomb in the ring and at the box office.
A verdict reached by the California State Athletic Commission on Tuesday suggested the boxing equivalent of a wedding annulment. The original technical knockout verdict was overturned and changed to a no-contest, which is to suggest that the fight never happened at all.
Perhaps that’s what is best for all involved.
It’s certainly the direction in which Hopkins and his handlers are heading.
“I am happy this ordeal is over,” Hopkins (52-5-2-2NC, 32KO) said in a statement shortly after the CSAC voted by a 5-1 margin to return the championship back in his possession. “Now I can focus on continuing to rehab my shoulder and get ready to fight again, hopefully early next year.”
Who exactly lands in the opposite corner for his next fight is not immediately known. The only thing for certain is that a rematch with Dawson is not in the cards – not next, and perhaps not ever.
“I have zero interest in putting together that fight again,” stated Richard Schaefer, CEO of Golden Boy Promotions. His company co-promoted the October bout along with Dawson’s promoter, Gary Shaw. The show featured a respectable undercard, but most of whom were – along with the main event players – East Coast-based, therefore not at all enticing to the local Los Angeles market.
Hopkins himself has never proven to be a draw on his own, but has always managed to help bolster attendance on the road when matched right.
Both of his fights with Jean Pascal were box office gold in Canada, given Pascal’s drawing power and the historical angle surrounding both fights. Hopkins entered their first fight in Dec. ’10 one month shy of his 46th birthday in seeking to become the oldest fighter in boxing history to win a world title.
He narrowly missed out on that opportunity in the first fight, suffering two knockdowns early but boxing well enough from the fourth round on to generate debate once the scorecards were read. Hopkins was forced to settle for a draw on a night when most believed history was wrongfully denied.
The move turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Hopkins was able to add five more months to what would eventually become a record-breaking achievement, along with a second sizeable payday well at a point when most were not only long ago calling but screaming for his retirement. Instead, he did what he always does best – prove the doubters wrong. Hopkins once again outboxed Pascal – a fighter nearly 18 years his junior – to take a unanimous decision and the world championship.
Five months later, he attempted to become the oldest fighter to successfully defend the recognized light heavyweight championship. Archie Moore did it four months prior to his 46th birthday (under the assumption that he was born in 1913 and not 1916, as some records suggest), and then successfully defended a lesser recognized version in 1961 when he was 48 years old.
For the second time in less than 12 months, Hopkins was denied history.
For the second time in seven months, history had a way of correcting itself.
The decision made by the CSAC – largely in part due to referee Pat Russell’s in-person mea culpa in claiming he made the wrong call on fight night – gave Hopkins the first successful defense of a title reign recognized by Guinness Book of World Records and Ripley’s Believe It Or Not.
The achievement comes with a massive asterisk, perhaps as great as the one placed next to the initial verdict that had Dawson winning the light heavyweight crown by really doing nothing at all.
Little to no action took place in less than six minutes of actual fight time in their October bout, an all-too predictable sequence considering their respective styles. The only part of the fight to generate any banter at all was the controversial ending itself.
Dawson swung and missed as Hopkins leaned in to avoid, and wound up draped over his opponent’s back. Going into reactionary mode, Dawson instinctively stood himself up and lunged forward, resulting in Hopkins being flung to the canvas. The defending champ landed the wrong way on his elbow, causing a separation of the AC joint on his shoulder, according to post-fight medical reports.
A reviewing of the tape caused referee Pat Russell to reconsider his original decision, a sentiment that was later echoed by the CSAC, with both Hopkins and Dawson in attendance at Tuesday’s hearing. Two months after a disaster of a main event was delivered, justice was ultimately served – at least according to the awarded party.
"The footage of the fight that was reviewed over and over again, proved to be the key testimony," Hopkins said. "I think it came down to the tape. Both of our sides were making good points, but it was a dinner without a turkey. The tape was the turkey.”
Hopkins’ promoter saw the outcome as an honorable man owning up to a past mistake.
“Pat Russell is an honest man,” Schaefer states. “It wasn’t a boxing move, what Dawson did (at the end of the fight). You can’t slam a fighter to the ground and get away with it. The people sitting in the media section and close to the ring had an obstructed view of what exactly took place. Anyone with the luxury to review at home can clearly see that Chad lifted Hopkins and slammed him to the floor.
“There is no room for interpretation. Pat Russell saw this after having time to review what took place, and came to the conclusion that it was in fact an unintentional foul. Therefore, since it happened inside four rounds, it becomes a no-decision.”
What’s left now for both fighters is an actual decision of where to go in their respective futures.
Immediately after the fight, Dawson was adamant in his refusal to grant Hopkins a rematch. He firmly believed that Hopkins sought the exits at the earliest possible moment, thus cheating paying fans out of their hard earned money. For Dawson himself, he felt that his own hard work in training for the fight ultimately proved to be a waste of time since the fight never really got going.
He has since changed his tune and would love for the chance to provide in-ring closure, though his handlers have braced for the reality of being forced to go a different route.
“I'm not exactly surprised at the verdict and I accept it,” states John Scully, who trained Dawson early in his career and reunited for this fight. “I wanted Chad and Bernard to fight to a definitive conclusion. I believe we would have won by a wide margin and that’s how I wanted to see (the fight) go. Anytime you win a world championship you want to win by either a decision or a stoppage.”
“Now I'm just hopeful we move on and get right back in the mix as soon as possible and at least get a fight for the interim title with Pascal until Bernard heals up and is ready to defend.”
The last part is in response to Hopkins’ injury suffered that night, in which the severity has been repeatedly called into question. Dawson’s team has steadfastly maintained the belief that Hopkins either faked the injury or came in as damaged goods.
Further surprising to Dawson and his handlers is the timeline Hopkins provides for his ring return.
“I mean, I would have to assume with an injury so severe that there would be no way for him to defend his title anytime soon, right,” Scully questions.
Whenever Hopkins is able to return to the ring, there stands a great chance that his history with Dawson will be limited to what took place on October 15 and again in a California board room two months later.
“There is no public interest in a rematch and if so, there’s no point in pursuing it,” Schaefer insists, explaining the business side of such a fight. “I want to do fights that fill up venues and create interest in the boxing world.”
The move should not be interpreted as Hopkins avoiding Dawson. In fact, everyone on his hit list prior to the fight, in its aftermath and the fight itself are as clear an indication as any that the future Hall-of-Famer, who turns 47 next month, has never shied away from a challenge.
“The decision to not pursue a Dawson rematch is ours,” Schaefer explains. “Bernard left it up to us. He’s not the one ducking people. On the contrary, he goes to people’s hometowns, fighting younger fighters and beating them.
“It’s not a reflection of Dawson as a fighter – he’s very skilled and very strong. He’s just not very colorful and doesn’t generate any interest (at the box office).”
The goal now is to find such a fighter that fits the bill. Despite the insistence that Hopkins continues to defy father time, he is the first to admit that he doesn’t have much desire to be still hovering around at 50 years old.
“I can’t give an age, but I can give a number of fights I have left in me,” Hopkins states, believing the number to be two or three more meaningful fights. One that has been mentioned is a possible showdown with Lucian Bute. The unbeaten super middleweight titlist is being groomed as a future prize for the winner of this weekend’s Super Six finals between Andre Ward and Carl Froch, but nothing is yet etched in stone.
Bute remains just one of several possibilities, though Hopkins’ team remains tight-lipped until he’s able to resume training and a TV date can be solidified.
“I will be talking to HBO. Bernard wants to fight in March or April,” Schaefer reveals. “He likes to do meaningful events, so that is all I can say about his next fight – it will be along those lines.”
The decision rendered by the California State Athletic Commission on Tuesday means that Hopkins’ next event will come as a 47-year old fighter defending the light heavyweight crown.
It would mean a lot more to Dawson if he were the one standing in the opposite corner, if only for the purpose of providing absolute closure to what they began in October.
For the rest of the boxing world, it would mean a lot more if both fighters – in the true spirit of a no-contest – act like it never happened before and forever head in directions that guarantee their paths never again intersect.
If that proves to be the case, then Tuesday’s verdict will have ultimately provided all of the closure this situation requires.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to JakeNDaBox@gmail.com