On Saturday, Oct. 15, Bernard Hopkins (52-5-2) makes his first defense of the lineal light-heavyweight championship when he takes on Chad Dawson (30-1) at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Hopkins, 46, won the title in May with a unanimous decision over Jean Pascal, becoming the oldest man to capture a legitimate championship in the history of the sport.
In Dawson, Hopkins faces an opponent 17 years his junior. Dawson is quick, athletic, lanky and fights in a southpaw stance. He is a very capable foe, in fact a slight favorite according to odds-makers, though Hopkins seems to be the choice of most pundits and so-called experts I've read. This is as close to a 50/50 fight as it gets.
Before I get to my own prediction, here's some of the thought process that led me there. Dawson's victories have all been fairly straightforward, one-sided, clean wins (first fight against Glen Johnson was close but decisive in my opinion).
The typical Hopkins fight is anything but easy to score. He might have one or two dominant rounds. The rest of them tend to be murky, which is why there have been so many airtight decisions one way or another in Hopkins fights throughout the years. Even the second fight against Pascal could have defensibly been scored a draw.
For every Hopkins fight that was clear and dominant (Antonio Tarver, Kelly Pavlik, Winky Wright), there are plenty more with highly debatable outcomes (Jermain Taylor 1 and 2, Calzaghe, Pascal 1 and 2). Judges don't always appreciate Bernard's mugging, deliberate style that attempts to dictate a slower, less eye-catching tempo.
Hopkins is not a very active fighter, nor does he often display visible power. Rather than looking to assert his own offensive game plan, he really strives to disrupt and destroy his opponent's intentions. When the befuddled enemy gets out of his zone, Hopkins picks him apart with selective punching and sound technique.
The methodical style hasn't exactly enamored Hopkins in the eyes of some fans. But there's a reason Hopkins is still fighting at such a high level at his ripe old age, a solid decade after most guys are rapidly deteriorating. His low-risk, patient style allows him to escape heavy punishment that retired so many of his peers.
Some fans may never come around and jump unwaveringly onto the B-Hop bandwagon. But he has grown into something of a sentimental favorite as the elder statesman/underdog and it looks like the judges are giving him more of the benefit of the doubt.
Okay, he was saddled with a draw in the first Pascal fight. But that was a close fight. So was the rematch. The fact is, Hopkins went to a champion's hometown, in Canada, fought two very close fights and walked away with a draw and a win. In a perverse way, that's an incredibly favorable outcome.
I think Hopkins gets similar respect on Saturday. He is finally the A-side, he's the crowd favorite, and I believe will get the benefit of the close rounds from the judges. And being a Hopkins fight, unless he's grown extremely old overnight, there will be plenty of close rounds.
Dawson is a solid boxer, with a snapping right jab to keep distance. He'll likely try to circle Hopkins, work the jab, and throw combinations when he can. A major problem is it's highly unlikely he can hurt Hopkins.
Hopkins has a notoriously reliable chin. He took big shots from the harder-hitting Pascal and recovered admirably. Dawson can only hope to out-point Hopkins, which he'll try to do behind the long jab, high guard, and the occasional one-two combo. He'll almost surely throw the most punches.
The real question is how effective can he be. Hopkins is a master defender, employing the whole gauntlet of tactics, shoulder rolls, clinches, and head movement. He's also a master of some less-than-wholesome antics: Kidney punches, thumbs, and headbutts have all been known to "incidentally" occur in his fights.
The standard round will probably look like this—Dawson boxing well, being very active, but not really landing anything significant. Hopkins holding a lot, trying to take Dawson out of his rhythm. Hopkins lands a couple of clean right-hand counters. CompuBox average per round will be something like Dawson 14/60, Hopkins 11/33.
Not the most scintillating spectacle of bloodbathery. It will likely be a tough fight to score. Do you prefer the activity and ring generalship of Dawson? Or the sublime defense and accurate counter-punching of Hopkins?
As I said above, I think one major thing could potentially sway someone scoring this fight—the age factor. Now that Hopkins has become a self-professed "grandpa", there's a certain affection that has developed for the once-controversial and divisive Hopkins.
We can all get behind the story of a man defying father time and age. We saw it in Montreal in May. Hopkins got the benefit of the doubt on those scorecards, and tremendous support from the HBO team announcing the fight.
By all appearances this was a tight battle going into the last couple rounds, yet Jim Lampley and company were already well on their way to the coronation of a new light-heavyweight champ. History was on the line for Hopkins and everyone was excited at the potential of witnessing it.
Against Dawson, in the tight rounds, the sentiment's gonna be for the old guy. Dawson's going to have to cleanly and clearly outbox Hopkins for seven rounds to win this fight. Does he have the talent to do it? Absolutely. Will he do it? I'm betting against that.
Dawson's biggest fight to date was last year's light-heavyweight unification fight against the aforementioned Pascal. It was a horrendous flop for "Bad" Chad. He was unfocused and lackadaisical, not willing or able to pull the trigger until a gash caused by a headbutt late in the fight finally provoked some urgency.
Dawson, the heavy favorite going in, was beaten to the punch and outboxed by Pascal round after round. Certainly everyone is capable of redemption, but when a guy fails to show on the biggest stage, it doesn't instill a whole lot of confidence that the second act will be much smoother.
Equally troubling, Dawson pulled the old trainer-switch move, dropping Manny Steward and going back to John Scully. He's reunited with a trainer he hasn't worked with in years going into by far the biggest test/fight of his career. Hopkins is a solid notch above anyone Dawson's been in there with. Hopkins will of course be trained by long-time legend Naazim Richardson. Edge to B-Hop in that department.
Hopkins is the "house" fighter and he's going to get the benefit of the doubt on the close rounds. I don't see Dawson being able to hurt Hopkins. I think he's going to get frustrated and open himself up to some big right hands. But Dawson will box and box and box and he won't remotely threaten Hopkins. Hopkins might rattle Dawson a couple of times but I don't see him doing any serious damage either.
In the end, it won't be enough for Dawson. I think it ends up a fairly dull 116-112, 115-113, 115-113 for Bernard Hopkins and no one will complain, except Chad Dawson, his 50 fans, and anyone who got spited again for betting against the ageless one.