Bernard Hopkins goes into Saturday night’s fight with Chad Dawson at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California with an underdog status he is now accustomed to. Dawson, 17 years his junior, presents another challenge in Hopkins’ two decade long career, a career that has recently become erratic.
The bout will be far from a box office hit. You would never mistake either fighter as a crowd pleaser, and putting it on pay-per-view regurgitates a sour taste in the boxing fan’s mouth, harkening memories to the countless disappointing HBO PPVs in the mid-2000s. HBO has in recent years been more judicious with their PPV output, but you can’t blame the collective groan whenever this type of matchup ends up with a 60 dollar price tag. With the addition of throwing two East Coast-based non-ticket-sellers in Los Angeles, you have a glowing example of promoters who too often operate in an alternate universe, and a network that palliates that universe.
A year and a half ago, Hopkins, 52-5-2, took part in one of the worst bouts in recent memory, flopping and pecking his way to a decision over a shopworn Roy Jones. It remains prescient in many a fan’s mind. The old man tends to surprise you while you have your guard down, however, and while anyone who remembers the 90s version of the Philadelphia tactician immediately rejects the HBO narrative that this is the most exciting he’s ever been, he did string together two entertaining efforts in a row against Jean Pascal, a feat he hadn’t accomplished in over a decade. Though not possessing nearly the punishing power and output of a younger Hopkins, he showed flashes of what he used to be against the Canadian speedster by dusting off a stinging body attack in the first bout, and a youthful jab in the second.
For his part, Dawson, 30-1 with 17 knockouts, is seen as a bit of an underachiever, with elite speed and reasonable pop accompanied by a questionable motor and suspect durability. After his loss to Pascal last year, boxing scribes and fans alike offered the parade of shouldas and couldas that circulates the web whenever a heavily favored fighter falls. Many were quick to point out the times Pascal was in trouble while happily ignoring the moments Dawson got put on uneven legs. Maybe Dawson should have been more aggressive, and could have opened up more, but opening up leads to return fire, and flush punches tend to make the New Haven, Connecticut resident’s knees knock.
That aversion to clean shots combined with unsure stamina causes the quick southpaw to fight in intermittent bursts. Against an erratic Pascal, Hopkins showed that he can still be a steady professional who knows how to fill in the gaps his opponent leaves. He can pick a weapon from his vast arsenal – a sneaky jab, a straight right to the body, a lead left hook – to leave an impression on a judge’s mind while Dawson is conserving energy. Consistency serves as a nemesis to aging fighters, and Dawson lacks it.
Nevertheless, you now have to account for the opponent’s power when analyzing a Hopkins matchup. For the first time since he struggled in the thin air of Ecuador during a 1994 battle with Segundo Mercado, his seemingly undentable chin showed vulnerabilities in both bouts against Pascal. A quick-handed fighter can now wobble him, or take him off his feet altogether, with an unsuspecting shot. While a stoppage still seems unlikely, Dawson can bag rounds with staggering counter punches, which are the only reasons Pascal was competitive with the old man.
Moreover, eye-catching combinations that may or may not land are Dawson’s specialty and could own the night if Hopkins never finds an effective lull-filler. “Bad Chad” unleashes a loud right hook along with garish flurries to the body, and Hopkins’ pinpoint counterpunching has slipped in recent years.
Still, The Executioner’s reputed effectiveness against southpaws is earned, dating back to the uppercut he froze Joe Lipsey with 15 years ago. Beyond Joe Calzaghe, he’s unraveled lefties behind swift feet, a sharp right hand, and mauling inside work. Dawson appears to be predictable enough to be lured into right hand counters; how successful he is in avoiding such traps can determine the winner of the bout.
The suspicion here is that it’ll be a close fight – as Hopkins fights against quick boxers tend to be – not worthy of its price tag, but otherwise worthwhile. Both men have vulnerabilities that add an element of drama. And Hopkins’ clash against the logic of time holds intrigue as his athletic opponent tries to catch up with lofty expectations. Undoubtedly, it’s a misplaced bout with inflated value and false narratives, but those who have ridden the Hopkins roller coaster for two decades have suddenly found the ride unpredictable and are allured by what lies in the next tunnel.