If Invicta FC and women's MMA isn't your thing, but you still want to watch some fighting on your Saturday night, Bernard Hopkins and Chad Dawson step back into the ring to finish what they started last October. That first fight ended in controversial fashion when the fighters tangled and Dawson lifted Hopkins and dropped him to the ground. Hopkins injured his shoulder and was unable to continue, resulting in a TKO win for Dawson that was eventually, and correctly, overturned to a no contest.
Tonight's rematch kicks off at 10:15 p.m. ET on HBO and BoxNation in the UK.
The first fight was strange before the men ever stepped into the ring to begin with. Irresponsible budgeting on the part of HBO led to them not having enough money to put the fight in a regular HBO Championship Boxing slot, so they put it on pay-per-view where it bombed just like anyone with any sense said it would.
Hopkins and Dawson should absolutely be fighting, Hopkins is the best 175 pound fighter in the world and Dawson is the clear #1 contender to Hopkins' throne. It's a fight that suffers from an unfortunate reality, however. The issue being that the two men don't match up in a particularly appealing way stylistically.
Hopkins is one of the most amazing stories in modern sports, a 47 year old man who is the deserving champion of the world at a weight class well over the weight where he was his best. Always a fighter who relied on ring savvy and an ability to wear away at his opponent, Hopkins might have the perfect style to not have age take away from his game. Yes, he's maybe lost a step in the ring, but for every millisecond slower his reflexes get, he becomes better at getting in the head of his opponents. In his rematch with Jean Pascal, Hopkins dropped to the canvas between rounds and attempted to break the much younger man's will by pointing out just how much more he had left in the tank.
Bernard is thought of as not being a finisher, which is a bit of an unfair reputation. When in his prime and before moving up to light heavyweight, Hopkins had average power and stopped the majority of his opponents. He's the only man to cleanly knock out Oscar De La Hoya (DLH quit against Pacquiao, but wasn't counted out), he's the only man to stop the great Felix "Tito" Trinidad, in fact, Hopkins had a roughly 70% KO ratio before stepping up to light heavyweight. Two of his 14 pre-light heavyweight decision wins were in his first ten bouts, others came against notoriously hard to stop fighters and another was avenged in a rematch when he TKO'ed Antwun Echols after beating him by decision the first time around.
That said, at 175 pounds, Hopkins doesn't have the pop to get the stoppage wins he used to get. It's all grinding savvy and a willingness to ugly things up.
In his great preview of the fight at Bad Left Hook, Scott Christ talked about Hopkins, this fight and where he's at at this point in his career:
My gut feeling has always been that Bernard, who is not stupid, knows that Chad Dawson is stylistically bad news for him. Hopkins isn't delusional, and Dawson isn't clumsy, mistake-prone Jean Pascal, or a one-dimensional and ultimately wildly overhyped Kelly Pavlik of 2008. Chad Dawson is a terrific boxer, a southpaw who knows how to get behind the jab and work away. Like Hopkins (but totally different), Dawson knows how to win fights mentally. While Hopkins preys on fighters who foolishly underestimate him, Dawson simply has the natural gifts to wear guys out and make them stop trying so hard.
This rematch, though, is a big deal for Bernard. He couldn't turn it down, because it would have made him look scared, and while I'm convinced Hopkins knows the problems he has on paper with the Connecticut challenger, I would never dare say that Hopkins is scared of anyone or any fight.
One thing I think is important to note is that Hopkins' history doesn't matter when looking at this fight. His time as a middleweight is completely irrelevant. Frankly, anything further back than his first fight with Jean Pascal in December 2010 is irrelevant, I believe, because that's the sort of borrowed time "The Executioner" is living on in his current role as boxing's elder statesman.
He's 47 years old and nobody should be picking him to win fights against world class opponents. The current Hopkins is in stage six or so of his career, with the last stage peaking with the Pavlik destruction in 2008. But today's Bernard isn't the guy who beat Pavlik down. He's lost more steps in the ring. Even in drawing with and defeating Pascal, genuine examination of his performances reveals true greatness, yes, but also the obvious wearing down of a man who's closing in on 50 and still operating as a professional boxer, and not some novelty version of one, either.
Dawson isn't as easy to talk about as Hopkins. He's not a big name, mostly because he's an even less appealing fighter to watch than Bernard. He's a superlative boxer, a pro's pro. Hopkins has brought out a bit of personality in Chad, but will the new aggressive personality translate to anything in the ring? Unlikely.
Chad doesn't like risk, he doesn't like to fight more than he absolutely has to and he's content to get his wins fighting that style. It's good for him, it's gotten him to this point in his career, so you can't say it's completely wrong. But Dawson isn't going to be a guy who is suddenly selling the big fights on pay-per-view during his career.
In a boxing media climate rife with "yes men" and lazy, talking point recycling "journalists" there are really only three men you need to read for perspective. Kevin Iole of Yahoo represents the experienced man with access, Scott Christ of Bad Left Hook as the hard working grinder with level headed opinions and humor and Carlos Acevedo of The Cruelest Sport for brutal honesty and disdain for the status quo. Carlos went hard at this rematch and Dawson in particular:
Chad Dawson, 30-1-0-2 (17), remains a symbol of much that is wrong in contemporary boxing. This may be a harsh assessment, but if you can explain why a fighter who cannot move tickets, draw ratings, sell pay-per-views, or provide excitement continues to headline HBO events and pocket seven-figure paydays, then you have a future as an oracular blogger. Dawson has also showed some contempt for fans, and in an interview with Max Kellerman after the first Hopkins debacle, he made it clear that he did not give a damn about the "critics." And why should he? Dawson gets paid exorbitant sums of money no matter how dull he performs in the ring. Unless you count his desultory loss to Jean Pascal last year-and many Omniscients do-then Dawson has never been in an entertaining scrap on HBO.
Talent? Sure, Dawson has lots of it, at least against fighters whose names belong on an entry list for shuffleboard tournaments. Although Dawson has scored solid wins over Tomasz Adamek and Glen Johnson, his record is most notable for the number of geezers on it. This will be his 34th professional fight, and, incredibly, Hopkins will be the 14th (!) opponent Dawson has had a double-digit age advantage over. Half of his fights have been against opponents at least nine years older. All boxers deserve respect, but Dawson makes admiration hard going.
In the end, the fight is worth watching, Hopkins' run is amazing. In a time where everyone seems to be breaking another meaningless sports record every other day, Bernard is an ageless wonder. He'd likely be a much bigger star if he'd just play the game a bit more, but he is his own man, unwilling to change for anyone. He never gives the answers the media fish for and has no problem letting someone know that he doesn't like them, it's held him back as a superstar, but not as a legend. Any fight could prove to be his last and he's someone who deserves to be watched. It's also an honest #1 vs. #2 fight, something that is as meaningful as it gets when it comes to "true sport."
That being said, it doesn't promise high level entertainment.
Prediction: I never want to bet against Bernard, but Dawson is a brutal match-up for him. As Scott pointed out, he isn't a fighter who has the kind of game Hopkins disrupts. He should be able to patiently pick away at Bernard for a decision victory. Chad Dawson by decision.