What’s happened to Bernard Hopkins the past 10 months has managed to show boxing at its best and its worst.
Since last December, the 46-year-old surefire Hall of Famer has made an astonishing return to form after a couple of lackluster performances against inferior opponents following his incredible upset victory over Kelly Pavlik in 2008. When Hopkins struggled against the faded Roy Jones Jr., most were ready to consign The Executioner to boxing’s past, along with his longtime rival.
But then, in two fights against Jean Pascal, Hopkins showed the truth behind the old adage that the last thing to go is a boxer’s brain.
In what is usually a young man’s sport that demanding in terms of conditioning and durability, Hopkins was able to use every trick in the book to minimize his physical limitations and maximize his mental advantage. But using the ring knowledge he’s accumulated over two decades lacing up the gloves, The Executioner twice took the play away from his younger opponent and became boxing’s oldest world champion in May.
It was a miraculous story because Hopkins was nearly denied his moment in history when the judges scored the first Hopkins-Pascal fight a draw. After Hopkins was denied a victory that many thought was rightly his, it took the commercial and legal firepower of his handlers at Golden Boy Promotions to secure him a second opportunity to claim the title.
Now, after the events of Saturday night, Hopkins will need that same firepower if he’s to hold on to that title rematch.
As part of the deal to secure the second Pascal fight, Hopkins finally agreed to face Chad Dawson should he emerge as champion. It was a fight that Dawson had been demanding for years, though Hopkins’ camp repeatedly turned it down because they believed it didn’t make commercial sense.
That belief was seemingly vindicated by a lack of media coverage for the challenger, no real interest from Showtime or HBO in broadcasting the fight and heavy discounts on tickets in a last-gasp attempt to fill out the Staples Center on Saturday for what was one of the biggest fights of the year.
And, unfortunately, those watching in the arena or on pay-per-view did not get their money’s worth.
As expected, Dawson began aggressively, no doubt an attempt to mirror Pascal’s strong start in his first fight against Hopkins. Hopkins, however, was crafty enough to take only one clean shot in a first round devoid of action.
It was more of the same in the second round as Dawson allowed Hopkins to make the fight ugly. With 30 seconds left in the round, the fighters were in the clinch and Dawson responded by tackling Hopkins to the ground. That is no exaggeration: Dawson literally grabbed Hopkins’ leg and threw him to the ground. To compound matters, Hopkins landed awkwardly and dislocated his shoulder, bringing the fight to an unsatisfying and premature conclusion.
A calamity was turned into a crisis by a bad call by referee Pat Russell, who ruled the contest a technical knockout for Dawson because Hopkins couldn’t continue. It was a baffling decision — even by the often inept standards of modern boxing officiating. Even if you accept Russell’s belief there was no deliberate foul (which is debatable, to say the least), it still doesn’t address the issue the end of the fight was caused by a non-boxing move. Therefore, it should have been ruled a no-contest.
After the chaotic scenes at the end of the Floyd Mayweather-Victor Ortiz fight on Sept. 17, the last thing boxing needed was yet another controversial finish to a fight that viewers paid upwards of $55 to watch on pay-per-view.
Worse yet, the Hopkins-Dawson matchup was completely inconclusive. After years of waiting, we still don’t know whether Dawson has what it takes to defeat Hopkins. And it doesn’t look like anyone’s particularly keen to find out.
Even though Golden Boy Promotions is ready to sue to help Hopkins reclaim his title, neither Hopkins’ team nor Dawson’s camp is calling for a rematch. Indeed, Dawson’s promoter, Gary Shaw, is already on record as saying that if Dawson must give up the title, he will — after all, it’s happened before.
Whether Hopkins won or he lost, we should be looking back at his wonderful career and his inspiring story as he furthers his legacy at an age most boxers start shredding theirs.
Instead, we’re in the middle of another bout of recriminations after yet another fight marred by bad behavior from the fighters, incompetence from the officials and lack of class from the promoters.
It’s also depressing to have to agree with promoter Lou DiBella that this was "another advert for MMA."