By Michael Montero
The stage was set for the main event here at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. The crowd had just been dazzled by the thrilling Demarco-Linares undercard bout, easily a candidate for fight of the year. Dawson made his way to the ring first; he looked very determined and focused. Then Hopkins walked in, donning his trademark black mask and making the “execution” gesture to the crowd. The place was packed and the energy in the building was electric. If only the fight had been half as fruitful…
Things fight started off with Dawson pawing the jab as Hopkins looked to counter. The first round was mostly a feeling out process, but “Bad” Chad seemed to control the pace and took it on my card. It was more of the same at the beginning of the second round as Dawson controlled the distance with his jab. Hopkins attempted to pull some of his old school rough tactics, but his younger opponent wouldn’t let him. It was clear that Dawson was not going to be bullied like Canada’s Jean Pascal had been earlier this year. It was also clear to see that Hopkins was bothered by Dawson’s size, athleticism and skills from the opening bell.
Toward the end of the second round, Hopkins lunged in on Dawson and missed with a punch. Chad ducked under it and Bernard landed on top of him. At that point, Dawson shrugged his opponent off him – Hopkins slammed into the canvas and didn’t’ get up. He grimaced and writhed in pain on the canvas for several minutes, motioning to his shoulder. After several moments, he told the ref that he couldn’t go on, citing a shoulder injury. The crowd booed wildly as the ref stopped the fight, chanting “bull sh*t” over and over as they watched the replay on the big screen. Half of the arena seemed to feel Dawson committed a foul and should have been disqualified, half felt that Hopkins was faking the injury and looking for a way out. HBO’s Max Kellerman wondered if the fight should have been called a “no contest” since it was so early on. It officially went into the books as a Technical Knock Out win for the New Haven, Connecticut native.
In the post fight ring interview, Hopkins claimed he would have continued to fight on with one arm had the ref warned him he was going to call it a TKO if he decided not to keep going. Dawson on the other hand was visibly upset, as he felt his opponent simply quit. Kellerman asked the ref what happened and he stood by his decision to call it a TKO for Dawson. Portions of the crowd booed no matter who spoke, as opinions were split for the rest of the night. It’s hard not to wonder if all the old school tricks Bernard has pulled over the years (faking low blows against Calzaghe, using the thumb in the eye against Pascal, etc) may have cost him tonight. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if a fighter is faking it, looking for help from the ref or not – especially if he’s been known to do so in the past. Over the first two rounds, Hopkins was trying to apply some of his rough stuff, it was business as usual. The difference tonight is that his opponent wasn’t going to take it, and he played along.
Hopkins didn’t show up for the post fight press conference, as promoter Richard Schaeffer announced Bhop was in the hospital getting his shoulder looked at. But Jean Pascal crashed the party and exchanged some heated words with Chad Dawson, who said he would be fighting the Canadian next. “You lost to a forth-six year old man twice”, he said, “you were out on your feet in the first fight with me (when the ref stopped it due to a cut) and you know it, next time I’m gonna finish you off.” Then things cooled off and Dawson turned his focus to Hopkins. “I want to thank Bernard Hopkins for making it an easy night for me. This goes to show you why for the past three years he’s been ducking me.” Dawson’s trainer, John Scully, had a few words to add as well. “For what it’s worth, we were up 2-0 in the fight”, he said, “Chad Dawson walked him down. All of the action is this fight is due to Chad.” Winky Wright, who helped Dawson prepare for Hopkins in camp, stood up and added his two cents. “Bernard is one of the dirtiest fighters in boxing. Point blank, he quit. He did not want to fight Chad Dawson.”
I asked “Bad” Chad about a possibly match in the coming years against the winner of the Super Six-Lucian Bute tourney at super middleweight. He said he’d be open to fighting any of them, but not at a catch weight. “I wouldn’t be interested in a catch weight”, he said, “but I definitely want Pascal next”. Dawson also said he’d take on fellow 175 pound titlist Tavoris Cloud. The message of the night was clear; Dawson is willing to take on all comers. He’s the legitimate light heavyweight champion and he’s ready to make his mark on the boxing world.
The opening bout of the televised pay per view undercard featured Paulie Malignaggi against Mexico’s Orlando Lora. In the first round Paulie did more work and controlled the pace for the most part, but Lora continued to apply pressure and landed a huge right and that had Malignaggi badly hurt. The veteran quickly learned that his opponent came to win and began to dig down and tighten his guard. The big shot was probably enough for Lora to win the round, but that would be the only real moment of difficulty for Malignaggi. .
From the second on, Paulie found his rhythm and began out-boxing his opponent. Lora was definitely the stronger man in the ring and landed some thudding shots on the Magic Man, but he grew increasingly frustrated at his inability to connect with anything serious. In the fourth round Lora suffered a cut over the left eye, but never seemed bothered by it as he continuously marched forward.
Round after round it was more of the same as Paulie seemed to land at will at times. Whenever Lora did connect, he made his mark however. By the eighth round a visible bruise had formed under Paulie’s left eye. But in the end, Malignaggi cruised en route to a decisive decision victory. The judges score it 100-90, 98-92, 99-91 for the slicker, more athletic fighter. At the post fight press conference Paulie said he’s ready for anybody at 147; he should be lined up for a money fight against one of the names at the division now. He also said he could drop down to 140 should the right opportunity come up.
The second match was between Paterson, New Jersey native Kendall Holt and undefeated prospect Danny Garcia, of Philadelphia. This one started slow as neither fighter really did much over the first few rounds, although Holt did land a big shot toward the end of the first and Garcia had some moments in the third. But both men continued to feel each other out and pick their spots throughout. Neither fighter jabbed much, but when Garcia did throw his, it was effective. Over the rounds a swelling began to form under Holt’s left eye.
It was a dull fight, but things heated up briefly toward the end of the eighth after a clash of heads. The ref came in and checked both men for cuts, then ordered them to fight. Holt tried to touch gloves, but the Garcia pulled a Floyd Mayweather impression, throwing and landing a 1-2. Kendall didn’t seem hurt, but he was definitely pissed off, as both fighters swung away for the rest of the round.
Garcia dominated the action over the championship rounds. He had Holt buzzed several times, but never followed up. There seemed to be a lack of fire as he never went for the kill. Holt’s left eye was nearly shut in the final round, but he fought through it and had some moments in the twelfth. However, Garcia did more over the course of the fight and deserved the win. The judges scored it 117-111 twice for Garcia, with one judge seeing it 115-113 for Holt. That judge must have vision problems because it was clear to everybody else in the building that Garcia won.
The final undercard match was between Mexico’s Antonio Demarco and Venezuela native Jorge Linares for a vacant alphabet title. The pro Mexican crowd at Staples Center seemed to favor Demarco, but there were Venezuelan fans in the house waving their country’s flag as well. This would turn out to be the event of the night.
This fight had good ebb and flow early, as both fighters had their moments. Linares looked sharper in the early going and was putting rounds in the bank, but Demarco was the stronger man and never stopped applying pressure. Late in the sixth round Demarco landed a big shot that opened a bad cut right on the bridge of Linares’ nose, which got the crowd going. Over the next few rounds Linares was visibly slowing down, as Demarco’s pressure and thudding shots really began to take effect. A small cut over Linares’ right eye opened up, and the cut on his nose was getting worse with every round, turning into a deep gash. Still, Linares was doing the better boxing and winning the rounds on the judge’s cards.
The ninth round was action packed, as the fighters engaged in heated exchanges throughout. Linares’ face was a bloody mess and he fought with urgency, sensing a pending ring doctor stoppage. The crowd gave both fighters a standing ovation after the round. There was more blood in the championship rounds; a second cut over Linares’ right eye opened up and Demarco had swelling under both eyes himself. The eleventh round was easily a candidate for round of the year. Demarco landed huge punches over and over, but the Venezuelan somehow ate them and returned fire. Both men landed murderous shots and both men ate them as well, but Demarco’s punches were much heavier. Linares’s face looked like something out of a horror flick, as he backed into the ropes and ate ten unanswered punches, causing referee Raul Caiz to call it. The crowd went into frenzy as images of the violence were shown on the big screen. Linares’ face was still literally pouring blood onto the canvas several minutes after the stoppage; it was an amazing sight. What’s more incredible about the stoppage, the judges had Linares up 9-1 and 8-2 twice going into the eleventh round.
Antonio Demarco won the battle of attrition with his constant pressure and earned a title. At the same time, Linares won over the hearts of every fan in the house with one of the most amazing displays of courage you’ll ever see. Linares couldn’t attend the post fight presser because he was at the hospital, but Demarco showed up with his family and appeared teary eyed as he addressed the media. “This night is like a fairy tale”, he said, “after eating out of the garbage (in his youth when he was very poor), I am a world champion.” It was a very touching moment for everybody, as Demarco summed it all up with his last statement. “Never stop fighting for your dream, tonight my dream came true.”