by Daniel Cann
Champion and 46 year old phenomenon Bernard ‘The Executioner’ Hopkins or ‘B-Hop’ as he is more affectionately known these days will attempt to add another ‘w’ to his current 52 – 5 – 2 (1 NC) 32 wins inside log this Saturday when he defends against 29 year old challenger and former champion ‘Bad’ Chad Dawson 30 – 1 (17 wins inside). This is an intriguing matchup and promises to entertain fans worldwide.
Photo: Gene Blevans/ Goldben Boy
No matter what he achieves from now on, Hopkins is in a class of his own and is clearly a future Hall of Famer so the pressure is off, perhaps why he seems to be relishing this stage of his career so much. Win lose or draw he adds to his legacy. Obviously he feels he can continue to compete at world level and if he beats Dawson who is arguably the best challenger out there at the moment then Hopkins can feel in a league of his own. As Bert Randolph Sugar has said what is so great about this fight for fans is that it is ‘a world champion defending against a number one challenger.’
In Dawson Hopkins is meeting a sharp, compact southpaw who cocks his left ready to deliver fast accurate blows. He can jab, double jab and treble jab with his right as well as hook off it. He can mix his shots to head and body and in fact I would go so far to say that his body punching along with his footwork is his best feature. Dawson targets the body unlike many top fighters out there today. In a contest with a wily, super-fit veteran like Hopkins this is an area to be exploited and I believe part of Dawson’s strategy will be to wear the older man down with plenty of quick hurtful broadsides to the floating ribs.
Dawson appears relaxed and even laconic in style, yet he can suddenly pounce on opponents with a variety of fast salvos from all angles then just as quickly move out of range. My chief concern for B-Hop is that he is not in against a face first puncher or even a decent pressure fighter, he finds himself in the difficult position of meeting a man, like himself, who is an excellent strategist and counter-puncher.
In fact, this contest is probably more palatable to the boxing connoisseur rather than the mainstream as two tacticians vie for the best angles and positions as they try to set traps and outmanoeuvre their opponent. I doubt this will be a slugfest and as both men are extremely durable the likelihood of it being a distance fight increases.
Hopkins has never really been seriously troubled in his career and Dawson showed grit and mental toughness in getting off the canvas against Tomasz Adamek to post a highly impressive landslide points win and to inflict the first defeat on the tough Pole back in February 2007 to win the WBC light heavyweight title. Dawson has also convincingly defeated the tough and rugged former world champion Glen Johnson and the smooth Antonio Tarver (also a former world light heavyweight champion and current IBO cruiserweight champion) both twice convincingly in unanimous points victories.
It was only in his fight with Canadian Jean Pascal where he came unstuck in losing the title. In that fight Pascal took Dawson out of his stride by literally hurling himself at Dawson, driving the bewildered champion back with two fisted aggression. As the fight progressed Dawson was beginning to claw his way back and until a head clash led to the fight being stopped in the eleventh it looked like Dawson was about to turn it around and even score a stoppage, yet under the rules the fight went to the score cards and Pascal was awarded the title. That is the sole defeat on Dawson’s otherwise impressive record.
Since then he looked a little plodding and pedestrian against Romanian Adrian Diaconu in posting a twelve rounds points win, but he got the job done winning another wide and unanimous point’s win. This was all the more impressive as it was in his opponents adopted home country of Canada.
What I like about Dawson is the heart he showed against Adamek and Pascal: he can tough it out and grit his teeth and fight in the trenches when he has to. His speed and combination punches impress the most but he has that added crucial ingredient for world class boxers: courage.
It is not like Dawson is totally green going in against Hopkins. Much is made of the seventeen year age difference between the two fighters but that does both of them a great disservice. Dawson is a former champion and has mixed it with the best in his era. He is a fluid combination puncher with excellent movement and great fighting instinct. Hopkins while doing his stretch in prison, found Islam and boxing, that potent combination has made him a clean liver and one of the most dedicated and best conditioned athletes in the world today. Yes he is 46 but he has an excellent engine and has the constitution of a much younger man.
Sometimes in getting a good angle writer’s forget the evidence in front of them: these are two excellently conditioned and skilled craftsmen and technicians poised to showcase their skill come Saturday evening. This is not like Evander Holyfield versus George Foreman as Hopkins has never had a break in his remarkable 23 year career. He has remained sharp and world class for the best part of two decades.
I will not go into a long lengthy examination of Hopkins career as pretty much everyone who cares about boxing already knows his achievements: He is a former undisputed world middleweight champion, the current WBC light heavyweight champion with 28 world title fights behind him. His career best wins are over the likes of Segundo Mercado, Glen Johnson, Felix Trinidad, Oscar De La Hoya, Antonio Tarver, Ronald ‘Winky’ Wright, Kelly Pavlik and of course Jean Pascal. Those are impressive scalps and reads like a who’s who of middleweight and light heavyweight boxing over the past twenty years.
Apart from losing his debut contest against Clinton Mitchell, his other defeats have all been point’s losses to Roy Jones Jr in May of 1993 for the vacant IBF world middleweight title (later avenged when Jones Jr was well past his prime), Jermain Taylor twice in 2005 where Taylor used his ring brain to outsmart and outbox Hopkins (Dawson take note!) and a split decision points defeat in 2008 against Welsh boxing legend Joe Calzaghe (where Hopkins managed to drop Calzaghe for a count).
That record makes for mighty impressive reading. When you think where Hopkins has come from and the desperate circumstances of his early life the turnaround from mugger to clean living world class boxer is the stuff of Hollywood movies. He has always been his own man and marches to his own tune. He is articulate, astute and outspoken: not everyone loves him but you can never accuse him of trying to pander to anyone!
His time in prison clearly developed his ring psychology where he had to portray and exhibit strength at all times. As he put it ‘to be a wolf.’ In that environment he was constantly on his guard, spotting flaws and covering up any weaknesses perceived or real himself. After those experiences Hopkins has emerged as a man who seemingly has no fear. This is why he often wins the mental battle in the ring. He appears unflappable; no one can intimidate him as nothing can be worse than prison.
Hopkins is strong in mind and body and it’s that mental toughness that drives him and his tactical brain allows him to keep those vital one or two steps ahead of the opposition. Crucially thanks to his fitness regime and healthy lifestyle his body can still execute (no pun intended) what his brain tells it to do.
Like all great generals Hopkins chooses the ground his battles will be fought on. He decides if it will be on the inside or outside, with him as aggressor or counter puncher. He is fantastic at imposing his will and instilling self doubt. He is the ultimate strategist. With a harmonious corner headed by trainer Naazim Richardson he has the perfect set up to achieve his lofty goals. This is why year in and year out you still hear Hopkins name being mentioned in world title fights.
Can Dawson gatecrash the B-Hop party? Does he have the tools and experience to unsettle and outhustle the ultimate hustler? Can his speed and variety outmatch the veteran? He believes that he and his trainer John Scully (former Hopkins opponent Winky Wright is also in the Dawson camp) have worked out a strategy to unseat the king from his throne.
Out of all the light heavyweights in the world today I give Dawson the best chance of defeating Hopkins. I believe that all the fights up to now have put him under the requisite pressure and in the tough situations so that he will not be entering unknown uncharted territory come Saturday night. If he can take a leaf out of Jermain Taylor’s book and use that blueprint of taking Hopkins out of his comfort zone and denying him the space to set himself, then Dawson can steal rounds and do the unthinkable and frustrate the champion.
It is not impossible. Boxing is not a case of ‘the man who beat the man’ so Hopkins win over Pascal does not necessarily mean that he will defeat Dawson as well. Styles make fights and if I could choose one style I would not want Hopkins to face at this stage in his career it would be that of a slick counterpunching southpaw with a great dig to the body.
There is a lot of goodwill for Hopkins precisely because of his compelling back story, his achievements and his longevity. His fights today are like events as much as they are sporting contests. Dawson knows this and is poised to explode into action and take the initiative away. If he can keep his head and can stay busy he can win rounds and slow Hopkins down with well-timed and targeted body shots. He must not underestimate Hopkins or fall into any traps.
Hopkins has the best repertoire of countermoves and techniques in the business. If Dawson allows any of Hopkins antics to get inside his head then all is lost.
This one is all about pressure. Dawson will have to pile it on and keep it on for twelve hard fast rounds never giving Hopkins a breath to think. If he has not always delivered in the past I think he knows it is now his chance to finally shine. If he loses to Hopkins then to put it bluntly his stock is dented probably beyond repair. Yes it will be to a living legend but this is Dawson’s best and perhaps only chance to burst back into the big time with a bang. A win here sets up some very big unification fights in the future and is one step to becoming a superstar.
The stakes are too high for him to become distracted. It is hard to pick against Hopkins because of all he has achieved but ultimately I believe that Dawson has he style and the intelligence to upset and derail the B-Hop express in a narrow and perhaps bitterly disputed points win. One thing is guaranteed this is a fantastic match up which should live up to and may even surpass expectation.