By Glynn Evans: If Bernard Hopkins is no longer the finest pugilist operating in boxing today, he certainly remains it’s most remarkable says boxing writer Glynn Evans.
A product of the notoriously feral Raymond Rosen projects on the darker side of north Philadelphia and, for five years from the age of 17, an inmate at Pennsylvania’s Graterford Penitentiary following a flunked armed robbery, ‘BHop’ found boxing late (23) and even suffered defeat in his October 1988 pro debut.
Yet almost 24 years on, he has carved a rep as one of the most learned professors in the history of this Noble Art. Statistically, he is the most successful world middleweight champion in the division’s 123 year history and, since schooling Canada’s Jean Pascal, a quality young lion performing in his home city of Montreal last May, he has been styling himself as the sports oldest ever world champion at 46.
Following his inauspicious entry to this planet, it is a minor miracle that the man they call ‘The Executioner’ is still alive and at liberty today. Nevertheless, he shall be looking to exact yet another miracle this evening by conquering Connecticut’s ‘Bad’ Chad Dawson, easily his stiffest rival to hegemony at 175lbs, in their rematch at Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall..
His accomplishments in close to a quarter of a century as a professional prizefighter make him a cast iron certainty to be inducted to the sport’s Hall of Fame in Canastota, five years after he retires or dies....and there is no surety as to which will happen first.
Having been schooled by the brilliant Roy Jones Jnr in the first of the 28 world championships listed on his 52-5-2-2NC slate, the now 47 year old has lost just twice in title bouts – both to Jermain Taylor – though Welshman Joe Calzaghe rose from the canvas to squeak past him on a split decision in an April 2008 non-title affair.
Throughout his passage, ‘Hopkins has swerved no one. In addition to his illustrious conquerors, he has fronted up to all the major operators between 160-175lbs over the last two decades, such as John David Jackson, Glencoffe Johnson, Keith Holmes, Felix Trinidad, William Joppy, Oscar De La Hoya, Howard Eastman, Antonio Tarver and Kelly Pavlik to list but a few.
Despite his vintage, he has retained a level of physical condition that most contemporary world champions can still only aspire to. His longevity has been achieved because he is one of the sport’s great defensive wizards; slipping, blocking, ducking, without taking flight, then responding with his calling card sneak yet spiteful right hand counter.
Yet his genius is essentially cognitive. Above all, he is a master strategist, who has long forgotten more than most will ever learn. A compulsive trash talker, he has black belts in frustrating opponents and disrupting their rhythm, conquering minds before torturing bodies.
Yet, in Dawson, an 11-4 betting favourite, he is confronted with a very serious threat to his championship status. One of seven kids born to an ex pro in South Carolina but now resident in Hamden, Connecticut, ‘Bad Chad’ is a 6ft 1in southpaw who has been mastered just once in 34 pro gigs (two no contests).
A former US junior champion and world junior bronze medallist throughout a 67-13 amateur innings, the New Englander shall be engaging in his 10th world championship with either the WBC or IBF belts at stake. His solitary reverse came to the previously mentioned Pascal – who bagged an 11 round technical decision in August 2010 when, following a subdued start, Dawson was closing fast only to be hauled out on a cut.
Dawson’s scalp list includes such luminaries as Tomasz Adamek, Glencoffe Johnson (twice) and Antonio Tarver (twice). He was recently endorsed as ‘the best in boxing, pound for pound, bar myself’ by none less than Floyd Mayweather Jnr.
Despite flunking a post fight drugs test back in 2004 (marijuana), Dawson is essentially a quiet, clean living family man who’s talent far exceeds either his fan base or marketability. He is probably naturally stronger and quicker than the Philadelphian, is certainly capable of fighting at a faster clip and, unlike Hopkins, he punches in fluid combinations.
He is blessed with the speed, mobility and industry that have consistently caused ‘The Executioner’ fits in the past (reference Calzaghe, Taylor, Wright). And while Hopkins wrote the blueprint for pre-fight psychological warfare, there is a steely resolve about Dawson who refuses to succumb to the veteran’s often crass intimidation tactics.
Indeed, one senses it is Dawson who carries a mental edge from their admittedly brief first encounter. He assumed control of ring centre, forced Hopkins to back up and then exhibited his brute strength to lift Hopkins from a clinch and unceremoniously dump him to the canvas. After landing awkwardly on his elbow and jarring his shoulder, Hopkins was deemed unfit to continue. Dawson taunted him for ‘faking’ and the crowd howled ‘Bullshit’.
It took Hopkins influential backers, Golden Boy Promotions, to push the WBC to amend the initial stoppage victory in Dawson’s favour to the ‘no contest’ which controversially permitted Hopkins to retain his belt, if not his dignity.
So who wins? Atlantic City, site for his standout wins over Tarver and Pavlik, has been kind to Hopkins in the past. Much will depend upon the referee and his leniency with the old fox’s notoriously flexible interpretation of the sport’s rules. To succeed, Hopkins shall certainly need to kill the pace, pot shot then fall into prolonged clinches.
It is always a precarious business tipping against Hopkins, among the proudest, fiercest competitors ever to step inside the ropes. Too often, he has left too many of us sporting eggy chins. He always seems to find a way.
But this is an additional 11 months on from his great triumph over Pascal and the old bones have to concede at some point. Several felt he bailed out early in their first encounter.
After an intriguing, cerebral affair, almost certain to last the full 12 round championship course, I tentatively side with Dawson to prove too strong and, particularly, too busy. However, his moderate commercial value might convince at least two of the judges to vote otherwise.
Hopkins v Dawson will be live and exclusive on BoxNation (Sky Ch. 456/Virgin Ch. 546) from 2am tomorrow morning (Sunday 29th April). Join at www.boxnation.com
BoxNation is the first dedicated subscription boxing TV channel in the UK to bring together the biggest names in amateur, domestic and international boxing with an unbeatable schedule of matches from across the globe.
For just £10 per month BoxNation offers unbeatable value for money for all fight fans. To subscribe to BoxNation simply go to www.boxnation.com and hit the “Subscribe Now” button and choose your subscription package. Simple!