Bernard Hopkins lost his light heavyweight championship last night with no controversy in Atlantic City, dropping a majority decision to 29-year-old Chad Dawson live on HBO. The only controversy whatsoever was judge Luis Rivera's 114-114 scorecard, which was canceled out by the more proper 117-111 cards from Steve Weisfeld and Dick Flaherty.
Now 47 years old, Philadelphia's "Executioner" is right: He really is the last of a dying breed. For some fight fans, the death of the breed can't come fast enough, as more than a handful of viewers last night expressed intense dislike of Hopkins' tactics and displeasure with his performance, which really may have been the worst outing of his relevant career.
As HBO's Max Kellerman noted post-fight, last night's loss to Dawson was really the first time since 1993 that you can say Bernard lost a fight where really nobody disagreed with the verdict. The first time came against Roy Jones Jr, then a blowaway talent just starting to truly come into his own. Since that loss to Jones, who went on to become the best prizefighter of the 1990s, Hopkins had lost three fights coming into last night.
In a pair of fights in 2005, Bernard lost his middleweight crown to young Jermain Taylor, and then dropped a rematch. Many truly believe Hopkins deserved the win in both fights, which were split and unanimous decisions, in order. On every scorecard that Taylor won over the two fights (five of six), he won 115-113, or seven rounds to five, or to put it even simpler, by basically the closest you can win a fight without knockdowns or point deductions or even rounds.
In 2008, Hopkins lost a split decision to Joe Calzaghe. While I thought Bernard truly did probably deserve the wins over Taylor, this one I felt Calzaghe won. (Some have suggested I rewatch the fight over the years. I would rather eat glass.) But many believed Bernard once again was shorted, and his style and rhythm-disrupting tactics and clean shots didn't garner enough respect from two of three judges.
Last night was clear: Chad Dawson, while not great, was certainly better than Bernard Hopkins, and absolutely deserved the win. Does that make Dawson the best light heavyweight in the world? Well, it makes him the WBC titleholder and the guy considered the real world's champion. But I'm not so sure that he's truly the best 175-pound fighter in the sport. I'm not sure that the best 175-pound fighter in the sport isn't a guy who "lost" his last fight.
One thing I am sure of: It's not Bernard Hopkins. Long have I doubted Bernard's chances, largely due to his age, in fights against legitimate opponents. Look, nobody expected Enrique Ornelas to beat him, though in Hopkins' mind I'm sure the world thought he'd lose to that "young lion," too. But I picked Pavlik. I picked Pascal. And even after Bernard got shafted with a draw against Pascal, I still picked the mentally-limited Pascal in the rematch. I was wrong every time, and not just kind of wrong, but gloriously wrong.
In October of last year, I suspected once again that Bernard would lose, and that Chad Dawson wasn't so much a better fighter, but the wrong fighter for a 46-year-old Hopkins. Yeah, he'd busted up Pascal in the rematch, but Pascal has the ring IQ of a novice, and Hopkins ate him alive in that department before punishing him physically to boot.
We didn't get to find out that ill-fated, rather pathetic night in Los Angeles, where about 10 people showed up and another 37 ordered the HBO pay-per-view broadcast. Hopkins went down with a shoulder injury in round two, and the fight was stopped. Later, it would be rightly ruled a no-contest, but many in Dawson's camp felt forevermore that Hopkins wasn't really hurt, and that he didn't want anything to do with Dawson -- that, in fact, he had never wanted to share a ring with the Connecticut southpaw, and that only when he was basically forced into it did he accept the matchup.
This time around, we found out, but not without a few scares from Hopkins. This is not about kicking a legendary fighter while he's down, but let's nobody "front" on this, OK? Bernard Hopkins has flopped some in his life, and he has milked injuries real and legitimate like he's taken an arrow to the knee.
In the fifth round, Hopkins got himself tangled up with Dawson toward the end of the round, and started a pretty exaggerated stumble toward the far ropes -- problem was, they wound up too far away, so Bernard sort of awkwardly had to stop his potential trip through the ropes. This was a funny moment, possibly even a tactic by Bernard to try and annoy Dawson, with whom he was beginning to have all sorts of trouble.
The 11th round saw Bernard raise the eyebrows again. As Dawson and Hopkins traded a bit at center ring -- which might not sound crazy for a boxing match, but wasn't the norm last night -- Jim Lampley was so briefly excited he deemed the exchanges "terrific," which was a stretch (but then he also called Mayweather-Cotto "a great pay-per-view card," so stretches were all over the place last night). Right after the exchanges, Hopkins flopped to the canvas, which led to Dawson giving referee Eddie Cotton a look like he couldn't believe it, even though both of them could.
That was immediately followed by Dawson and Hopkins both ending up on the canvas, with Hopkins on top.
But really, there was just no way out for Bernard Hopkins last night. Chad Dawson was too good, too tall, too left-handed, too young, too fresh, and too able to land clean left hands on Hopkins. Bernard Hopkins, at 47, looked like maybe this was his final night.
Was it? It might have been. Lampley reported after the bout that Hopkins was complaining about the decision, but that's going to fall on deaf ears. He didn't win this fight and any argument is going to sound like sour grapes-style ranting and raving. And it does, for the record. Here's what he had to say post-fight, via BoxingScene.com:
"What did [Dawson] do to win that fight? The only way I knew I would win is if I knocked him out. Let the public judge for themselves."
Sorry, X. Not this time. You lost. The public is judging for themselves. Of course, there will be the few loonies who take his side no matter what he does or says (or doesn't do, in the case of this fight), and Hopkins is carefully choosing his words. He's not answering a better question: What did Bernard Hopkins do to win this fight? Though Dawson didn't do a lot, Hopkins did even less.
If this was the end, one would hope that Hopkins takes it with a bit more grace moving forward, but he won't. He will continue to rage against the machine. His entire career, it seems at times, has been built around a steadfast belief that everyone is against him, constantly seeking out ways to wrong him and take what is his.
In other words, if this was the end, then expect Bernard Hopkins to be Bernard Hopkins. And you, the public, can judge that for yourselves.
But as much as I can't say I have any logical reason to believe in a 47-year-old man going forward with a professional boxing career at a high level (or any level, but let's limit it to relevant boxing), I'm not convinced after last night that this has to be the end for Hopkins.
Like I said in the fight preview, there was never a light heavyweight version of Bernard Hopkins for whom Chad Dawson would have been a good matchup. Dawson weighed in at 187 on the unofficial HBO scales, with Hopkins at 183, but the differences in their bodies looked clear. In both fights with Dawson, it seemed like time was catching up to Hopkins physically, simply by appearance. He looks old for a pro fighter, because he is old for a pro fighter.
But forget about Dawson. Hopkins doesn't need to fight him again, nor does anyone really want to see it. There are other fighters at 175 pounds he could face (any ideas about him going to cruiserweight or heavyweight need to be shot down -- he's not a big enough man, and it's too late to become one).
Tavoris Cloud is set to meet Jean Pascal this summer on Showtime. If Cloud wins, a fight later in the year, perhaps this fall, could make sense. Hopkins has one fight left on his HBO contract. Cloud, who currently holds the IBF light heavyweight title belt, seems a tailor-made opponent for Hopkins if any top light heavyweight is. He is, to be honest, not a smart fighter, has some stamina issues, and though aggressive, isn't the most accurate attacker out there. Hopkins has over his career chewed guys like Cloud up and spit them into the media section of the audience.
Nathan Cleverly is out there, with the WBO title in his undeserving grasp. The 25-year-old Welshman and promoter Frank Warren have made lots of noise about bringing Hopkins to Cardiff for a big money fight. Would Hopkins entertain a trip overseas, and would HBO be interested in that fight, given that it would have to run live in the afternoon most likely? That's questionable, and even more questionable is the idea that Cleverly and Warren want anything to do with Hopkins, even at 47, even coming off of a loss, because he's yet a damn far cry from Tommy Karpency and Robin Krasniqi. If the two met, it would be very hard to pick against Hopkins.
Hopkins has also expressed interest in facing current IBF super middleweight titleholder Lucian Bute. Obviously when Bernard made those statements (before beating Pascal last May), he didn't figure to be coming off of a loss. But while the world yearns for Bute vs Andre Ward, chances don't seem very good for actually getting it, as it turns into a small-scale, super middleweight version of Mayweather vs Pacquiao. Bute faces Carl Froch on May 26 in Nottingham.
There are other fighters who could potentially come into play. I'm sure there won't be a shortage of guys who have no real hope of actually facing Hopkins attempting to line up to get a chance to knock off the old guy if he decides to fight on. But even though he looked pretty badly faded offensively against Dawson, none of the guys Hopkins might face next are going to be similar in style to Dawson, and it's not as if Hopkins looked like some clueless old putz in there last night. It was the wrong opponent for him. The next man, if there is one, will likely be carefully selected.
And for their sake, I hope no one gets in there and manages to underestimate the geezer. Or else Bernard Hopkins' potential farewell fight could turn into one last historic statement from "The Executioner" at their expense. I'm about 1-for-7 picking Hopkins to lose now, but he's not yet deserving of being written off.