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What's Next for 46-Year-Old Bernard Hopkins?

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Bernard Hopkins isn't done in boxing, but where does he go from here? (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
Bernard Hopkins isn't done in boxing, but where does he go from here? (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
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You already know that Bernard Hopkins, at 46, became the oldest man to win a major boxing title last night, defeating Jean Pascal on the road in Montreal to win the light heavyweight championship of the world for a second time.

But now what? He's 46, he's got two fights left on his current HBO deal, and he says he has no plans to retire.

The most likely answer is Chad Dawson, who also won last night in Montreal, defeating Adrian Diaconu. Dawson (30-1, 17 KO) is an intriguing opponent on paper. He's 28 and in his prime, which we've heard before, but he's also a southpaw who can box. Dawson's abilities and skills are not in question.

What is in question is Dawson's mindset and overall outlook on his boxing career. Yes, he's good. But how good? Working with new trainer Emanuel Steward, we were supposed to see a new Dawson last night. We didn't. There were flashes of change, but by the end of the fight he was back to the same old Chad Dawson, giving away his height and reach too often, not boxing with any passion, and starting to frustrate his trainer and viewers. He won clean and clear. But he didn't excite anybody. And outside of a breakthrough win over Tomasz Adamek back in 2007, Dawson has really never provided thrills or truly impressive performances.

But Dawson is a southpaw who, when he commits, does have enough power to be troubling, and the skills necessary to beat the best. His weaknesses seem to be mental -- unfortunately for Dawson, that's what Hopkins exploits most in his opponents. He showed Pascal as mentally conquerable in two fights, and Pascal was able to get into Dawson's head last August with his rush-and-charge offensive style.

Some don't think Dawson (or Steward) will want to fight Hopkins next, even though it seems all but set. So who else is out there?

Light Heavyweights

Newly-appointed WBO trinket-holder Nathan Cleverly says he's ready for a big international fight, and mentions Hopkins:

"I want the best in America," said Cleverly. "I'm ready for the likes of Hopkins, Tavoris Cloud or Chad Dawson."

More likely, the 24-year-old Cleverly (22-0, 11 KO) will wind up matched next with Tony Bellew in what is really a domestic-level fight that promoter Frank Warren will fluff into being a big "world title" clash. But it's no shame that Cleverly wouldn't fight Hopkins next. For a young fighter who has never seen anything like him, Bernard Hopkins would be a suicide mission for his career ascension.

Outside of Dawson and Cleverly, no one currently at 175 makes much sense. The division has some prospects who could soon be true top fighters (Ismayl Sillakh, Luis Garcia, Beibut Shumenov), but all of them should be kept away from Hopkins.

Some have mentioned a third fight with Jean Pascal, but I see no point, and doubt that Hopkins does either. It's not that I'd object, but Hopkins was even at worst the first time with Pascal and clearly won last night. Hopkins has made a habit of chasing bigger and better in his golden years, and it's hard to imagine him repeating what he's already done with Pascal.

Super Middleweights

Hopkins has also mentioned fighting Lucian Bute (28-0, 23 KO). Bute is fighting Jean Paul Mendy in a low-risk bout in Romania on July 9, and after that is expected to wait for the winner of the Super Six World Boxing Classic. Bute signed a three-fight deal with Showtime last year, and unless they pick up the Mendy fight, he'll still have two fights left, having fought just once on the deal against Brian Magee in March.

What makes Bute attractive is the fact that he's undefeated, has some buzz, and is a serious draw in Montreal, which gives him the gate money that most can't bring to the table.

There's also the Super Six winner, but that fight wouldn't be ready until next year. At this point, that would mean Andre Ward (24-0, 13 KO) or the winner of the June 4 fight between Carl Froch (27-1, 20 KO) and Glen Johnson (51-14-2, 35 KO). Hopkins and Johnson met way back in 1997, with Hopkins dominating. But I think if Johnson, who is now 42, knocked off Froch and then Ward, the demand would be there for probably the greatest-ever "Seniors Tour" fight in boxing history.

Moving Up?

As far as moving up goes, there's nothing serious for Bernard at cruiserweight. The best fighters in the division (Steve Cunningham, Marco Huck, Denis Lebedev) have no name value in the United States. The division is really a European creation. Not many Americans settle in at being a "big guy" and also making sure they have to make a certain weight (200 lbs). It's easier and more financially lucrative to just be a heavyweight.

Hopkins has talked in the past of fighting at heavyweight, particularly against David Haye. And if Haye did beat Wladimir Klitschko on July 2, that could be a wild card possibility. But an even more unlikely and even more sensible heavyweight experiment would be Tomasz Adamek, were Adamek to beat Vitali Klitschko in September. Adamek was once a light heavyweight and isn't as big as Haye, and the fight could draw great in Newark, where Adamek has become a fine drawing card. It might sound crazy, but what about Hopkins hasn't been crazy the last five years?

Bet on Chad Dawson for this fall, but Bernard plans to fight after that, too, assuming he wins. And Bernard never assumes he'll lose.