Re-Examining The Bernard Hopkins Vs. Chad Dawson Catastrophe, From All Angles

Debacles like the one Saturday night between light heavyweight champ Bernard Hopkins and Chad Dawson aren’t a good look for boxing, but hardly anything gets people to arguing and buzzing like ’em.

After Zaprudering the hell out of the ending, poring over the rules and taking into account a variety of opinions opposite mine, I’m ready to amend some of my views from yesterday’s post, although my final verdict is similar: This all sucked.

What Happened

A number of pals who are smart on boxing have differed with me on what occurred at all. Let’s discuss.

Friend of the site JasonTO correctly showed me that Hopkins’ feet were already off the ground before Dawson reacted. So when I said that he “picked him up,” that is at least partially inaccurate; generally speaking, to pick someone up they have to be on the ground. I don’t think anyone would argue against the notion that Dawson “lifted him up,” though, whether incidentally — as in, he was reclaiming his space and that just happened — or on purpose. I think he did it on purpose.

The thing that makes me think this was no accident or incidental thing whereby Hopkins ended upon the ground was that Dawson grabbed Hopkins’ leg. Why would you do that to someone if you weren’t trying to deposit them on the canvas? According to Dawson, all he did was give Hopkins a shoulder — and a shoulder butt is a foul under California rules, too, by the way. But he did more than that. He cuffed his leg. The likely result of doing that to someone that you’ve lifted up is that they’re going to end up unable to land in any way other than on the ground. Maybe he grabbed his leg instinctively, somehow…? But I can’t give him the benefit of the doubt when he has acknowledged that he was trying to give Hopkins a shoulder.

As far as the extent of the response from Dawson and whether it was overdone: Another friend of the site, Andrew Fruman, noted that the sequence unfolded somewhat naturally. Hopkins was leaping in and trying to head butt, which is an old Hopkins trick. Dawson was responding by ducking the head butt. Hopkins was responding to this by leaning down on Dawson (a common strategy in the boxing ring to wear down an opponent, and a foul). This is all true.

Dawson had just complained to referee Pat Russell shortly before the fight-ending sequence that Hopkins was leaning on him. Russell warned Hopkins against doing it further. I usually favor retaliation in a situation where a referee isn’t taking control of one boxer and the other boxer is left at a disadvantage for it. But Russell was already trying to prevent Hopkins from leaning down on Dawson. Maybe it would’ve worked; maybe Russell would’ve prevented Hopkins from leaning on him. Dawson didn’t give Russell a chance to respond, because he decided to take matters under his own authority mere moments after Russell warned Hopkins.

No matter your policy on retaliation, Dawson can retaliate whatever way he wants. But I thought it was an overreaction. Somebody leaned down on him, and that’s not cool. I don’t think the proper response is to grab someone’s leg, raise up, and shoulder him. If you’re of the mind like I am that Dawson’s intent was to throw Hopkins down, that’s a higher-level foul in response to a fairly innocuous and routine boxing foul.

(This incident has been compared to what happened in the Miguel Cotto vs. Joshua Clottey fight, where Cotto encountered less criticism than has Dawson. I think that’s three-fold. One, the fight didn’t end because of that maneuver, so I personally didn’t give it as much attention as I did Dawson-Hopkins. While I originally thought that Cotto’s maneuver was only meant to shove Clottey away, I’ve looked at it again today and don’t like the way Cotto shoved him at a downward angle. At any rate, it isn’t quite as obvious an attempt to throw somebody down on the ground as was Dawson’s, by my view, because it didn’t involve Cotto grabbing Clottey’s leg. And yes, Cotto is popular and Dawson is not [Although I was for a long while calling myself Dawson’s only fan, and while he let me down in the Jean Pascal fight, I still don’t dislike him, per se]. These things make a difference, often.)

Whether you feel much sympathy for Hopkins for getting the technical knockout loss is up to you. It’s true that Hopkins has made a living off of extensive cheating, be it committing the fouls or pretending to be hurt by fouls that he wasn’t. If you think he deserved it and was overdue, that’s valid. I can’t say I’m particularly sympathetic myself, even though I’ve come to grudgingly half-like him in recent years. I just don’t like the call, and I think it makes boxing look bad to have rulings like that.

But if you think he faked it, you’re very, very wrong. Most boxing fans are pretty quick to thinking someone faked an injury, and Hopkins’ past antics made them even more inclined to distrust him. This time, we know absent some extensive document forgery that Hopkins indeed dislocated a joint in his shoulder. Could he have continued, though? Jean Pascal once fought through a dislocated shoulder. So did Danny Williams. These, though, were extraordinary feats. I tend to think that if somebody chose not to fight through a dislocated shoulder, that’s understandable. Furthermore, we have only one side of the story about whether Hopkins was given the opportunity to continue.  More on that next.

What Should’ve Happened

I’d said the fight should be ruled a no contest because of the foul. But according to both California and unified boxing rules, a deliberate foul that leads to an injury that halts the contest should result in a disqualification of the fouling boxer. So, by my own interpretation, Dawson should’ve been disqualified. (Thanks to friend of the site ham_napkin on this one.) If you think it was an accidental foul — and even many of those sympathetic to Dawson agree that it was some kind of foul — then it should be a no contest.

By California rules, where there’s a foul, Hopkins should’ve been given time to recover, too. He wasn’t, that I saw. But then, Russell ruled that there was no foul whatsoever.

And lastly, Hopkins said he wasn’t told the fight would be ruled a TKO and he wasn’t given the option to continue by Russell, who made the decision summarily. Alas, Russell has the unilateral authority under California rules to determine when a fighter can no longer continue. I caution again that we only have Hopkins’ side of the story here. But it seems like if Russell ruled the fight over, he should have at least asked consulted with Hopkins before making his decision.

What Should Happen

We should hear from Russell and the California State Athletic Commission about what happened and why, and extensively. Unfortunately, the CSAC has a weird policy about not letting referees be interviewed until after they talk to the commission, and even though that happened Saturday night, a dogged Max Kellerman (who did a great job, journalistically speaking, for HBO after the fight) still wasn’t allowed to talk to Russell or someone from the commission. Russell, though, has apparently done at least one interview, so we should hear from him soon. I’m not of the mind that Russell needs to be suspended or formally penalized in any way; he has, for the majority of his career, been an excellent referee, even if I was in the minority in disagreeing with his actions during Israel Vazquez-Rafael Marquez III. This was a bad call, but unlike some recent bad calls, Russell has a track record the others do not.

The commission has, in the recent past, rightly switched results to no contests, like with Timothy Bradley-Nate Campbell and James Toney-Hasim Rahman II. Although the next commission meeting isn’t until Dec. 13, in both those cases, it overturned those decisions in a couple weeks. It’d be great if they found a way to resolve this before Dec. 13. And even though by my own interpretation this should be ruled a DQ, I don’t feel like that would be a just decision; it would be like a criminal suspect getting off due to a technicality, even if the technicality is based on a proper interpretation of the law. A no contest is what I’d like to see this one called.

As for who should be champion: Until a decision is made on any appeal, Ring Magazine should switch the championship to Dawson and bump Hopkins down to #1 contender. In the past, Ring Magazine has wisely decided that it is not the authority on who won or lost a boxing match, however incompetent are the people who actually decide such things. Thus, Joel Casamayor remained lightweight champion after a totally bunk decision win over Jose Armando Santa Cruz, despite outcry calling for him to be stripped. On his official record, for the time being, B-Hop lost, and Dawson beat him. In the ideal world, he gets the belt back when the fight is ruled a no contest.

If there was a rematch, I don’t know how much I’d like to see it. It would suck for Dawson to be belt-less without a chance to rectify that after a fight where he appeared to be in control, but then, I can’t feel too much sympathy for him given his actions. Based on this showing, I would support making him the #2 light heavyweight based on his early showing against Hopkins, which would give him a chance to contend for the championship (were Hopkins to retire, a distinct possibility) against Jean Pascal in a rematch I actually do want.

But this isn’t the kind of fight where everything can be resolved neatly. It’s messy. And nobody comes out of it without dirt on them.

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board ( He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.