Something happened to Bernard Hopkins Saturday on HBO that hasn’t happened in nearly 20 years: He lost a fight, and it wasn’t all that debatable. Hopkins could debate the majority decision, sure, and apparently left the ring in a huff telling the HBO team that he deserved the victory. One judge, Luis Rivera, had some debate about it with himself and couldn’t arrive at the same conclusion as everyone else, giving B-Hop the draw.
The end of the 47-year-old’s streak of “win ’em all” or “at least make you wonder whether he really deserved to lose ’em” came in the form of 29-year-old Chad Dawson, a fighter whose youth helped him but would’ve been a difficult out for Hopkins at most any age, what with his combination of speed and skill.
All of the things that make Hopkins Hopkins went from lovable/hateable to a touch pathetic this weekend. His typical head butt-laden performance might usually draw the same discussions about whether his fouling tactics are signs of intelligence or simply ugly (answer, as always: both) and his low punch output that has helped prolong his career — both of those things simply made Hopkins look desperate and old. And hey, Hopkins should’ve looked desperate and old, like, 10 years ago. There’s less shame in this moment coming now than if it had before. And Hopkins still looked like a fighter who could beat a good number of other light heavyweights, so, only a “touch” pathetic.
Hopkins is, naturally, “the story” here, because when you’re a legend, people pay more attention to what you do than a conqueror who has yet to move the general public in any significant way. But Dawson showed the kind of fire, focus and aggression that could, in combination with his physical gifts and overall ability and newly-won lineal light heavyweight championship belt, one day benefit him toward moving said general public. Saturday, he was bound to look bad overall because that’s what Hopkins does to people, although he looked better against Hopkins than most anyone has, and that ought to be worth something.
If this is finally the moment that Dawson is poised to come into any kind of popularity, he’ll have to be smart about it: His idea about fighting super middleweight champ Andre Ward might appeal to absolute purists, but some of boxing’s more “action, more action, only action and nothing else”-oriented fans would avoid it, and that’s a bigger crowd than the purists, I suspect. (I still wonder if scare quote skill scare quote is something that doesn’t interest a major segment of fans; somehow, this fight, which beforehand only offered skill and little action [and was nearly devoid of said action in practice] had an announced attendance of 7,000-plus. That’s approximately double the announced attendance of the last two headlining fights of undisputed action hero Brandon Rios, combined.) But if Dawson has any fans, they are only the purists. Taking on the winner of Tavoris Cloud-Jean Pascal is a wise course, because that would give him at least a smidge of a chance of winning over the action fiends.
As for Hopkins: If this is the end of his road, it’s been a longer road than it had any right to be, and it’s remarkable that the last leg of it — when he entered the discussion for best “old” 40-plus fighter ever — was arguably more amazing than anything else that came before it.