Bernard Hopkins has made a career of upsetting the odds. He was a 3-1 underdog in 2001 against Felix Trinidad in his coming out fight before putting a clinic on the Puerto Rican superstar and knocking him out in the 12th round. In 2006 aged 41 he jumped two weight divisions to light heavyweight to challenge Antonio Tarver, bamboozling the Floridian with movement and timing, scoring a knockdown and winning by a landslide on the cards. Then last year at 46 he became the oldest man to win a major world title beating Canada's Jean Pascal. If you habitually bet on the underdog Bernard Hopkins has been a good friend to you. Saturday night he rematches Chad Dawson after their fight in October 2011 was eventually declared a no contest when Hopkins was unable to continue after an illegal body slam by Dawson in the second round. Now at the insane age of 47 Hopkins is looking to turn back the clock again. Can he be serious?
Let's start by admitting that although Bernard Hopkins is a walking miracle, even he can't fight like a 21-year-old anymore. His style is ultra-cagey and relies on feints to draw openings from his opponent which he exploits, typically with his famous lead right counter. He's a very economical fighter with a low punch output. If you're in with Hopkins, expect anything but a toe-to-toe battle. But don't imagine that means an easy night for you. He'll hold, he'll grapple, he'll spin you and hit you, rabbit punch, low blow, forearm and elbow you then complain to the ref about your rough tactics. After all that he may just walk off with the belt. That's just how ‘Nard rolls.
So what about challenger Chad Dawson? A fast upright 29-year-old southpaw with an impressive jab, Dawson's one loss is to Jean Pascal, the fighter who Hopkins fought to a majority draw many believed Hopkins had won then beat in last May's historic bout. If only the boxing algebra were as simple as "a beats b who beats c therefore a beats c" then we could declare Hopkins the winner and save ourselves all a lot of trouble. The problem is that styles make fights and Hopkins relies upon his opponents to be a little bit loose, a little bit reckless and just a tad too eager to gamble. Pascal's bullish style was perfect for Hopkins and even though B-Hop tasted the canvas twice early on in their first fight he dominated after that because Pascal was an open book for him. While Dawson is less likely to inflict the knockdowns Pascal did he's also less likely to leave the openings.
And yet there is still a vulnerability there. Although he narrowly edged the one-and-a-half rounds they fought in October Hopkins got inside his head and frustrated him enough to provoke the uncharacteristic fight ending foul. Hopkins always starts slowly, coming on strong in the later rounds and given that Dawson has been known to fight in fits and starts this could be a problem for the challenger.
His former trainer Manny Steward has said of the matchup "I don't know if Chad and [trainer] John Scully fully realize what they are going up against. The biggest thing going up against Dawson is not having that consistent focus, and that's what Bernard is about".
Hopkins has shown in the first Pascal fight that he can course correct during battle, come back from calamity and command the remaining rounds. Dawson's southpaw stance shouldn't bother him as in 11 fights against lefties Hopkins has only lost once, to Joe Calzaghe, a fight which many observers, myself included, believe he won. It's worth bearing in mind also that when you fight Hopkins you're fighting a team: Bernard Hopkins, one of the finest minds in boxing and Naazim Richardson one of the finest trainers.
For these reasons I think it's just about worth your while taking a chance on Hopkins at 3.5 having one last great performance in him. Dawson is the correct favourite but any slip in focus from him and Hopkins has the experience and ring generalship to keep his light heavyweight crown.