Monday February 27th, 2012

NEW YORK -- Chad Dawson sat on a dais with Bernard Hopkins last week, jaw clenched, anger flickering in his eyes. For months Dawson had listened as his name had become a punch line, as his sterling reputation was dragged through the mud. Cheap shot artist. Dirty fighter. MMA fighter. Cheap? Look at my record, Dawson implored. I've never been deducted a point. Dirty? I was in the ring with Hopkins, Dawson said. You're calling me dirty? MMA fighter? I had a guy jumping on my back, digging his elbow into my neck, Dawson declared. How would you react?

Dawson believes the portrait being painted of him is unfair, that history is being rewritten. To recap: Last October, Hopkins and Dawson met for Hopkins' WBC light heavyweight title. Late in the second round, with Hopkins draped over his shoulder, Dawson lifted Hopkins in the air and redirected him to the canvas, damaging Hopkins's shoulder. Hopkins called it a takedown. Dawson says it was self-defense. The referee declared Dawson the winner, but the WBC stripped Dawson of the title and the California State Athletic Commission ruled the fight a no-contest.

"I must have watched the tape of it 20 times," Dawson said. "I know I didn't slam him but I watched it so many times to see if it looked like I slammed him. All I did was move back and slide out from the headlock he had me in. I was defending myself. He was putting my elbow into my neck. The referee wasn't saying anything. How else was I going to defend myself?"

A rematch seemed natural, and Dawson wanted it. But attendance for the 2011 bout stunk, the pay-per-view sales were worse and Hopkins and his promoter, Golden Boy, were ready to move on. They might have, too, had the WBC not intervened. Take the rematch, the sanctioning body told Hopkins, or give up your belt. Hopkins (52-5-2, 32 KOs) took it, and on April 28 he will defend his belt against Dawson (30-1, 17 KOs) in Atlantic City.

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"Without the belt, Bernard Hopkins is just an old fighter fighting," said Dawson's promoter, Gary Shaw. "With the belt, he's the oldest fighter in the history of boxing to win a world title defending it. Bernard Hopkins is going to be in the ring against Chad because the belt is on the line. Not for the money, not for fame, not for glory, but for the belt that will bring him more fame and glory."

Dawson wants the belt, but he wants Hopkins more. There is palpable disdain for Hopkins in Dawson's voice. No respect, no admiration, just a burning desire to remove the 47-year-old legend from the sport.

"When I look at Bernard I see a guy that is trying to hold onto something that is not his anymore," Dawson said. "He's holding onto something he needs to let go. It's like when Michael Jordan retired then came back. There comes a point where these young guys are going to overtake you. There is going to come a time when guys are too big and too strong, and that time is here."

There is no uncertainty in Dawson's voice; he truly believes he is the better fighter. Dawson says he saw nothing surprising in the two rounds with Hopkins, just the usual tactics ("one, two, headbutt," Dawson said) from a man Dawson believes wanted no part of fighting him.

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"What we were doing was working," Dawson said. "The game plan worked so [well]. Everything we knew Bernard was going to do, he did. Within 20 seconds, he head-butted me. In the third or fourth round, we were going to pick up the pace. Bernard Hopkins did not try to engage me that night. He showed he didn't want to fight. He didn't want to be in the ring."

Hopkins has been discounted before, often with disastrous results. Kelly Pavlik and Jean Pascal were both younger, stronger fighters when they went against Hopkins and both walked away with L's on their resumes. Dawson isn't concerned. He has chased Hopkins for years, and is eager for another shot at settling the score in the ring.

"I just hope he makes it to the fight," Dawson said. "I don't think he is going to make it through training camp. I think we are going to get a phone call that Bernard dislocated his shoulder again. He knows he can't win. Everyone in boxing has a puncher's chance except him."

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