At 47, Hopkins faces potential final fight against determined Dawson
Bernard Hopkins will don his robe, lace up his boots and climb into the ring on Saturday night for the 62nd time, against his 54th opponent, and defend yet another title in his 24-year Hall of Fame career -- perhaps for the final time.
What's that? You have heard this before?
It's true, Hopkins has had more dirt thrown on him than a kid in a sandbox.
He was supposed to be finished in 2005, when Jermain Taylor ended his 11-year middleweight title reign. Instead, Hopkins reinvented himself as a light heavyweight and knocked off Antonio Tarver the next year.
He was a dead man walking against Kelly Pavlik in 2008, right up until he put on a boxing clinic and handed Pavlik his first defeat.
He was human chum for Jean Pascal in 2010, but rallied from two early knockdowns to force a draw and went on to become the oldest man to win a major title when he outpointed Pascal six months later.
"I believe I'm the most underrated fighter that ever walked on the planet Earth that reached this level," Hopkins said. "When it comes to speed, when it comes to talent, when it comes to hit and not get hit without running, when it comes to the basic fundamentals of boxing, I believe that I'm the most underrated fighter that ever laced a pair of gloves, that reached a level that I've reached in my 24 years."
His point is tough to argue.
Yet there will be a familiar feeling when Hopkins lines up against Chad Dawson in Atlantic City (10:15 p.m. ET, HBO). Hopkins will again be the underdog. It's not that the peanut gallery doesn't think that, at 47, Hopkins is still good. It's that Dawson, 29, is considered much better.
Dawson is talented.
In short, he's exactly the kind of opponent Hopkins doesn't want to face.
There are certain types of fighters Hopkins (52-5-2) is still able to handle. Aggressive, straight ahead, punch first, think later opponents like Pavlik and Pascal are right in his wheelhouse.
Dawson (30-1) isn't that. He's a pure boxer, one who won't be sucked into a wrestling match with Hopkins. He will fight patiently and disciplined and will be happy to take home a clean, albeit dull, decision.
"A knockout would be a big statement to make," Dawson said. "But I can't say I'm going in there looking for one."
No, Dawson is coming to win and move on. There are plenty of opponents for him at 175 pounds (a rematch with Pascal, who handed Dawson his lone loss, is high on his list) and a crop of 168-pounders poised to move up.
For Hopkins, it's win or go home. His three-fight deal with HBO is up after this fight and Hopkins has acknowledged that even a win doesn't guarantee he will be on the network ever again. Sure, HBO would probably jump at the right opponent -- Hopkins does a huge rating when he fights -- but they won't let him handpick the next guy.
And if he loses, well, it's probably over. There are plenty of young, rising light heavyweights who would love to tack Hopkins's name on their resume, to lure him to their hometown (or country) and cash in on his history. But Hopkins has never struck me as type that would stick around long enough to become an opponent, no matter how alluring the notion of fighting at 50 is to him.
This could be it for Hopkins. He is fighting an opponent who is bigger, faster and, at this stage of his career, more talented than he is. To win, he will have to defy the longest of odds again.
"I won 10 years ago," Hopkins said. "I could've stopped and did [critics] all a favor. I already won. But I'm on something else right now and that something else is even greater than what I've done in the last 10, 15 years, believe it or not, and I've done a lot of great things. But [Saturday] is going to be something that you're all gonna be saying, 'Man.'
"I'm going to rewrite the book. I'm going to rewrite the book."