ATLANTIC CITY -- The tributes have already started flowing in for Bernard Hopkins, whose age-defying run at the sport's highest echelon came to an end Saturday night.
And with good reason. The 47-year-old Hopkins, who last year became the oldest fighter to win a major world title, is a surefire Hall of Famer and a bona fide legend. No fighter in history -- not Archie Moore, not George Foreman -- can match Hopkins' estimable accomplishments past the age of 40.
But let's not deny Chad Dawson his moment.
It was Dawson who coasted to a majority-decision victory over Hopkins on Saturday before 7,705 fans at Boardwalk Hall, winning back the light heavyweight title he lost to Jean Pascal in 2010 (and which Pascal ceded to Hopkins last year). The New Haven, Conn., native looked younger and faster from start to finish, delivering a clinical performance and solving one of the sport's trickiest riddles.
"I did what I came to do," Dawson said. "I got my belts back."
Two judges at ringside had it 117-111 in favor of Dawson, while the third mystifyingly scored it 114-114. (SI.com had it 117-111 to Dawson.)
"I've got to give him credit: he's a future Hall of Famer," said Dawson, whose first shot at Hopkins' title in October ended in an unsatisfying no-contest when the champion suffered a shoulder injury after getting tossed to the canvas. "He's a hell of a fighter, but he's a dirty fighter. If you can get through 12 rounds with him, you can get through anything."
Not since a 1993 fight with Roy Jones, Jr., had an opponent handed Hopkins such a decisive loss. The defeats suffered by the Philadelphia icon in the 19 years since facing Jones at Washington's RFK Stadium -- razor-thin decisions against Jermain Taylor (twice) and Joe Calzaghe -- all left more questions than answers.
This one, however, was conclusive.
It's not the years that finally caught up with Hopkins (52-6-2, 32 KOs) -- if anything he looked even faster than October's abbreviated first meeting -- so much as a vastly talented opponent at his physical peak. Dawson outworked and outboxed the champion, showing the precision that's sealed his reputation as one of the sport's most technically sound fighters. "He deserves to be where he at," admitted Hopkins during the post-fight press conference. "He fought a hell of a fight."
Hopkins, a 3-to-1 underdog, reached deep into his bag of tricks Saturday night, trying to barge, feint and clinch his way to an improbable victory. An accidental head butt opened a large gash over Dawson's left eye in the fourth round -- kudos to cutman Rafael Garcia for stopping it -- and a Hopkins punch opened another over the left.
But the southpaw Dawson's control only tightened in the middle rounds, as he began to find range with the straight left while denying Hopkins the openings he probed for. Before long, the lead in the scorecards grew insurmountable, leaving Hopkins in need of a home run that never came.
"Hopkins is a master at old-school tactics," said John Scully, who trains Dawson. "It's almost impossible to knock him out, but when we turned on the pressure, we knew we were going to win the fight."
The punch stats might not appear lopsided -- the challenger landed 151 of 431 punches (35 percent), while Hopkins landed just 106 of 400 (26 percent) -- but it was Dawson who pressed the action and banked rounds that might have gone the other way.
"He's slick," Dawson said. "He's older but he knows all the tricks in the game. He picks his punches very good. He doesn't waste any energy. I knew if I made one mistake he was going to pick up on it."
The mistake never happened, despite Hopkins' consistent baiting. Dawson (31-1, 17 KOs) stuck to the gameplan and refused to fall victim to Hopkins' famed psychological tactics.
"Our whole training camp was keeping our composure, showing that he couldn't frustrate me," Dawson said. "I didn't see any intimidation in his eyes, and I'm pretty sure he didn't see any intimidation in mine."
Less than an hour after the final bell, both Dawson and Hopkins -- sharing the spotlight during a joint address to more than 100 media members and hangers-on -- expressed mutual respect. Dogged for years by his reputation as a boring fighter with an infinitesimal fan base, the normally stoic Dawson appeared as satisfied as he's looked in years, having finally bagged the signature victory that's eluded him -- even if it came against an old man.
The always talkative Hopkins, true to form, said it best: "Let this man enjoy his championship."