The clichéd refrain heading into any rematch is "repeat or revenge?" but that question can't be applied to Bernard Hopkins-Chad Dawson II. "Repeat" is a nightmare scenario for both fighters and for the sport of boxing. "Revenge" is not a possibility because nobody lost last time.
The objectives in this rematch are simple: Hopkins wants to prove he's still great at the unfathomable fighting age of 47; Dawson wants to become the recognized champion of the light heavyweight division after a couple of controversial near-misses; and the fans want something that in no way resembles Hopkins-Dawson I.
What we saw at Staples Center in Los Angeles last October 15 was a potentially tense 12-round battle that lasted only five minutes and 48 seconds. With the lineal 175-pound championship of the world at stake, the nearly-two-decades-younger Dawson seemed to get slightly the better of the early action, before that action abruptly ended when Dawson ducked forward, Hopkins leaned on him, and "Bad Chad" lifted the champ up and shoulder-shrugged him to the canvas. Hopkins fell awkwardly and, at least according to his doctors, dislocated the joint connecting his left shoulder to his collarbone. (Team Dawson still insists, six months later, that B-Hop was faking it.) Referee Pat Russell asked Hopkins if he could continue, Hopkins replied in the negative - although if you want to get technical, he replied sarcastically in the positive, suggesting he could fight with one arm - and the fight was stopped and ruled a TKO victory for Dawson. However, because Hopkins' injury was caused by an unintentional foul, the decision was changed two months later to a no-contest.
So in the history books, it's like the first fight never happened. Now it's up to Hopkins and Dawson to produce something memorable enough in the rematch to make us fully forget that it actually did.
Hopkins-Dawson II takes place at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, where it's sure to draw better than their first encounter. A fight between combatants from Philadelphia and New Haven never belonged on the west coast, so this time around, they're making like Ronnie and Sammi and settling their differences at the Jersey shore.
This tilt is an extreme example of unfinished business, as the business between Hopkins and Dawson barely got started the first time.
"I just want to make one thing clear," Dawson (30-1, 17 KOs, 2 no-contests) said recently in reflecting on October's no-contest. "On that night, I came to fight. I wanted to fight Bernard Hopkins, but he pulled the stunt he pulled, so now ... I got to fight him again.
"I'm younger, faster, stronger, and that's all you need in boxing."
Dawson isn't alone in thinking he's the favorite this time around. His youth, speed, and southpaw style were generally expected to be problematic for Hopkins going into the first fight, and nothing that happened in those two rounds suggested otherwise. Dawson was by no means dominating Hopkins, but he was certainly inconveniencing him in a way that Bernard's previous opponent, the relatively made-to-order Jean Pascal, never did.
As with every Hopkins fight, there's the compelling plotline going in of whether this is going to be the night "The Executioner" looks his age - or at least something within 10 years of his age. Certainly, Dawson has the skill set to make a 47-year-old fighter appear a bit creaky.
Hopkins' trainer, Naazim Richardson, seems mildly concerned, but not because of anything Dawson specifically brings to the table.
"Who do I call for advice and ask, ‘What did you do with your 47-year-old fighter when he was getting ready to defend his title?' There's no blueprint for working with a fighter like this," Richardson told HBO.com. "I don't have to worry about what Chad does in the ring, or about what I see on the tape from last fight. All we have to do is bring the best Bernard, and we'll be okay. In the center of the ring, Bernard can make adjustments mid-stream. So we can set up a game plan, and Bernard can change the game plan at the drop of a dime. He's a phenomenal creature when it comes to this sport. He's special. He can be your best friend. He can be your worst enemy. He can be a joy to work with. He can be a pain in the ass. All that stuff is what makes him who he is."
Hopkins (52-5-2, 32 KOs, 2 no-contests) has been uncharacteristically quiet in the buildup to this rematch, which can be interpreted one of two ways: Either he's reached a new level of focus and motivation, or he's actually a bit uncertain of himself. Dawson has picked up much of the slack in terms of providing sound bites. His outspokenness began with his in-ring interview after the fight last October when he showed extreme anger and disdain even as he (temporarily) strapped the belts over his shoulders, and it has continued in the months since.
"I would have fought Hopkins with one finger that night - one finger - and I still would have won," Dawson said at a recent press conference. "I just want a fair fight. I want Bernard to fight."
Hopkins has been doing just that for more than 23 years. But he's always done it on his terms, bending the rules he wants to bend, manipulating the pace to serve his needs, and a couple of times letting fights end a bit prematurely. Maybe he couldn't continue on October 15, 2011. Maybe he just didn't want to. But on April 28, he will.
The boxing world awaits the answers we didn't get the first time.