By Michael Gluckstadt
Bernard Hopkins danced, he mugged and he pushed, but he didn't connect. All the head games in the world can't land punches, and tonight, the 47-year-old Hopkins didn't. His opponent, Chad Dawson, shrugged off Hopkins' antics--which included a full-on tackle in the 11th--and outhustled the fighter 18 years his senior for a majority decision victory and the WBC and Ring Magazine light heavyweight titles.
Before a crowd of 7,705 mostly Hopkins-supporting fans at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, Dawson got the better of most exchanges and landed the cleaner shots. According to CompuBox numbers he connected on 35 percent of his punches, and 48 percent of his power punches, while Hopkins landed just 25 and 30 percent, respectively.
Leading up to the fight, Hopkins had been reticent about the rematch with Dawson-though Dawson had no problem talking about the controversial no-contest at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, which ended with Dawson slamming Hopkins into the mat and separating his shoulder in only the second round. Through the first four rounds in this fight, both fighters were feeling each other out, throwing fewer than 10 punches per round.
After the slow start, Dawson took control from the fifth round through the eleventh, despite a cut above each of his eyes. An accidental head-butt in the fourth opened a gash above his right eye, and another cut appeared above his left eye in the eighth. But Dawson was relentless, and between Hopkins' clutches, he was able to land combinations and strong counterpunches. In the sixth round, he landed a strong left hand that caught Hopkins off-guard. In the eighth, he lured Hopkins in and unleashed a vicious counter uppercut that landed flush on Hopkins' chin.
Though nothing like the last fight, there were some strange moments. In the eleventh, in the midst of a flurry from Dawson, Hopkins surged forward from against the ropes and both men ended up on the canvas. After a brief time-out, Dawson came right back at him.
Hopkins certainly had his moments, and anyone who tells you he showed his age, has never seen a 47-year-old man fight before. Hopkins looked quick, spry even, as he moved between Dawson's shots in the early rounds. In the fourth, he landed a straight right that surprised Dawson. He danced around his opponent and mugged for the crowd after Dawson missed in the seventh, so everyone would know it. But as the fight wore on, he danced and smiled less and grabbed and head-butted more. He managed to steal the last round, but it was hardly enough.
Somehow, one of the judges scored the fight a draw, but a Jersey robbery was averted by the other two scorecards, both 117-111 in Dawson's favor. After the fight, both fighters were deferential, showing none of the animosity that had marked the end of the last fight and the run-up to this one.
"Hopkins came to fight tonight," Dawson said of his opponent. "He might be 47 but he fights like a 35-year-old." Hopkins didn't have enough for him, but Dawson still liked his chances against the rest of the division.
Hopkins looked no worse for wear after the fight, but he did feel the toll of Dawson's punches. "Do I feel like I've been in a fight? Yeah, I'm 47," he said. "But, I probably don't think I'm done." From across the stage, Dawson chimed in, "You're a legend."
In the undercard, fast-rising American heavyweight Seth Mitchell made quick work of his opponent, Philadelphia-native Chazz Witherspoon, but the fight was not without drama. In an exciting first round, Witherspoon came out firing, landing jabs and power shots alike, and getting the better end of most exchanges. Mitchell was hurt, and the 29-year-old former college football star looked for a moment like he might not make it out of the first round. In the second, Mitchell rebounded in a big way, with a relentless assault to Witherspoon's body. That set him up for the following round, in which he knocked Witherspoon to the canvas with a devastating right hook. Soon after, Mitchell dazed Witherspoon with a straight right and followed with another, just as the referee was stepping in to stop the fight.