There is no disputing who some of the greatest fighters of all time are. Men like Harry Greb, Henry Armstrong, Sugar Ray Robinson and Muhammad Ali often find themselves at or near the top of most peoples' lists of fistic gods. Their careers, each one unique in its own way, have many differences that set them apart. An upset, a winning streak, a comeback, a fight of the century or even a thriller, different peaks stand out for each man.
And yet, they all share the same thing. The one commodity that nearly every great fighter has succumbed is defeat at the hands of Father Time. Some greats managed to elude the inevitable. Men like Rocky Marciano, Ricardo Lopez and Joe Calzaghe got out at just the right time, sensing his presence. But for the rest, they all face him and feel his wrath. He shows no remorse. He doesn't care for reputations. Physical gifts, speed and athleticism he renders useless. All, really, are helpless against the clock. He catches up with other athletes, in other sports too, but boxing is where he is most unforgiving, leaving champions motionless in the ring's centre, gazing up at the lights. Joe Louis and Roy Jones Jr. can testify to that. He is the one sure thing in boxing.
It is a surely a measure of Bernard Hopkins' brilliance then, that at 47-years old, he has almost turned Father Time into an after-thought, heading into his April 25th light heavyweight title rematch with challenger Chad Dawson.
As of late, Bernard Hopkins has found himself to be the victim of severe criticism regarding the bizarre ending which occurred in his first fight with Dawson. Barely into the second round, Bernard threw a straight right hand that was slipped by Dawson. With Hopkins on top of Dawson's back, the challenger thought fit to throw the champion to the ground. With Hopkins unable to continue, due to what was later discovered to be a dislocated shoulder, Dawson was awarded the TKO victory, despite the fact a punch did not end the fight, and he was declared the new champion. Many people, fans and critics alike, thought Hopkins made the most of his tumble and was faking it.
Fast forward a few months. With his shoulder mended and the undisputed light-heavyweight title returned, Bernard Hopkins finds himself preparing to face Chad Dawson and Father Time once again. Because of Hopkins' rare success at such an advanced age, here are some of the facts we seem to have deemed unimportant when evaluating Bernard's recent status.
Bernard Hopkins is 47 years old! Let's try and put that into perspective.
- Bernard is fourteen years older than Joe Louis was when he was rendered unconscious by Rocky Marciano.
- Bernard is thirteen years older than Sugar Ray Leonard was when he was easily outpointed by Terry Norris.
- Bernard is eleven years older than Muhammad Ali was when he was upset by Leon Spinks.
These fighters, all great, were considered way past their primes when they lost said fights - which have all but been forgotten about when looking back on their careers. Even more astonishing is the fact that Bernard knocked out a fighter who at the time was perceived to be the best fighter in the world in Felix Trinidad, whilst being one full year older than Erik Morales is right now. Bernard Hopkins is 12 years Morales' senior by the way. What should NOT be deemed unimportant though, is Chad Dawson's stylistic problems that are a tough nights work for any fighter at any age. Bernard Hopkins included.
Dawson, a rangy southpaw, is arguably the best blend of athlete and technician Hopkins has ever faced. Dawson is very versatile with his offense, equally comfortable at range, boxing behind his jab, or in close where he can get off short combinations to the body. He is able to throw every punch in the book with relative ease. While his straight left is decent enough, it's his lead right power shots that are most eye-catching. Dawson can double them, even triple them up to head and body, without really having to bring his right arm back for leverage. Dawson also possesses a potentially fight ending rear hand uppercut, as was evident when he almost stopped Jean Pascal dead in his tracks during their bout. His footwork is also very good, allowing him to throw his combinations and pivot out of the way in an instant.
Defensively, Dawson is one of boxing's best. Employing a tight defensive guard, he is capable of rolling with punches and countering straight back. Despite his height, Dawson also likes to bend at the waist and drop low when evading punches, making him very tough to hit clean. The second Glen Johnson fight is a great indication as to just how good Chad Dawson can be. Talent alone however, is not always enough and there have been occasions in the past when Dawson has looked disinterested and lethargic.
Certain food for thought for his next opponent.
Bernard Hopkins is one of the best ring strategists of this or any era. A master tactician, reminiscent of old school fighters like Ezzard Charles and Jersey Joe Walcott. A knock out artist he is not. Instead he prefers to take away an opponent's main threat using his superior knowledge along with his subtle shifts and feints that sometimes go unnoticed to the untrained eye. Hopkins is able to systematically outpoint his opponents over 12 rounds. Bernard is also one of the best ring generals you will ever see. He circles the perimeter of the ring and slows down the pace of the fight by utilizing his brilliant understanding of timing and distance. He makes every fight a Bernard Hopkins fight. Even in defeat, you will seldom see an opponent able to take Bernard away from his game plan.
Despite having no amateur background, Bernard's fundamentals are flawless. Hopkins may not be as slick as Dawson, but he is still considered a defensive master. Bernard is rarely hit with a clean shot, such is his dedication to "protecting himself at all times". Bernard's right hand is perfectly poised near his chin, which in turn is tucked into the top of his chest. It is no coincidence then, that Bernard Hopkins has never been in trouble or hurt inside the ring.
However...Like every fighter, Hopkins is far from perfect.
Bernard's' Kryptonite over the years,seems to have been speed and workrate, common attributes among all of Bernards most notable conquerors. Roy Jones, Jermain Taylor and Joe Calzaghe all had a superior advantage in handspeed. They were able to outwork him too.
In his last full outing, Bernard probably put in his most aesthetically pleasing performance to date, fighting a young man's fight to outwork the younger, more athletically gifted Jean Pascal on way to becoming the oldest man in boxing history to ever win a word title. The problem with Pascal is he is a one dimensional fighter, he needs time and distance in order to explode in with his combinations. Bernard did not offer Pascal the same luxury Dawson did. Dawson gave Pascal too much distance between them. Although Dawson, a smart fighter, looked like he had made an adjustment late in the fight, it was too late as a cut sent the fight to the scorecards where Pascal's earlier work gave him the decision win.
Bernard is not as explosive or as fast as Pascal. As a result, Hopkins cannot replicate what Pascal was able to do to Dawson, which was to maintain a distance, then explode in with fast, unpredictable combinations. I don't think Bernard can afford to jab with Dawson. Dawson's superior height and reach will keep Bernard on the outside. Because Dawson has the superior footspeed, Hopkins will have a hard time keeping the distance, as Dawson, moving foward, is adept at cutting off the ring. There could be long periods where there are no punches being thrown. This is the area in which Dawson could react first, pumping out the jab, even if it is not always landing. Dawson MUST keep the pressure on the 47 year-old fighter if he is to have success. Bernard can try to make it an ugly fight and get Dawson out of his comfort zone, early. He must try and land his trademark sneaky right hand, which is always a good weapon against the southpaw, as is his lead left hook to the body, that Bernard likes to dig in. He has to attempt to use rough tactics in close, not allowing Dawson to use his lead hand. Dawson is a confidence fighter. If Bernard is able to smother Dawson's early work and make him second guess himself, who knows? He may take Dawson away from his game and pull out the win.
Just one problem.
Unlike some of Bernard's past opponents, Chad Dawson is NOT one dimensional. If you take away Kelly Pavlik's jab, you take HIM out of the fight. If you take away Jean Pascal's distance, you take HIM out of the fight. There appears to be no primary weapon or weakness of Dawson that can be taken away or exploited. Dawson is more than competent no matter where the fight takes place, whether it is on the inside, at mid range or at distance.
In my mind, the fight will end up looking a lot like the Hopkins/Taylor fights, with Chad Dawson winning a decision. Hopkins will be out of range, moving backwards, trying to land his sneaky, straight right hand. Dawson will be the sharper and livelier fighter. Dawson will use his quicker jab and neutralise Bernard's lunges with upper body movement and footwork. Dawson will also be the fighter trying to cut off the ring, moving foward, thus giving the perception that he is the aggressor, very important in a fight of little action that is probably going to the scorecards.
But what then of a defeated Hopkins?
If indeed Chad Dawson is victorious, we must remind ourselves of a 47-year old fighter, who has just fought the best fighter in his division. We must remind ourselves of a man who was winning world titles whilst his recent opponents were barely toilet trained. We must remind ourselves of Bernard Hopkins, Father Time's toughest opponent to date.