Last night I mentioned how inappropriate it would seem to most boxing fans to put up pay-per-view dollars for a fight that featured the names Dawson and Hopkins. I should have prefaced that resentment for pay-per-view purchases by referencing the most recent affront to the collective enthusiasm for fighting: Mayweather-Ortiz. Another extremely brief, opposite-of-definitive, expensive production that cost millions of fans more money than a quick trip to the grocery store, Mayweather’s win proved nothing except that big fights don’t always produce meaningful results. Nobody was expecting an upset, but it would have been nice to see the contest play out, so that we would at least know why there was no upset.
Hopkins and Dawson are two light-heavyweight contenders whose styles spell non-spectacular action for the audience. Hopkins, at least, is a marvel of conditioning, dedication and technique in the sport. Dawson has never really impressed me with his defense-oriented offense, jabbing from the outside and using ducks and holds to smother his opponent’s attack, only fighting in brief, imprecise flurries. So, I made the fiscally responsible choice—I ate dinner at home and waited for the results to show up on ESPN. If Hatton-Pacquiao was disappointing, and Mayweather-Ortiz was frustratingly unprofessional, Hopkins-Dawson was a disgrace.
In the first, unproductive round both fighters landed a combined total of ten punches, half of them credited to each fighter. Dawson had likely come out on top for those three minutes, throwing more punches than Hopkins, which surprised no one. Compubox numbers for round one were Hopkins 5 of 13, Dawson 5 of 31. Just prior to Jim Lampley’s announcement of those numbers, Max Kellerman (who I admit is not infallible) said he thought Dawson only really landed one punch in the round, whereas Hopkins “at least landed a few,” he thought. So up to this point the fight was progressing as most people expected. The second round began with a similar structure, Hopkins using his overhand right-bum rush to get inside Dawson’s distance jab. At the 1 minute 32 second mark of the second round, this strategy provided an opening such that Hopkins was able to use his inside-fighting experience to land a quick, solid uppercut, causing Dawson to hold as he lost balance, pushing off the canvas to regain his stance.
The referee, Pat Russell, immediately separated the two fighters and emphatically announced, almost at Hopkins, “NO KNOCKDOWN!” Okay, whatever you say, Pat (even though every boxing fan knows the equation: glove touch+punch landed = knockdown). The fight continued for another minute and 13 seconds, at which point another over-the-top right to bum-rush attack by Hopkins resulted in a frustrated Dawson being underneath Hopkins’ arm. Known for his tendency to duck and bend, or hold, to avoid punches, Dawson took a different approach this time, blatantly gripping the back of Hopkins’ knee and thrusting his shoulder forward to perform a leg sweep straight out of amateur wrestling. Hopkins’ feet momentarily found the canvas again before he slipped backwards through the ring ropes, landing with his weight on his elbow, transferring all the impact into his shoulder. Exhibiting the classic Hopkins’ grimace, Bernard clutched his shoulder and writhed while a confused Pat Russell called time. The fight was stopped while he conferred with Hopkins, asking “Can you continue?” to which Hopkins replied something along the lines of “I felt it pop, I got one arm. Yeah, yeah, it popped. Yeah, with one arm.” Turning to the judges, without warning, the referee declared “There was no foul, he got pushed and that was the TKO.” In a tumultuous scene, cornermen, fighters and promoters all milled around anxiously inquiring about the decision. As he had before suggested, the results revealed that referee Pat Russell declared that there was no foul, but a technical knockout in the second round, and a new WBC and Ring Magazine Light Heavyweight Champion.
Bernard’s legacy irretrievably tainted, his shoulder cartilage permanently weakened, the oldest champion in the history of the sport was dethroned. By this point in the second round, I had visually counted punchstats of 10 of 18 for Hopkins, 8 of 28 for Dawson. I am, by no means, the authority on these numbers, but I’m confident that they are a fair representation of the action. In other words, Hopkins may have won the round even without the knockdown that the referee so adamantly ignored. Combining the compubox figures from round one with my own from round two, this means that Dawson landed a total of 13 of 59. None of them were significant, none of them impressive. Forget the unacknowledged knockdown, it happens, but have you ever heard of a fighter losing his championship belts at the end of 13 ineffective punches? I haven’t, and I hope I never do again.
Now, I don’t mean to ignore the fact that Hopkins is known for his theatrics. Nor do I intend to blame Dawson for the referee’s actions. I would gladly accept two championships myself at the end of six minutes in a frustrating fight. In fact, I agree with Max Kellerman, who adroitly mentioned that he had felt Hopkins’ faked the “low blow” he received (and was given credit for) against Joe Calzaghe. I think he’s faked plenty to gain a potential advantage in the ring. This wasn’t one of those times. Dan Rafael of ESPN reported that “Hopkins went to California Hospital Medical Center to have his shoulder examined. Dr. Sam Thurber diagnosed him with a dislocation of the joint that connects the collarbone to the shoulder blade, according to Hopkins’ spokeswoman Kelly Swanson.” You could see by the look on his face (though the grimace is well-feigned when he needs it) that it wasn’t one of those times. The referee should have informed the fighter “I’ll have to stop the fight if you can’t continue,” or at least informed the judges of a “no contest” decision, which it should have been.
Ironically, there was another instance where Hopkins may or may not have played up an injury (displaying his signature grimace) thereby ending the fight by no contest. In 1998 Hopkins got into an intense holding-and-hitting display with opponent Robert Allen. When legendary referee Mills Lane tried vehemently to separate the two, he inadvertently pushed Hopkins in such a way that he caused the fighter to slip through the ropes to the floor, injuring his ankle. It was at the conclusion of this fight that an eerily similar result developed. Hopkins lay, grimacing on the canvas, and while the results were announced, a capacity crowd began chanting: “BULL-SHIT, BULL-SHIT, BULL-SHIT!” This same chorus echoed through the venue last night where Hopkins lost his titles as the results were announced. And it was. At Hopkins’ age, it only makes sense that perfect conditioning and meticulous technique can get him just so far. Major injuries such as these will take longer to heal in Hopkins’ 46 year-old body than they would have in 1998’s Hopkins. This event will significantly interfere with the fighter’s reputation, his career path, and his ability to fight, ever again. I don’t know how many times Hopkins has faked injuries to gain an advantage, and I don’t know how severe his injury was. But I don’t know what Pat Russell was thinking, either. And the crowd called it. Bullshit. I agree.