A Freak of Nature

By Matt McGrain on April 25, 2012
A Freak of Nature
“I need to have people against me," said Hopkins, "as long as I’m in the hurt business.”

The old man got just enough eye on the young buck to squeeze off one last great shot…

“Old age is far more than white hair, wrinkles, the feeling that it is too late and the game finished, that the stage belongs to the rising generations. The true evil is not the weakening of the body, but the indifference of the soul.”—Andre Maurois

“My way buddy. Do you know what my way means? Not your way.”—Bernard Hopkins

Indifference of the soul is not a sensation Bernard Hopkins is familiar with. Anger, however? It’s how Hopkins thrives. “I need the naysayers,” he famously told Larry Merchant during a post-fight interview. “I need to have people against me, as long as I’m in the hurt business.” Driven and at his best when he’s under attack, Hopkins tends to deliver. 

He delivered from bell to bell against Felix Trinidad when the media dared to make him a mere dance partner for the Puerto Rican’s coming out party at middleweight. He delivered bell to bell against Kelly Pavlik when the media did the same for American boxing’s great white hope. 

How about now?

Now, Hopkins has been assaulted as never before. He’s a cheat. A faker. A coward. No longer relevant. Worst, most unforgivable, he’s a quitter. “I don’t believe Bernard Hopkins was hurt. I looked in Bernard’s eyes that night. He didn’t want to be in the ring with me.”

Chad Dawson was, just as he says, in the ring with Hopkins, and he is unquestionably entitled to his opinion and more than that he is entitled to repeat that opinion as often as he pleases. You lace ‘em up, you earn that right. As for the rest of us out here in the wide world of internet blogging, posting, writing and reporting? Well, you know what they say about opinions and assholes. But does this well of negativity from which Hopkins can draw his will as water spell danger for the younger man?

Or is Hopkins now too old to beat a fighter of Dawson’s quality?

A huge amount has been written and said about that first fight, for obvious reasons, not least the apparent discomfort with which Hopkins seemed to be boxing. Dawson trainer John Scully, and for that matter many in the media, regard Chad’s task as a simple one: keep doing what you were doing.

“This is a continuation [of the first fight],” Scully has said of the April 28th showdown. “I told Chad at the beginning of training camp that we should just pick up where we left off—there’s no reason to do anything different.”

What Dawson did was impose himself. Hopkins is allowed to lose the first round without causing alarm and he’s even allowed to lose the second, but what seems to have struck people about the fight is not that Hopkins lost the rounds but that Dawson seemed to be in the box seat. Dawson was the general. People did not expect to see this, and it has made an impact.

Hopkins began the second round by circling. That was in no way abnormal. But to me, it seemed that Hopkins was taking too many paces, as he did against Joe Calzaghe. Now aged 47 he needs to find economy from somewhere, whether in punch output, mobility, general pacing or the distance of the bout. He needs to assume control of one or more of these aspects to protect his lungs and muscles from fatigue. It is safe to say that Hopkins was not going to knock Dawson out in the third round of their ill-fated first fight (he hasn’t scored a KO since stopping onetime super featherweight champion Oscar De La Hoya in 2004) and therefore it is apparent that Hopkins failed to take control of any of these crucial aspects of economics.

In his most celebrated late-career performance against Pavlik, Hopkins took control of almost all of them, failing by his own admission to stop Pavlik when he attempted to do so in the twelfth, but deciding when they would fight and how fast as well as controlling Pavlik’s forward momentum with his own careful footwork.

Dawson’s combination of reach and southpaw stance troubled Hopkins in this one regard. He was circling more widely than he would have ideally wanted, thereby taking more steps than he would have ideally wanted and generally remaining more mobile than he would have desired. Whilst the pace of the fight was not fierce, that was not the point. The point was that Bernard was not controlling it—Dawson was. Although he missed often with his jab in the second round, Dawson was throwing it with impunity because Hopkins wasn’t throwing much back. To me, he looked too perturbed by his inability to take control of range, and by the impotence of his feints. Dawson remained respectful and at a good slipping distance but he did not react to Bernard’s individual feints on anything like the level that Hopkins is used to.

This is important. Firstly, it means that Dawson isn’t going to be bullied out of position by anything other than real offence, the type that is scored by judges. But it does afford Hopkins an opportunity. Feints, by their very nature, provide disguises for the punches you really want to land. Feints that are consistently ignored can do exactly the same thing—if you know they are going to be ignored.

I respect John Scully as a trainer, fighter and a man, but this is why I felt alarmed for his twenty-nine-year-old charge when I read that he was advising Chad to “just continue to do what we were going to do last time.” I wouldn’t disagree with him that Chad looked the more comfortable of the two in the six minutes they boxed, but I would also point out that Hopkins is modern boxing’s resident ring genius. He’s our Archie Moore. He’s the guy that figures out the other guy and then even though he’s smaller, older, slower, or whatever combination of these handicaps he is suffering on that particular night, he finds a way to put the other guy’s best stuff to bed and win the fight. That’s what he’s known for. That’s what made him great. Now, Scully and Dawson are ready to pit their advantages against a fighter who not only understands them better than anyone in boxing at the first bell, but who has now had six free minutes to make an appraisal followed by six long, seething months to plan his revenge whilst under the type of pressure that has consistently forged diamonds from the coal-face of his boxing. 

So for Dawson, the key to the fight seems to lie in his being flat-out better. He won’t win because he got his tactics right or for any other single reason, he’ll win because he would beat Hopkins every time the pair would meet, because even allowing the master-general specific knowing of his game-plan going in, he can still expect a victory. Sun Tzu it ain’t, but sometimes the art of war is as straightforward as having your opponent outgunned. And there are signs that this is the case. John Scully again:

“I think it was very apparent once they got to the center of the ring how much bigger Chad was. I was even surprised at how big and imposing Chad was. Chad felt that night, and he feels to this day, that he’s just too big and strong for Bernard.”

I agree that their respective sizes were surprising. I was quite shocked to see the two face to face in the ring for the first time and furthermore I was impressed by Dawson’s willingness to mix it up with Hopkins, combating his reputation for rough stuff with some of his own, pinning the older man to the ropes and sticking his forearm across his throat.  Physically, Hopkins looked his years in the sense that he seemed a little fragile, for the first time in his career. When Dawson followed him patiently off those ropes with beautifully balanced stalking footwork and waited for Hopkins to stand his ground before probing with a range-finding jab, I began to wonder for the first time if the rising generations were indeed about to pick off the last great fossil of the last.

In short, Dawson had done his homework. He was patient but probing, he had prepared a beautiful uppercut for when the two mixed it inside, he was tossing additional punches where Hopkins opponents were typically cowed into throwing just one (if any) and he had given Bernard enough to think about that he was neglecting his own offence.

And I have to believe that Hopkins has developed countermeasures for every one of these factors.

Will they work? Therein lays the intrigue in this fight, which is shaping up to be fascinating. It is unquestionable that Hopkins has identified Dawson’s specific advantages and that he has plans for them, so there remains only one question. Can Hopkins neutralize the manifestation of the advantages we all knew Dawson had going into the first fight more readily now those manifestations have been played out for him in the ring?

It’s unknowable in many ways, but Naazim Richardson provided a fine reason for answering in the affirmative:

“Bernard is not only special. Bernard’s a freak of nature. It makes me sometimes question this sport, when people say, ‘You saw what happened early in the Chad fight!’ Did Chad look better in the first round [against Hopkins]? Or did Pascal look better in the first round against Hopkins? I couldn’t believe it when people started trippin’, ‘Chad look like a monster in the first round!’ King Kong look like a monster at the beginning of the movie too, but at the end he didn’t look so hot. Bernard’s a freak of nature. There’s no reason to count him out. You can’t count him out.  You’d be a fool to count him out.”

I won’t count him out. I don’t like Bernard’s apparent obsession with Gary Shaw. Shaw called Hopkins “a pussy” at the post-fight press conference last time out and I think Hopkins thinks it is time for a little payback, producing, as he is, all kinds of rambling accusations concerning Shaw’s relationship with the New Jersey commission. Shaw, of course has been happy to deny these. There most likely is very little truth to them, and more than that if Hopkins has his mind on Gary Shaw, he’s less likely to be thinking about Shaw’s fighter, Chad Dawson.

But my guess is that it doesn’t matter to Hopkins who or what he is fighting against, as long as he is fighting. His blood is up and he has something to prove as never before in his career. With his athleticism Dawson may have uncovered in Hopkins the tipping point where he has become technically unsound (after all, there is nothing sound about launching yourself onto your opponent’s back as opposed to hitting him) and over reliant upon the darker arts which have become steadily more prevalent in his boxing year upon year, but I think those two abandoned rounds fought in LA last October are going to prove to be crucial.

The old man got just enough eye on the young buck to squeeze off one last great shot.

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Face Off: Joe Calzaghe vs Bernard Hopkins

Countdown: Joe Calzaghe vs Bernard Hopkins

The Joe Calzaghe Deception, the night Bernard Hopkins was robbed PART 1

The Joe Calzaghe Deception, the night Bernard Hopkins was robbed PART 2

The Joe Calzaghe Deception, the night Bernard Hopkins was robbed PART 3

Bernard Hopkins vs Oscar de la Hoya 1

Bernard Hopkins vs Oscar de la Hoya 2

Bernard Hopkins vs Oscar de la Hoya 3

Bernard Hopkins vs Oscar de la Hoya 4

Bernard Hopkins vs Oscar de la Hoya 5

Bernard Hopkins vs Oscar de la Hoya 6

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  1. the thresher 10:05am, 04/26/2012

    Nice stuff here by the way. Great read.

    I am now convinced that Boxing.com is THE most prestigeous site out there thanks to the great writers we have and their quality work.

    The posters also know their stuff and are not afraid of tangling with one another. I am proud to be a part of this.

  2. Matt McGrain 09:08am, 04/26/2012

    I agree that the generation isn’t the best there has been, but I also think that totally dominant champions naturally stymie new talent (As prospects become contenders by virtue of the fact that the rest are beaten), but I also have to respectfully stick with my original diagnosis - 19 years between title matches and a period of unparalleled (for the era) dominance spanning most of that time well into a fighters’s 40’s - astonishing.  Or rather, it has astonished me.

  3. mikecasey 08:44am, 04/26/2012

    Yes, he’s fought the best of a generation - a very poor generation. I rest my case. ‘Absolutely astonishing’? I don’t think so. Commendable, yes. Very good, yes.

  4. Matt McGrain 08:33am, 04/26/2012

    Hmmm, that’s undoubtedly factually correct Mike, but in Calzaghe Hopkins met the best the SMW division had to offer in the past 20 years, in Tarver, Dawson and Pascal he’s fought the best of a LHW generation and he totally dominated MW for a number of years…the talent has definitely been spread amongst the divisions but then Hopkins has visited all of the relevant divisions (with the best guy below him who could fit the division, Trinidad, also coming up for a bloody good hiding).  If he wins on Saturday he’ll be the best MW of the late 90’s and 00’s, and the best LHW of the ‘06-‘11.  That would be an absolutely astonishing achievement.

  5. mikecasey 08:00am, 04/26/2012

    I’ve said it before - Hopkins and many others today wouldn’t still be pushing leather in their forties if they were competing in the 1950s or even 1980s. I admire BHop for his constant Hagler-like dedication to training and fitness. But one can’t compare his longevity to that of Archie Moore or Jersey Joe Walcott. Hopkins has prospered from a depressingly barren field of competition in a crazy world of 17 weight divisions and more ‘world champions’ than anyone recite off the cuff. The advent of the super-middle division might have given us some great fights in its short history, but it sucked the quality out of the middleweights and diluted the light heavies too.

  6. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo 06:54am, 04/26/2012

    Joe-Good one….I thought it was pretty exciting when Mills Lane threw him out of the ring in the first Echols fight. I think “manhandled” describes his style to a tee…..yea that’s it… he’s the worlds greatest manhandler! Thanx!

  7. Joe 06:43am, 04/26/2012

    The crown jewel ot his career was beating Tito at the World’s Most Famous Arena.  And I did enjoy how he manhandled Antwun Echols (the dude with 16 kids to feed) a fighter I really thought could beat BHop.

  8. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo 05:58am, 04/26/2012

    O.K…..O.K….he’s the greatest fighter that ever lived….I get it! All the better because that means Calzaghe beat the ATG of ATGs….and by the way if Adelaide Byrd hadn’t been so damn starry eyed that night like some on this site it would have been a UD not a MD which gave Hopkins everlasting whining rights. The story has always been his pressers and weigh-in confrontations and his crazy masks and now his longevity which by the way serves him well win or lose. Some fighters provide more excitement in the ring in one round than he has in his entire career….name his most exciting fight….I didn’t think so….when was the last time he KO’d someone…oh yea…Oscar….you got me there.

  9. Joe 05:34am, 04/26/2012

    I hope the Executioner gets out of the game before he gets Assassinated.

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