Friday, October 14, 2011

The Master Of Go


I get excited when Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao fight; I get nervous when Bernard Hopkins fights.

A young fighter is allowed a bad night, (or he used to be, now – more often – he was, “exposed,” though that’s a different story) an old fighter has a bad night and he’s shot.

And Bernard Hopkins is an old fighter. They tried to put him out to pasture seven years ago in two fights against Jermain Taylor. They were close bouts, but we all know the story there. If Taylor had been Howard Eastman, or some random African guy Hopkins would have won the decisions.

Instead, Taylor was HBO’s new project, while Hopkins was just a black pensioner with an attitude problem.

But look where we are, seven years later and right back where we started from. Strangely, it’s Taylor who has suffered the deeper hurt in the intervening years, just now getting his boxing license reinstated after the type of brain-rattling toe curlers that make even fans of the hurt business squeamish. Hopkins has gone from an ancient forty to an antediluvian forty-six - still outspoken and still not particularly beloved - and who does he have across from him?

Another HBO product, though this one, I fear, with a little more substance. Chad Dawson is a good boxer and a fine athlete.

And that’s why I hate this fight, always have, ever since Dawson’s people first started agitating for it. Hopkins is a remarkable specimen, a true marvel and historical aberration, but forty-six is forty-six, and there are creaks in those bones and joints that no amount of discipline and ice packs and heat wraps can cure.

If you had to describe a fighter who’d give the elderly Hopkins trouble it would be something quite like Chad Dawson. Fast hands, good footwork, and the ability to throw punches in bunches.

It’s the last that’s the troubling thing. Punch for punch I still don’t think there is a fighter in the sport that can beat Hopkins, but sometimes it’s a numbers game, and again, forty-six is real.

I had Hopkins beating Taylor in both fights, and winning against Calzaghe, but in each fight it was the quick hands and the volume punching that allowed the fight to be taken from him. Hopkins landed the better shots, which is how I score a fight, but he just couldn’t slow the pace to his liking and lost it on the margins.

Chad Dawson has the capacity to snow Hopkins in. He is a fluid combination puncher - I believe the finest north of the welters – and if he lets his hands go Bernard Hopkins doesn’t have enough to keep up with him. That’s it, really, Bernard’s highest level isn’t equal to Chad Dawson if he really lets his hands go.


But we all know that the possible and the actual is the distance between bereavement and grace, and there’s only one high holy going to be in the ring on Saturday night.

Chad Dawson knows how to box, Bernard Hopkins understands boxing. Do you see the distinction? It’s the difference between true art and forgery, the genuine versus the gifted mimic.

Dawson is a head case and doesn’t have a drop of blood running through those veins above room temperature, whereas Hopkins is all bone tough and darkest desire. Hopkins is a genuine BAD MAN and a master of rolling the dirty dice. If the vessel Hopkins rides in is no more than a tugboat, well, he’s still at the helm of it; and there never was a finer captain set forth on dangerous seas.

If there’s a trick or a scam or a game that can get into Dawson’s wandering mind Bernard Hopkins will find it and exploit it. I can see him doing it one last time. The Master Of Go, settled at HIS table, and placing the stones down with a deeper wisdom.


Still, it has to come to an end, and I expect it will on Saturday night. I expect another unsatisfying affair, where Hopkins does the better work but Dawson does more work and the younger man gets the decision.

I can already feel my blood boiling a bit. I’m a true believer in the science of “clean punching,” but we live in a world ruled by the faith of“effective aggression.” I’d burn the tabernacle if I could, but alas.

Still, there’s something about this one that, though, perilous, feels almost beside the point. Bob Dylan could put out another great album, but would it really change your opinion of him? There’s nothing left to prove, really.

Bernard Hopkins has won. He is the Grand Old Champion. In the way old politicians and whores become venerable, Hopkins has run along the outside of the track and pulled ahead in the end. The most respected fighter of his generation.

I felt that when he lifted the light heavyweight crown from the Canadian, Jean Pascal, earlier this year. That was it, that was enough. It was his valediction.

I’d like even more from Bernard, and I never want to see him embarrassed. But if this one is a step too far, a wrong match for an aging bachelor, well that’s fine, too. He proved his point long ago.


Chad Dawson UD 115-113 Bernard Hopkins

1 comment:

purephase said...

Loved this piece, especially the decrying of terrible workrate-based scoring in the US.

I've been going back and forth on this fight over the past few weeks. In the immediate aftermath of the Pascal rematch and another uninspired Dawson performance, I was sure Hopkins would win. I saw Hopkins landing rights at will, and if Diacanou could actually stun Dawson, then he would be in even bigger trouble against a guy with the IQ of Hopkins. The subsequent news that Dawson was breaking up with Steward should have made this even more of a sure thing; one does not change trainers right before entering the ring against the smartest fighter of this generation, no matter how old he may be. This is especially bad news given the fact that Dawson managed to look dumber than Jean Pascal of all people in their fight last year.

But then I look back at the style match-up and all of the things you mentioned and I start having second thoughts. Dawson may have his mental lapses and may go through stretches of passive, uncreative offense, but he's not the four-round fighter that Pascal was. He'll at the very least be pumping the jab constantly, and while it's a pretty average punch, it may be enough to prevent Bernard from getting enough of his own shots off.

Like I said, I don't have a clear view of how this fight is going to play out. I did think Hopkins looked pretty lean at the weigh-in, so he might be planning on using some of the same movement that caused Dawson so many problems against Pascal. As a partisan for Hopkins, I think the scenario you've outlined is maybe the last thing I'd want to see; I'm not sure I could stand seeing him be denied the benefit of the doubt yet again. If Hopkins has to lose, I'd prefer it to be by Dawson finally fighting with the kind of urgency that's been absent from his entire career. I know that might be like expecting a leopard to change its spots, but this is his dream fight.