LOS ANGELES — Using Ripley’s Believe It or Not! to help promote the Oct. 15 pay-per-view show headlined by the Bernard Hopkins-Chad Dawson light heavyweight championship fight seems like an odd choice by Golden Boy Promotions. But perhaps it fits given Hopkins’ extraordinary accomplishments.
The 93-year-old franchise that deals in bizarre items and strange — seemingly unbelievable — events is not the usual sponsor for a major prize fight. But then Hopkins, who continues to defy Father Time, is far from “usual.”
The 46-year-old light heavyweight champ probably isn’t as unique as the two-headed calf exhibit that tours the Believe It or Not! museums (known as “Odditoriums”), but he’s definitely a rarity.
In the time that Ripley’s has been in existence, how many pro boxers as old as Hopkins have been considered the top fighter in their division and one of the pound-for-pound best in the sport apart from the great Archie Moore? Can’t think of any?
Perhaps Hopkins (52-5-2, 32 knockouts), who became the oldest fighter ever to hold a major title when he dethroned RING and WBC champ Jean Pascal in May, is as much of a freak of nature as that two-headed calf.
Maybe, but Dawson doesn’t believe it.
The 29-year-old former titleholder, who dropped a technical decision to Pascal last August, says he has the talent and style to expose Hopkins as a normal human being.
“Pascal didn’t fight his age, he didn’t fight Hopkins like a young man,” Dawson told the media at Monday’s kick-off press conference at Staples Center, where the Oct. 15 fight will take place. “Pascal fought like an amateur. He fought scared. His (punch) output wasn’t enough to throw Bernard off.
“I’ll let my hands go when I fight him because I know Bernard won’t punch when I’m punching. I’ve never seen Bernard go toe to toe for 12 hard rounds. Maybe he did way back in the day, but now he’s a fighter who likes to pick his spots.”
Hopkins found Dawson’s talk of taking the fight to him amusing given that the speedy southpaw has often been criticized for his lack of aggression.
Dawson allowed Pascal to take the lead on the scorecards by boxing cautiously — some would say passively — during their bout. Although Dawson surged in the late rounds and appeared to rock Pascal in the 11th, the Connecticut native was still behind on points when the fight went to the scorecards after he suffered a bad cut from an accidental head butt in that round.
“That wasn’t the real Chad Dawson,” Dawson said of his performance against Pascal. “I only trained about four weeks for that fight because of outside distractions. I had a lot of personal problems at the time.
“I still could have won the fight. When my corner told me I needed to knock him out to win, I took the fight to him and almost had him out in the 11th round before the head butt happened.”
Maybe, but Hopkins doesn’t believe it.
“Chad says he wasn’t himself because he had a lot of problems,” Hopkins said. “Do you know how many times I fought with personal problems going on? At the end of the day, that’s what separates great champions from regular fighters.
“I never cared what was going on in my personal life. I used whatever was happening, no matter how crazy or distracting it may have been, to energize me to win my fight.”
Hopkins believes Dawson’s excuse for his lone loss exposes a lack of character.
“He’s basically saying that he bails out from any adversity he faces,” Hopkins said. “That’s what he told me with those comments. If I was a psychologist and he said that to me, that would be my diagnosis.
“So what I’ve got to do from now until the fight is give him some problems, and let’s see how he reacts.”
CHASING THE EXECUTIONER
Dawson says he pursued a fight with Hopkins for three years — particularly in 2008 and ‘09, when he twice fought (and out-pointed) two of the former middleweight champ’s rivals, Glen Johnson and Antonio Tarver — but to no avail.
Both Dawson and his promoter, Gary Shaw, believe the only reason Hopkins eventually agreed to face him was because of his loss to Pascal.
Dawson believes the loss gave Hopkins hope that he could handle his blend of speed and skill, especially after the 46-year-old marvel defeated Pascal.
Shaw believes the only reason Hopkins agreed to fight Dawson was because he was contractually obligated to do so, which was part of an agreement to allow the legend to engage Pascal in an immediate rematch of their controversial first fight, which ended in a draw.
There was a rematch clause in Pascal’s contract with Dawson. However, the Montreal-based Haitian was allowed to have one voluntary title defense before he had to fight Dawson again.
Pascal chose Hopkins, and despite scoring two early-rounds knockdowns, he barely held onto his RING and WBC titles thanks to a majority draw in his home province of Quebec.
Fans, the boxing media and the WBC demanded that Pascal give Hopkins an immediate rematch, but to do that he would have to break his contract with Dawson, which Shaw wasn’t about to let happen.
So a deal was struck with Hopkins, the WBC and HBO, which wanted to broadcast Pascal-Hopkins II. Hopkins would get another chance to make history against Pascal in May. But Dawson would fight in the HBO-televised co-feature. And if he beat his opponent (former beltholder Adrian Diaconu), he would get a mandatory shot at the Pascal-Hopkins winner.
“I could have blocked the (Pascal-Hopkins) rematch,” Shaw told writers after Monday‘s press conference. “We could have sued everyone involved, but Hopkins was the ultimate goal, so we made a deal, which is the only reason Bernard took this fight.”
Hopkins, who denies that he ever avoided Dawson, said that the fight makes more sense now than it did two or three years ago, because it’s a bigger event.
He also added that Dawson should be careful of what he wishes for.
“At the end of the day Chad Dawson is going to have to prove that I’ve been ducking him like he says I have when we get in the ring,” Hopkins said. “And if he comes with his A game, I’m going to come with my A game, and I’m not backing up. He’s going to have to fight and trust me, he’s never seen anything like me before.
“He’s going to see what it means to be in the ring with a teacher. I‘m not going to name any names, but some fighters who learn my lessons are never the same after we fight.”
Hopkins was obviously alluding to Kelly Pavlik, who he dominated to a unanimous decision victory in 2008. Pavlik, an undefeated 3-to-1 favorite at the time, never regained the devastating form he exhibited prior to facing Hopkins. The career of the former middleweight champ, who pulled out of a Showtime-televised bout this past Saturday, is currently in jeopardy.
Dawson says he isn’t intimidated by Hopkins’ warning, which he views as pre-fight trash talk that he will have to get used to during the promotion leading into their HBO Pay-Per-View event.
“Tarver talked smack for weeks, too,” Dawson said. “It didn’t help him once we got in the ring.”
Despite his desire to defeat Hopkins and some heated words between the two during their stare down, Dawson says he’s a fan of “The Executioner.”
“After the fight, I’m going to thank him for the opportunity, and then I’m going to ask him for his autograph,” he said. “My son wants his autograph now. He looks up to B-Hop.”
L.A. IS THE PLACE
On Oct. 15, a champion from Philadelphia will defend his 175-pound titles against a challenger from Connecticut in the main event of a card in Los Angeles.
Believe it or not, it just might sell.
The last time Hopkins fought in L.A., close to 14,000 fans filled the Staples Center to witness his record breaking 20th defense of the middleweight title against England’s Howard Eastman in February 2005.
Hopkins, who has never been a big draw in his native Philadelphia, admits that he was surprised by the turnout.
“The only time I’d seen that many fans in the audience for one of my fights was in New York City; everybody was Puerto Rican and they weren‘t rooting for me,” Hopkins said, referring to his 12th-round stoppage of Puerto Rican icon Felix Trinidad at Madison Square Garden in September of 2001. “Here in L.A., they were rooting for me.”
Hopkins is confident that L.A. fans will still be cheering for him when he fights Dawson.
“This is a town of movie stars and most big stars are over 46,” he said. “Most sports fans are in their 40s. The over-40 club is alive and well, and they identify with me because they’re always fighting against up-and-coming 20-year-olds in the corporate world.”
Hopkins expects more fans on Oct. 15 than the 14,000 that showed up six years ago.
“I think I have more fans now,” he said. “I believe I’m better known than I was, so I think it’s possible that we can sellout. In fact, with the undercard that (Golden Boy CEO) Richard (Schaefer) is putting together, I know we’ll sellout the arena.”
Photos by Gene Blevins / Hoganphotos.com-Golden Boy Promotions.