It certainly felt like the end on the dais, where last Saturday night in Atlantic City Bernard Hopkins humbly accepted defeat. Death, taxes and Chad Dawson's winning a big fight on points are among the few certainties in boxing, and less than an hour earlier Hopkins experienced the last, losing a lopsided majority decision. At the postfight press conference, the 47-year-old Hopkins placed the WBC light heavyweight belt on Dawson's shoulder, posed for pictures and shook hands with the new champ's three children before quietly slipping off the stage.
It felt like the end in the ring, where Hopkins was simply outclassed. Operating behind a textbook jab, Dawson, 29, peppered Hopkins from a distance and scored with precision punches inside. What Dawson—who improved his record to 31--1 with just 17 knockouts—lacks in style, he makes up for in skill, a polished, schooled approach that is difficult to break down. Hopkins was Hopkins, showboating with shoulder shrugs and tongue wags, using head butts and, in the 11th round, a WWE-style takedown. But in the end he just did not have enough substance. "Hopkins is a master of old-school tactics," said Dawson's trainer, John Scully. "It's almost impossible to knock him out. But when Chad turned on the pressure, he knew he was going to beat him."
It felt like the end, but was it? Hopkins doesn't seem ready to quit. In an improbable, 24-year career, he has accomplished plenty: He was the longest-reigning middleweight champion and the oldest man to win a major title. He is financially secure, with a minority stake in Golden Boy Promotions that will ensure that the paychecks keep coming. Yet when asked if it was time to walk away, Hopkins said, "When the day comes, I'll leave with dignity." When asked about the future, Hopkins added, "There are a lot of people who will fight me."
There are, of course. Hopkins is a name, and a name means money. He admitted he is eyeing the winner of this month's super middleweight matchup between Lucian Bute and Carl Froch, while light heavyweight titleholders Nathan Cleverly and Beibut Shumenov would happily be the B side of a B-Hop promotion. "If there is something that moves me to prove," says Hopkins, "I will try my best to prove it."
With his slick defense and grappling style, Hopkins could conceivably fight until he is 50. But his performance on Saturday made one thing clear: There are fighters Hopkins can compete with—brawlers such as Kelly Pavlik and Jean Pascal—and others, like the efficient, cagey Dawson, with whom he cannot. "It's over with," says veteran trainer Emanuel Steward.
It felt like the end, and it ought to be. Hopkins should retire now, with his dignity still intact.
Bernard Hopkins Through the Years
[The following text appears within a chart. Please see hardcopy or PDF for actual chart.]
1990 2000 2010
Beats Segundo Mercado to claim IBF middleweight title, kicking off 11-year, record 20-title defense reign
KO's Felix Trinidad to become first undisputed middleweight champ since Marvin Hagler, in '87
Scores biggest win of career, ninth-round KO of Oscar De La Hoya
As heavy underdog with everything on line, blows out Kelly Pavlik, reigniting career
Defeats light heavyweight champion Jean Pascal, becoming—at 46—the oldest man to win major world title
Fresh out of Pennsylvania's Graterford Prison after serving nearly five years for strong-arm robbery, loses pro debut to Clinton Mitchell
After winning next 22 bouts, loses in first title fight, to Roy Jones Jr. at middleweight
Loses second straight fight to Jermain Taylor, ending career as a middleweight
Badly beaten by Chad Dawson
AL BELLO/GETTY IMAGES
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH