Tarver uniquely suited to call Hopkins-Dawson
Bernard Hopkins was all but counted out when he met Antonio Tarver for the light heavyweight title in 2006.
Not only was Hopkins 41 years old and coming off back-to-back losses to Jermain Taylor, he was also moving up two weight classes to compete at light heavyweight. In addition, Tarver was coming off a victory over Roy Jones Jr. and was regarded as one of the two or three best pound-for-pound fighters in the world.
Few gave Hopkins a chance to win and there were many who had a legitimate fear that he would be injured.
Not only was Hopkins not injured, though, he routed Tarver in stunningly one-sided fashion. Few expected that, least of all Tarver.
“Hopkins is very, very good at what he does,” said Tarver, who is becoming an elite boxing analyst for Showtime. “He’s not the most fluid, stylistic boxer you’ve ever seen, but he’s one of the most cagey, cagey guys you’d ever want to fight. He’s seen more styles – and solved more styles – than anybody. He gets in situations where you think he has no chance, and somehow, he figures it out and comes out on top.”
Hopkins is a slight 7-5 underdog again, this time as a 46-year-old, when he puts his Ring and World Boxing Council light heavyweight belts on the line Saturday against 29-year-old Chad Dawson in the main event of an HBO Pay-Per-View card at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Tarver, who also lost two decisions to Dawson in light heavyweight title matches in Las Vegas, said he’d be shocked if boxing’s oldest champion ever is able to pull off another upset.
Tarver, who won a minor cruiserweight title in February by dominating and then stopping Danny Green in Australia, said the combination of Hopkins’ age and Dawson’s youth, speed and boxing skill should result in a Dawson victory.
Hopkins is coming off a brilliant performance in a victory over Jean Pascal to win the WBC belt in May, the same Pascal who took the title from Dawson in 2010.
That performance, and a draw with Pascal in December, may have obscured the fact that Hopkins is in decline, he noted. Tarver noted that prior to meeting Pascal, Hopkins faced Jones in a bout that was widely panned. Both men were urged to retire after that April 3, 2010, bout in Las Vegas that Hopkins won by a lackluster 12-round decision.
“When you look at the Roy Jones fight Hopkins had, it wasn’t thrilling, it wasn’t exciting and nothing really happened in that fight,” Tarver said. “They waltzed around and they both looked like old men. But when you saw Hopkins against Pascal, he looked like a different fighter, for whatever reason.”
[Related: Video: Hopkins’ greatest hits ]
Tarver, though, isn’t sure that Pascal is a particularly great fighter and suggested that may have contributed to how good Hopkins looked in those two bouts. He also noted that Dawson was beset by a series of problems, including issues with his manager, prior to his fight with Pascal.
And so while Tarver went to great lengths to praise Hopkins for accomplishing what he has at such an advanced boxing age, he said it stretches logic to think he can do that against an elite young fighter like Dawson.
“I just feel that personally, that Hopkins has done well and at 46 years old, wow, what he has done is unbelievable,” Tarver said. “That said, I just think Dawson is too talented, too young, and I think he’s just too good. That’s just my take on it after being in the ring with both guys.”
Tarver said he had his own personal issues when he faced Hopkins and wasn’t himself in that bout. But he said he was ready for his bouts with Dawson and still came up short.
He’s convinced he did far better than the judges’ cards would indicate in their second match, when Dawson won by scores of 117-111 twice and 116-112, but he came away very impressed with Dawson.
Dawson can fight at a high work rate, Tarver noted, but Hopkins cannot. He said if he were training Dawson, he’d urge him to come out quickly and force Hopkins to fight early. Hopkins, he said, will look to fight in spurts.
“When you get older, you’re mostly looking for spots,” Tarver said. “You’re looking to time things. You’re not looking to go out there with reckless abandon and rely on your conditioning to win you the fight. You’re going to have to pick your spots, because you’re 40-something years old. That’s just the way it goes. We’re not going to be able to go out there and throw caution to the wind and think, ‘OK, we’re just going to match this guy in endurance and conditioning.’ It’s not going to happen.
“A 26-, 27-year-old body is just a lot different than a 46-year-old man. It’s just different. It’s not that it makes Chad greater than him, but you’re talking about a guy who is 17 years younger than Bernard. I know age is just a number, and I’m the first one to say that, but you have to pick your opponents. You can’t pick a guy who is fast and young and who has stamina and endurance and boxing ability.”
Not surprisingly, Tarver expects Dawson to win, and said he wouldn’t be shocked if Dawson became the first man to stop Hopkins during his lengthy career.
“I think Hopkins will look his age and lose badly,” Tarver said. “That’s not a knock on his legacy. He was one of the greats of all time, but I just think that you can only go to the well one too many times. This guy he is fighting is different than Pascal.
“Chad is a gifted boxer. Pascal is a bit more of an ordinary fighter. [Pascal] has a big heart, but the talent is much different. Chad knows he’s young and stronger, so you don’t go play chess. You lose that way. He’s going to go out and use his talent and ability and all the physical advantages he has, and I think he’ll make Bernard look like a 46-year-old man.”
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