ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – Bernard Hopkins has spent nearly a quarter of a century in the fight racket and no one has him figured out just yet.
He lost a majority decision Saturday and his World Boxing Council and Ring light heavyweight title belts to Chad Dawson before 7,705 at Boardwalk Hall and a national television audience on HBO.
Still, even in victory, it was clear Dawson didn't figure him out. Though Dawson was 18 years younger and far quicker, there wasn't one easy round in the fight, a rematch of a bout that ended in controversy in October.
The only controversy this time, and it was a mild one, was over the scoring. Judge Luis Rivera called it a draw, scoring it 114-114. He was overruled by Dick Flaherty and Steve Weisfeld who, like Yahoo! Sports, had it 117-111 for Dawson.
But Hopkins forced Dawson to battle for every inch of the ring and never seemed to tire. Hopkins fought his first bout only a few months after Dawson turned 6 – not 16, but 6 – and was still firing away in an eventful 12th round.
"I can see why he's a legend and why he's a Hall of Famer," Dawson said at the post-fight news conference, nodding respectfully toward Hopkins.
Hopkins nodded as Dawson spoke and then added later, "You saw a 47-year-old fight his [expletive] off against a young, strong champion."
The media surely doesn't have a clue as to what he's thinking. After the loss, it seemed logical that, with no other big fights looming and nothing left to prove, he would take the opportunity to step away and begin the five-year countdown for his induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
The guy who once said he wouldn't fight past 40 in order to keep a promise to his mother, is now moving ever so close to 50 and still hasn't opted to quit. In a career filled with astonishing achievements and astounding records, he may set one more mark by becoming the first active boxer to be eligible to carry a card from the American Association of Retired Persons.
Hopkins said he'll weigh his options before making a decision. He mentioned International Boxing Federation super middleweight champion Lucian Bute, who fights Carl Froch on May 26, as a potential opponent. He talked repeatedly about looking for a match that would make him want to go through the grind of training camp again, but he was non-committal whether Saturday would be the final bout of his extraordinary career.
"If the motivation is something significant, and I can prove, again, that I'm worthy … but I'll let the chips fall where they might fall," Hopkins said.
As he was in the ring after the fight awaiting the announcement of the official decision, he paced back and forth along the ropes, shouting to reporters who'd covered his fights for years. He was angry at what he felt was an inordinately long time to tally the scores.
He didn't complain much afterward, though he did say he thought the result would be "worst-case scenario, a draw."
He was melancholy at the post-fight news conference. He apologized for the harsh words he spoke in the pre-fight build-up and lavished praise upon Dawson. He declined to address his plans or his place in history, preferring instead to talk about "Bernard the man."
Despite his advancing age, Hopkins didn't take a lot of punches on Saturday. Dawson held a slight 151-106 edge in total punches according to CompuBox, but he never landed one blow that had Hopkins in trouble.
"He's a very smart guy and he knows what he's doing in there," Dawson said. "He's hard to figure out."
That's true both inside and outside of the ring.
Hopkins may fight again. And then again, he may not. The thing that makes him great as a fighter is also what makes him so difficult to decipher: He never does what one expects and he's never where he's expected to be.
Sooner or later, he'll have to retire.
The only thing that is certain is that when he decides to walk away, it's going to be on his terms and his terms only.
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