Saturday, October 15, 2011

Hopkins-Dawson: Five Scenarios

This "Scenarios" preview piece will look at the most likely outcomes for the Bernard Hopkins-Chad Dawson fight.  Next to each scenario will be a percentage, which indicates the likelihood of that specific outcome happening.  Interestingly, for this fight, Hopkins winning by decision may be the most probably outcome, but Dawson might have more ways to win the match.  Ultimately, this fight, where Dawson is a slight favorite according to odds makers, is a virtual toss-up, with both boxers having legitimate chances to win.

Scenario #1.  Hopkins defeats Dawson by close decision.  35%
This outcome is based on Hopkins' mental toughness and his ability to pull out tough fights.  The magic number for Hopkins, who often fights in spurts, is seven; he needs to establish seven rounds where the judges prefer his work in the ring over Dawson's.  For Hopkins to achieve this goal, he must reduce Dawson's punch output. When comfortable, Dawson has a high work rate, featuring mostly his southpaw jab and some crisp and fluid combinations. Dawson is also a rhythm fighter, working in and out of the pocket, most often refusing to engage in lengthy exchanges.

In this Scenario, Hopkins fights Dawson in the trenches, using all of his inside fighting moves and tricks – holding, grappling, short uppercuts, and kidney punches – to wear down his opponent.  Hopkins mauls Dawson on the inside, taking the younger fighter out of his comfort zone. This match won't be aesthetically pleasing but it will be Hopkins' best way of slowing down the fight.

On the outside, Hopkins' lead right and counter right hands will be his key punches.  Dawson will go through some periodic funks in the ring, where he lets his activity level drop. During these pauses, Hopkins will capitalize with his pinpoint lead right.  Additionally, Dawson will extend some lazy jabs, which Hopkins counters with piercing right hands.

Many of these rounds could be tough to score but Hopkins pulls out the decision with his clean punches and aggressiveness.

Scenario #2.  Dawson defeats Hopkins by close decision.  25%
Here, Dawson establishes more separation from Hopkins because of his high work rate and fluid combinations.  As the Jermain Taylor and Joe Calzaghe fights demonstrated, Hopkins can become too defensive when facing opponents with high activity levels.  He exerts too much effort in avoiding punches instead of establishing his own offense.  If Dawson can keep his punch volume up and use the ring to his advantage, he can put rounds in the bank with his clean punching and ring generalship.  There might be many rounds in this Scenario where Hopkins only throws 20-30 punches per frame.

In the first few rounds of the match, both boxers will try to impose their stylistic imprint on the fight.  If Dawson can maintain his high output and keep Hopkins on the end of his jab, there will be many rounds where Hopkins just won't put together enough offense to win.  Additionally, by establishing his rhythm, moving in and out of the pocket with fluidity, Dawson will frustrate Hopkins, who will ineffectually follow him around the ring without landing anything of substance.

Scenario #3.  Dawson defeats Hopkins by wide decision.  15%
This is the "Hopkins grows old" Scenario. It is certainly possible that Dawson, who is in his physical prime at 29, puts together a performance that precludes Hopkins from establishing any offense.  Dawson has the athletic and technical capabilities to dominate any fighter at light heavyweight.  The questions concerning Dawson have always centered on his mental makeup.  Does he have the will to dominate?  Is there that killer instinct?

Throughout his career, Dawson, when facing top competition, has performed erratically, and often without passion.  He has gone through several trainers and has not demonstrated the psychological consistency or emotional will to ascend to the elite rungs of the sport.  To this point, his focus and determination have not yet caught up to his physical skills.  Nevertheless, the talent has always been there.  It's certainly possible that Dawson puts everything together and delivers the type of performance that boxing observers have been expecting from him for years.

If this outcome happens, Dawson would land at will and his speed and athleticism would be too much for Hopkins to handle.  This Scenario would also illustrate further deterioration in Hopkins' defense, reflexes and stamina – all of which showed some signs of decline during his fights with Jean Pascal.  Here, Dawson coasts to a victory, facilitating Hopkins' retirement.

Scenario #4.  Hopkins and Dawson draw.  15%
Over the last decade, Hopkins has fought a number of matches that could have been draws, including both Taylor fights, the first Pascal bout and his meeting with Joe Calzaghe.  Because of his judicious punch output and lower activity level, Hopkins often finds himself in close fights.  Against Dawson, he faces similar circumstances that led to the tight decisions in these earlier fights.  He meets a younger, more athletic opponent who features a high work rate.  In almost all of his close fights, Hopkins falls behind early on the scorecards before turning the fight in his favor during its second half.

For a draw to occur in this fight, it's most likely that the script from Hopkins' earlier, close fights will remain the same.  Dawson will build up an early lead based on his work from the outside and clean connects.  Hopkins will gradually wear Dawson down on the inside, and his counterpunching will dissuade his opponent from throwing too many shots.  The final rounds will be up-for-grabs, where both fighters will have their opportunities to impress the judges: Dawson with his combinations and Hopkins with his potent, single-shot right hands.  Ultimately, in this Scenario, the fight will be a tale of two halves; Dawson establishes the early lead and Hopkins closes the show, leading to a draw.

Scenario #5.  Other.  10%
1. Fight stopped on cuts. When a conventional and a southpaw boxer meet in close quarters, there is a definite possibility of a fight stopping because of cuts. Although Dawson and Hopkins themselves have not had a history of cutting, their opponents certainly have.  Strategically, Hopkins wants this fight to be an inside war of attrition.  In addition, he has been known to use his head to lead exchanges.  Most likely the cut(s) in question for this fight will occur because of an accidental or "accidental" head butt, and not a punch.  Thus, when the match is stopped (before or after the fourth round) will determine if the fight will have a winner, or if it will be ruled a no-contest.  2. Hopkins wins a wide decision. This is the Pavlik or Tarver Scenario, whereby Hopkins is able to completely fluster his opponent and make Dawson too gun shy to throw punches.  Here, Hopkins would hurt Dawson early with a right hand and beat him up on the inside.  Dawson would then go into escape or survival mode, unwilling to launch enough offense to be competitive.  3. Dawson wins by disqualification. Hopkins is a proud man and he may not want to hang around if he is getting thoroughly outclassed.  If the match is going badly for him, in this Scenario, he decides to end it with an assortment of fouls – most likely low blows or head butts – that forces the referee to disqualify him.  4. Dawson wins by knockout. Although not a puncher by any means, in this Scenario, Dawson lands a nice counter left hand or right hook that drops Hopkins and the older man can't beat the count; his legs have gone.  5. Hopkins wins by knockout. Not having scored a stoppage victory since 2004, Hopkins winning by knockout would seem like an unlikely outcome.  However, Dawson has tasted the canvas before against Tomasz Adamek and he was certainly stunned in his first fight against Glen Johnson.  In this Scenario, Hopkins hurts Dawson with a lead right hand and immediately rushes in with power shots to the body and head, forcing the ref to wave off the fight when Dawson is no longer able to defend himself.

Dawson immediately establishes his game plan out of the gate.  He features jabs, lateral movement and quick combinations that score points.  Hopkins, not respecting Dawson's power, tries to set traps, luring Dawson into range for his counter right hands.  However, the younger boxer is able to dictate the fight with his rhythm, ring generalship and high punch output.  Dawson boxes beautifully through the first few rounds, engaging Hopkins only in spots, but landing enough flush combinations to score points with the judges.  Dawson's foot speed keeps him out of trouble.  Hopkins, although active, grows increasingly frustrated and follows Dawson around the ring, without landing much of substance.

In the fourth or fifth round, Hopkins changes the complexion of the fight with a few, menacing lead right hands.  Immediately, Dawson fights more defensively while Hopkins starts to close the distance.  The middle-to-late rounds of the fight are almost all Hopkins' rounds, where he lands clean, single shots (right hands and left hooks) and imposes his physicality upon Dawson.

In the 11th round, after being berated by his corner, Dawson makes a late charge and the championship rounds are competitive with Dawson picking up his punch volume just enough to call the rounds into question.  However, his final rally won't be enough to win the decision.

Hopkins defeats Dawson 115-113, or 7 rounds to 5.

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