Friday, April 27, 2012

Hopkins-Dawson II: Keys to the Fight

After the first Bernard Hopkins-Chad Dawson fight ended unceremoniously with Dawson body slamming Hopkins into the ground in the second round, some bad blood has built up between the two fighters. Dawson and his assorted team members have claimed that Hopkins quit and exaggerated his shoulder injury (of course that begs the question of why Hopkins would agree to another bout against Dawson if he really wanted to get out of their first fight). Both boxers have assumed uncharacteristic positions in the buildup to the fight. Dawson, usually taciturn, has taken the offensive, predicting a knockout. Hopkins, who has never shied away from a microphone, has remained virtually silent throughout the promotion. 

Hopkins is in a familiar place in his career: he's the underdog and practically every member of the boxing media is picking against him. In similar situations in the past, such as fights against Felix Trinidad, Antonio Tarver and Kelly Pavlik, Hopkins thrived, but at 47, does he have one more rousing performance left? Hopkins always has used negativity for motivation while Dawson knows that this is his chance to cement himself as the top light heavyweight in the world. Read below for the keys to the fight. My prediction will be at the end of the article.

1. Keep those hands moving.
If Dawson can throw 50+ punches per round, he will win the fight. That sounds like a rather simplistic perception of the bout, but that number tells us a lot. In the first fight, Hopkins was successful in reducing Dawson's punch output; it was a Hopkins pace. However, if Dawson is active, that means he is confident. It also demonstrates that he isn't paying too much respect to Hopkins' countering ability. These are good things for Dawson.

Conversely, if Dawson's output is low, that would indicate that he's thinking too much in the ring and that he's tentative. That's a type of fight that Hopkins can win. On paper, Dawson has all of the athletic and physical advantages. Unfortunately, physique and agility don't necessarily win fights.

For Hopkins, he cannot expect to win a decision throwing fewer than 30 punches a round. Even though his connects are often more impressive than his opponents, boxing judges do not reward inactivity. When Hopkins has run into trouble on the scorecards (Jermain Taylor, Joe Calzaghe), he was significantly outworked in terms of punch volume. Hopkins must throw enough to let judges give him rounds. If he spends too much time worrying about defense, he'll come up short.

2. Will Dawson fight with urgency?
Dawson has a bad habit of going on cruise control. Whether taking off a round, getting 30-second rests within rounds or failing to step on the gas, Dawson sometimes seems content to eke out rounds and not press the action. He rarely goes for the jugular. Although he has an excellent record (30-1), this strategy has backfired on occasion. He was cruising along in his first fight against Glen Johnson until he got hit with some enormous right hands. He was winning every round against Tomasz Adamek until he got knocked down late in the fight. He didn't turn on the jets against Pascal until it was too late. If Dawson hurts Hopkins, he must press forward and seize his opportunities. These are risks he has to take and he can't afford to lose focus.    

It's imperative for Dawson to win each round and win them decisively. The longer he lets Hopkins stick around in the fight, the more that could go wrong. This is Dawson's biggest test. Does he have the psychological fortitude to dominate a fighter who might be there for the taking? Will he even attempt to find out? Hopkins will have his moments; it's up to Dawson to minimize them. 

3. Can Hopkins make a dent in the early rounds?
Hopkins has often given away rounds early in fights. He uses this time to size up his opponents, lay traps and figure out openings for later rounds. However, at 47, it's unrealistic to expect him to score a shutout in the second half of the fight. He must win at least two of the first six rounds of the fight to have a shot at the decision. Remember, in Hopkins' last full fight against Jean Pascal, it was Pascal who was the fresher fighter down the stretch. Hopkins must not fall behind too much in the early rounds of the fight.

4. Will Dawson fight his fight?
Even though Dawson had success in their first bout with a few left hands, he fought at Hopkins' tempo. Dawson needs to fight in his style: move in and out, throw quick combinations and look for opportune moments to cause damage. If Dawson gets into a battle of perfect punch placement, he runs the risk of losing the war. He must stay fluid and fight within himself. A staring contest would be the wrong fight for him.

5. What else can Hopkins pull out of his bag of tricks?
Dawson, his trainer John Scully and just about everyone in boxing knows that Hopkins is looking to land his lead or counter right hand. In truth, Hopkins is going to need something in addition to those punches to win. He had some success in the first Pascal fight with his jab. He still features a short left hook on occasion. Ultimately, Hopkins won't be able to feint his way to a victory; he's going to have to land.

6. What will be the referee and judges’ influence on the outcome of the fight?

This fight features top boxing officials. Eddie Cotton (New Jersey) is the referee, and he's excellent. He likes to stay out of the way when he can. However, he won't let the fight devolve into a hugfest. He'll break them up and make sure the amount of clinching does not go overboard.

Three excellent judges were selected for the fight: Dick Flaherty (Massachusetts, although works a lot in Connecticut), Luis Rivera (New York, but judges often in New Jersey) and Steve Weisfeld (New Jersey). All three are experienced in world title fights and do not have strong biases like a Julie Lederman (who reflexively favors the aggressive fighter). That doesn't mean they will turn in perfect cards, but they are competent and neutral arbiters.

This may be an ugly, ugly fight. Hopkins will look to reduce the activity level in the fight and it will be up to Dawson to force the action. Many of the rounds will most likely feature few solid connected punches and it will be a difficult fight to score. Dawson will get out to an early lead because of his higher volume of punches and superior ring generalship. Hopkins will pick spots later in the fight to land his punches and let his hands go. Will Hopkins do enough to earn the victory or will his late-round rally fall just short of getting the decision?

Ultimately, I believe that Dawson's advantages in activity and landed punches, irrespective of whether they are that powerful or damaging, will be enough to carry the day, but I bet one of the judges will be relatively kind to Hopkins' effort.

Chad Dawson wins by majority decision.

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