To boxing's vocal army of cynics, Saturday's light heavyweight title bout between Bernard Hopkins and Chad Dawson offers plenty of reasons for skepticism.
Not only are both fighters often criticized for unexciting styles, HBO's well-publicized budget issues made it necessary for the network to air the fight as a pay-per-view offering. That's clearly not a good thing for all, especially considering Dawson's lack of marketability (a mandatory title shot owed by the WBC may be the only reason he's in this fight) and the fact that two East Coast fighters are trying to sell out an arena in Los Angeles.
To borrow a phrase from the fight's promotional tagline, many were left saying, "Believe it or not ... this fight costs $54.99" and "believe it or not ... if you thought Hopkins versus Winky Wright wasn't PPV-worthy, wait until you see this!"
But in both life and boxing, one fan's trash is another's treasure. To the trained eye, Hopkins-Dawson offers plenty of attractive stylistic and historical possibilities. Here are five reasons it's a fight worth paying for:
1. Watch the living legend ... while you still can.
For the past 10 years, Hopkins has consistently defied the odds in career-defining fights against younger fighters. That's a nice way of saying "The Executioner" just won't go away. Time and again, Hopkins signed on to play the underdog in fights most expected would be his last. These days, at 46, any loss could mean the end. A convincing Dawson victory strips Hopkins of his lineal title and likely dries up his pool of potential dance partners, including talk (however unlikely it may be) of a catchweight bout with middleweight champion Sergio Martinez.
Moreover, during his twilight run at 175 pounds, Hopkins has evolved into a borderline exciting fighter, forced to trade in his methodical style for that of a pressure fighter. With apologies to Floyd Mayweather Jr., he's also the smartest fighter in the game, a master at psyching out his opponents. Any fight involving Hopkins at this point is must-see. What he has accomplished after age 40 isn't just once-in-a-generation impressive, it's unheard of. He has improbably shattered his own ceiling of limitations so dramatically that we are left to watch in awe what he'll do next.
2. This could (finally) be the fight Dawson realizes how good he is.
There are certain facts about Dawson's innate abilities that are indisputable. Few fighters are more physically talented: Long, lean and in supreme shape, Dawson is a gifted southpaw blessed with speed and power, once prompting Mayweather to coin him the best pure boxer in the sport. So what's missing? That's the million dollar question that four different trainers have tried to solve in recent years. You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone as successful as Dawson appear so thoroughly disinterested. He has often sleepwalked through fights and has shown little killer instinct since surviving an all-out slugfest with Glen Johnson in 2008.
Dawson recently made a highly criticized switch from Hall of Fame trainer Emanuel Steward to John Scully, who trained him for three fights from 2004-05. Parting ways with a legend might compromise most fighters' potential, but Dawson is mercurial enough that removing expectations and pressure could have a positive effect. He has talked at length about returning to the "Bad" Chad of old under Scully's direction. There is no better time than now, at age 29, for Dawson to realize his full potential against the same legend he has called out publicly for years.
3. Chess anyone?
Although critics of Hopkins-Dawson envision 12 rounds of clinching, even a worst-case scenario void of action still offers the purest of contrasting styles for any true boxing fan. Dawson, a classic boxer/puncher featuring an excellent jab, makes for an intriguing opponent against Hopkins and his defensive-minded, counterpunching style and newfound love, the lead right hand. Can the old man get on his bicycle to win the chess match against yet another younger fighter in his prime?
4. Because there is more history to be made (maybe).
After a victory in May over Pascal made him the oldest boxer in history to win a major world title, Hopkins stated numerous times he'll only keep fighting if there is history to be made. Well, depending on which report you believe, Hopkins has a chance to become the oldest fighter to successfully defend a world title. The great Archie Moore defeated Giulio Rinaldi to defend the world light heavyweight title on June 10, 1961 at Madison Square Garden. What's up for debate is Moore's age at the time, which some believe to have been 47. Moore, who died in 1998 at the age of 81, was actually one who disagreed with that claim. With much of the details surrounding his early life clouded in mystery, Moore, along with many boxing record books, assert that he was born in 1916, which would have made him 44 at the time of the Rinaldi fight. Moore's mother and extended family argued he was actually born in 1913. Whether a Hopkins win Saturday breaks new ground or simply puts him one fight closer, historical implications apply.
5. An action fight to remember. (I'm kidding, right?)
Maybe not. Dawson's inability to sell tickets has made it easy for Hopkins to "avoid" him over the past five years. That's not the only reason, however. While Pascal's absent jab and poor technique made it possible for a technical savant like Hopkins -- far from a big puncher at this weight class -- to defeat a man 18 years his junior, Dawson's skill set doesn't offer such luxuries.
It's accepted by most (including Vegas oddsmakers) that Dawson, with a long, piston-like jab and a strong amateur pedigree, is the type of fighter most suited to cause Hopkins problems. He won't be able to get into Dawson's head as he did with the emotional Pascal, mostly because nobody knows exactly what's going on inside Chad's brain. Hopkins' best chance of rattling him is to become the hunter and go for broke with well-timed flurries. He'll also need to utilize all of the old tricks in his arsenal -- yes, the same tricks that labeled him "dirty" for years. Hopkins began planting seeds during the prefight buildup by attacking Dawson's lack of excitement and passion. He knows a boring Dawson equals a boring fight and, likely, a loss. "The Executioner" proved in his victory over Pascal that his chin is still strong, and he'll have to put it to the test again by brawling with Dawson if he expects to win.