- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- Twenty-four years after Bernard Hopkins lost his four-round pro debut at the Resorts International, not too far down the boardwalk from Boardwalk Hall, he lost a majority decision and the light heavyweight world championship to Chad Dawson on Saturday night.
Hopkins is now 47, and maybe he will hang up his gloves after being soundly outpointed by a bigger, younger and faster Dawson.
Whatever Hopkins does, nobody can take away what came in between those two losses, separated by nearly a quarter of a century, as he became one of the great fighters in boxing history.
He became the undisputed middleweight champion in a seminal knockout of Felix Trinidad in 2001 and made 20 overall title defenses, a record in one of boxing's most hallowed divisions.
He was also a two-time light heavyweight champion, claiming the title for the second time 11 months ago by outpointing Jean Pascal to become the oldest fighter (age 46) in boxing history to win a world title.
There were also the big upsets of Kelly Pavlik and Antonio Tarver -- both coming at Boardwalk Hall -- and many more impressive victories.
But it has reached the point where it will be hard for Hopkins to consistently beat men so much younger. It's not as if Dawson, a champion again at age 29, fought that great of a fight. But he certainly did more than enough to beat Hopkins in front of 7,705 -- despite the absurd 114-114 scorecard rendered by judge Luis Rivera.
Judges Steve Weisfeld and Richard Flaherty each had it 117-111 for Dawson. ESPN.com had it for Dawson, 118-110.
Hopkins (52-6-2, 32 KOs), defiant to the end, could not accept defeat.
The usually talkative Hopkins said only: "What did he do to win that fight? They [the judges] did what they wanted to do. The only way I knew I would win is if I knocked him out. Let the public judge for themselves."
Based on the booing during the fight, the pro-Hopkins crowd didn't like what it saw in the ring, regardless of who won.
The fight was filled with mauling, clinching and feinting -- mostly initiated by Hopkins -- and not nearly enough punches thrown or landed.
It was a sloppy, relatively action-free fight, living down to the limited expectations many had for it. That was similar to the expectations going into their aborted first fight Oct. 15, 2011, at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
That fight ended as a second-round knockout for Dawson -- later changed to a no-decision -- after he threw Hopkins to the canvas out of a clinch and Hopkins injured his shoulder.
The rematch was just as frustrating to watch but a lot longer. Neither fighter distinguished himself offensively. In victory, Dawson landed 151 of 431 punches (35 percent), while Hopkins landed only 106 of 400 (26 percent).
"I did what I came to do," Dawson said. "I got my belts back."
Dawson (31-1, 17 KOs), of New Haven, Conn., connected with some flurries, but mostly it was one punch at a time. Hopkins never really landed anything significant other than his head, which opened cuts over both of Dawson's eyes from accidental butts.
"I kept my composure," Dawson said. "Bernard fought his heart out, but I'm the younger guy, so I had to be the aggressor. I kept my composure even with all the head-butts."
An accidental butt in the fourth round was the worse of the two, as blood streamed down Dawson's left cheek. But the blood never became a factor after cutman Rafael Garcia closed it.
The second one occurred late in the fight and wasn't too bad, but Hopkins seemed to think the blood on Dawson's face meant something, because after the fight he leaned over the ropes and shouted to ringside media, "Look at his face and look at mine!"
There was a lot of clutching and grabbing -- and Hopkins sticking his tongue out and shaking his shoulders -- and a busy night for referee Eddie Cotton, who did the best he could to keep control.
Probably the biggest action came at the end of the fifth round, when Hopkins landed an inside punch and an off-balance Dawson almost touched his glove to the mat. Moments later, Hopkins tripped and nearly went through the ring ropes as the round ended.
However, Dawson, a southpaw, was able to land enough straight left hands to keep Hopkins at bay, except when Hopkins tackled him and they both went to the mat in the 11th round to punctuate the almost-unwatchable fight.
"Hopkins is a master at old-school tactics," said John Scully, Dawson's trainer. "It's almost impossible to knock him out. But when Chad turned on the pressure, he knew he was going to beat him."
Dawson, without an exciting style and almost no fan base, will find it hard to make big fights. There isn't a lot of action at light heavyweight, either, so Dawson said he would go down to the 168-pound super middleweight division if necessary.
"I would love to fight [champion] Andre Ward," Dawson said. "I'm ready to make another statement."
His win against Hopkins wasn't really a statement, however. He just beat an old guy.
"My head is hurting from all of the head-butts," Dawson said. "But I've got to give him credit. He's a future Hall of Famer. He's a helluva fighter, but he is a dirty fighter. If you can get through 12 rounds with him, you can get through anything."
Whether Hopkins will elect to get through another fight at his age remains to be seen.
"I think Bernard turned in a very strong performance," Golden Boy promoter Richard Schaefer said. "And whatever decision he takes, I am 100 percent behind it."
Chad Dawson overcame the baiting of Bernard Hopkins, two cuts off head clashes, and boxing's latest mind-boggling scorecard to win a majority decision and a light heavyweight title Saturday in Atlantic City, N.J.