Hopkins vs. Dawson: Does the aging underdog have a shot?

It is a column that has been written and recycled numerous times from every conceivable angle.

“Can old man Bernard Hopkins buck the odds and win again,” asks the columnist.

For the past decade, boxing scribes have posed this question, and time after time, the sport’s grand master has stubbornly and defiantly proved the skeptics wrong.

Hopkins is 47 and the consensus light heavyweight champion. Saturday at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, he will defend his title in a rematch against the 29-year-old Chad Dawson.

As of Thursday, the odds had him at +350 against Dawson’s -440. Earlier this week on a conference call, Hopkins was asked whether he fights better when tabbed as the underdog.

“Well that's being kind of mild. I was born in 1965 and a great year for segregation,” Hopkins said. “I was the underdog based on being black. So being the underdog in boxing or being the underdog when others have their opinion, this is kids play… So am I comfortable being in this situation? Maybe. Maybe I got immune to it. Maybe it grew on me over the years.”
 
The first fight ended in controversy in the second round, when Dawson slammed Hopkins to the canvas in a WWE-style takedown. Hopkins separated his shoulder, and referee Pat Russell awarded Dawson the TKO win. Both the WBC and California State Athletic Commission later overturned the result to a no-decision, setting the stage for a rematch with more lopsided odds.

Before their first fight, bookmakers pegged Dawson as a slight favorite, with most books offering around -150. Hopkins’ advanced age and so-so showing in the first fight convinced the oddsmakers to more than double the Dawson number. He is once again perceived as an old man incapable of hanging with the young guns.

But Hopkins is no stranger to fooling the books. He beat both Kelly Pavlik and Felix Trinidad as a 3-to-1 underdog and wiped the canvas with Antonio Tarver as a 5-to-2 long shot.

While Hopkins has historically been among boxing’s great underdog bets, he is walking a delicate tightrope. When does the hourglass finally run out? When does a gifted youngster take the old man to school? And is Dawson the man to force the stubborn Hopkins out of the spotlight?
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A rangy southpaw, Dawson will present stylistic difficulties for Hopkins, especially in the early rounds. But he is an enigma who has yet to establish a defined ring identity. His most noticeable trend is firing competent trainers, as he did with Floyd Mayweather Sr., Eddie Mustafa Muhammad and Emanuel Steward before setting on John Scully prior to the first Hopkins fight.

Since losing to Jean Pascal in August 2010, Dawson has not done much of consequence. He came back with a unanimous decision against Adrian Diaconu before his Ultimate Warrior-esque body slam of Hopkins. Dawson’s track record does not warrant this type of respect, especially against a legend with a history of bucking the odds.

In betting on Dawson, you are wagering on Hopkins finally showing his age. At -400 and higher, that is not a risk you should be willing to take.

Hopkins vs. Dawson pick: Hopkins

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