SOMEBODY MUST have known something in advance when the promoters of Bernard "The Executioner" Hopkins' WBC light-heavyweight championship fight with Chad Dawson decided to bring in the "Ripley's Believe It or Not!" people as one of the sponsoring companies for the event.
Surely no bearded lady, sword-swallower or guy with the world's longest mustache could be any weirder than what transpired in the boxing ring at Los Angeles' Staples Center on Saturday night. Who could ever have expected that Dawson would body-slam Hopkins in the second round of the scheduled 12-round bout, severely injuring the champion's left shoulder, and for the referee to then declare Dawson the winner by technical knockout over a man who had never been stopped in his 22-year-professional career. And despite the fact that the fight-ending sequence did not involve a punch that landed?
Then again, this is boxing, where fans increasingly have come to expect the unexpected. Was it only 28 days earlier that the WBC welterweight title exchanged hands after challenger Floyd Mayweather Jr. knocked out Victor Ortiz with a pair of sucker punches moments after Ortiz, who deliberately had head-butted him and then tried to apologize with a hug and a kiss, dropped his hands and looked at referee Joe Cortez, who in turn was looking at the timekeeper? It might have been a lousy demonstration of sportsmanship on Mayweather's part, but his decision to fire away when the eyes of the other principals were turned elsewhere technically was within the rules, so there you have it.
So, too, within the strictest letter of the law were the actions of referee Pat Russell, who declined to declare the Hopkins-Dawson fight a no-contest, which might have been the wiser and more prudent decision. But Russell made his call and, by golly, he wasn't about to let anyone question him about it - certainly not the media, to whom he was made unavailable after the bizarre ending left 8,431 on-site spectators and an HBO pay-per-view audience fuming.
"I think the referee got caught up in the moment and didn't know what to do,'' Hopkins told the Associated Press yesterday. "I don't want to sound like I'm whining. The bottom line is, the referee either doesn't know the rules or dropped the ball.''
It was left to George Dodd, executive officer of the California State Athletic Commission, to offer the official explanation for what Russell had wrought. And that explanation, like the abbreviated fight, left much to be desired.
"The referee never called it a foul, be it unintentional or intentional, and Hopkins was unable to continue," Dodd said. "Therefore, it was a technical-knockout victory for Dawson. It's a TKO for now. At this time, that's the call."
Dodd's statement left open the very real possibility that Russell's decision could be overturned upon appeal and the fight declared a no-contest. Richard Schaefer, CEO of Golden Boy Promotions, which promotes Hopkins, said that process already had begun and that he had spoken with WBC president Jose Sulaiman about righting what he believed to be an egregious wrong.
Dodd, in an email response to the Daily News, said it will be placed on the agenda "if there is an appeal filed from either promotion company. At this time we have not received any written request for an appeal from either promotion company."
Gary Shaw, who promotes Dawson, acknowledged that the fight's finish was, well, a bit on the crazy side. But crazy is something boxing does exceptionally well.
"It's another night in boxing," Shaw said. "The bizarre will always happen. If there is something abnormal that can happen, it will happen in boxing."
And if Dawson's strange third rise to the top of the 175-pound weight class turns out to be temporary, that's OK with him and Shaw. Both vowed that that old faker Hopkins would not be granted a rematch under any conditions, no matter what the WBC and CSAC eventually decide.
"He is not getting a rematch," Shaw said of B-Hop, who became the oldest fighter, at 46, to win a widely recognized world title when he easily outpointed the man who had dethroned Dawson, Jean Pascal, by unanimous decision on May 21. "We came to fight. If they want the belt, Chad has given up belts before. This wouldn't be the first time."
Asked if he were open to a do-over with Hopkins, Dawson sneeringly said, "Rematch? For what? I'm the new champion. I don't care what the critics say."
Hopkins - who, upon examination by Dr. Sam Thurber, was determined to have suffered a dislocation of the joint that connects the collarbone to the shoulder blade - said he told Russell that, if it came to that, he would be willing to fight Dawson with one good arm.
It is ridiculous to even suggest that Hopkins faked an injury because he somehow was afraid of Dawson and wanted to take the easy way out. Remember, Hopkins fought the last four rounds of his Dec. 1, 2000, rematch with Antwun Echols with an injured shoulder, yet he went on to stop Echols in the 10th round.
Hopkins might have gone on to lose against Dawson, who won the first round on all three judges' scorecards. Then again, who knows? B-Hop is not the fastest of starters, generally building momentum as the rounds roll by, and maybe that again would have happened. No one can say for sure.
Even if the WBC, which is reviewing the bout, and CSAC overturn Russell and declare a no-contest, the fact is that Hopkins turns 47 on Jan. 15 and he is facing a period of physical rehabilitation. There is no guarantee he will ever fight again, and even if he does, it's unclear if he can be all or most of what he was before Saturday.
If this is the way that a memorable career ends, that would be the most bizarre and unfortunate turn of all.
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