ATLANTIC CITY - The first thing Bernard Hopkins did upon entering his postfight news conference early Sunday morning at Boardwalk Hall was give Chad Dawson a hug.
Dawson had ended Hopkins' reign as WBC light-heavyweight champion with a majority decision. But after trading insults for a month and punches for 12 brutal, bloody rounds, Hopkins and Dawson had nothing but praise and respect for each other.
"No matter what happens from here on out, Bernard Hopkins is a legend in my book," Dawson said. "He said he was coming to fight and he did. I thought we gave the fans what they wanted to see."
A roaring crowd of 7,705, the largest to see a fight at Boardwalk Hall in four years, watched Dawson win the title with an impressive performance. Hopkins, who had been the oldest champion in history at age 47, also delivered a respectable performance.
Judges Richard Flaherty and Steve Weisfeld thought Dawson (31-1, 17 KOs) won nine of the 12 rounds and gave him a 117-111 advantage on their scorecards (as did The Press). Judge Luis Rivera invited controversy by scoring the bout even at 114-114.
"Luis Rivera will never judge another one of my fights if I can help it," Dawson's promoter, Gary Shaw, said. "One of the things that hurts our sport is people have eyes and they know when someone gets a fight wrong. Our hearts dropped when that score was read, but it turned out OK in the end."
Judging by the cheers during the introductions, Hopkins (52-6-2, 32 KOs) was the fans' prefight favorite. Saturday's bout was his 17th in Atlantic City, a streak that started with his professional debut, a four-round majority decision loss to Clinton Mitchell at Resorts Casino Hotel in 1988.
Hopkins had won 16 straight on the Boardwalk, including big victories over Antonio Tarver and Kelly Pavlik.
"Bernard Hopkins, a boxing legend and future Hall of Famer, once again was a major draw in Atlantic City on Saturday night," Caesars Entertainment consultant Ken Condon said after the bout. "At 47 years of age, his ability to compete for another championship is truly remarkable."
Before the fight, Hopkins had hinted that he might retire, but he quickly dismissed that notion afterward. Despite suffering a convincing defeat, he fought well enough against the 29-year-old Dawson to keep going.
Another fight against Dawson is unlikely, but other challenges await. He hinted at possibly dropping to super-middleweight and facing the winner of next month's IBF title fight between Lucian Bute and Carl Froch.
"If you think my swan song was sung tonight, no," Hopkins said. "I could have left after the Tarver or Pavlik fights, but it wasn't time. And I still don't think it's time. I fought my (behind) off against a young, strong champion tonight and I don't feel like I embarrassed myself and looked bad."
There were some ugly moments during the fight that conjured memories of their last go-round. Saturday's bout was a rematch of a fight last October in Los Angeles, when Hopkins suffered a dislocated shoulder after getting flipped to the canvas by Dawson in the second round.
On Saturday, referee Eddie Cotton's shirt was soaked with sweat after having to break up their clinches. Dawson suffered cuts over both eyes from accidental head butts. In the 11th round, both fighters became entangled and tumbled to the canvas.
"It was a tougher fight than I thought it was going to be," Dawson said. "Bernard may be 47, but he fought like a 35 year old. The whole key for me was to not lose my composure out there."
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