ATLANTIC CITY - No matter what happens in his rematch against WBC light-heavyweight champion Bernard Hopkins at Boardwalk Hall tonight, Chad Dawson feels like he can't win.

Even if he becomes the first fighter to knock him out, Dawson expects the fans to heap all of the accolades on Hopkins, who at 47 is the older boxer to ever win a world title.

"If I beat him, people are going to say, 'Big deal' because he's an old man," Dawson, 29, said Thursday during an interview at Caesars Atlantic City. "But I'm not worried about how people are going to react. I'm not in this for the praise. I want to win the light-heavyweight championship again.

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"Bernard was a great fighter and a great champion. Both those days are over and he knows it. I'm here to finish what I started the last time we fought. I can't wait."

Their first meeting, held in Los Angeles last Oct. 15, ended in controversy in the second round. The fighters became entangled and Dawson (30-1, 17 KOs) flipped Hopkins (52-5-2, 32 KOs) to the canvas.

Hopkins, a Philadelphia native now living in Delaware, suffered a dislocated left shoulder and the fight was stopped. Dawson's camp has suggested Hopkins was looking for a way out.

"I still don't believe he was hurt," Dawson's promoter, Gary Shaw, said Thursday. "To this day, I've yet to see any proof that he was hurt. And I wouldn't be surprised if it happens again. He knows he can't beat Chad."

Of course, experts voiced similar opinions the last time Hopkins fought in Atlantic City, when he took on then-undefeated middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik in a nontitle bout.

Hopkins, who is 15-1 with seven knockouts in Atlantic City, frustrated and dominated Pavlik en route to a 12-round, unanimous decision on Oct. 18, 2008.

"That was then and this is now," Hopkins said Thursday. "What happened then has nothing to do with what's going to happen (tonight). But I'm in my comfort zone for this fight and it has nothing to do with being in Atlantic City. It's the fact that I'm an underdog again. People are looking at numbers and not at substance. Whatever Chad brings (tonight), I'll bring 10 times more."

Years of excellence

Hopkins has been bringing it for almost 25 years.

He began his pro career just a few blocks away from where he might finish it. Hopkins, who has hinted that he may retire (again) after tonight's fight, made his pro debut at Resorts Casino Hotel on Oct. 11, 1988, when he lost a four-round majority decision to Clinton Mitchell.

Then 23, he was fresh from a five-year stint in Graterford State Penitentiary in Philadelphia and working as a dishwasher at the Penn Tower Hotel. He took his $350 check, headed back to Philly and decided to dedicate himself to boxing.

"I remember it like it was yesterday," Hopkins said last week on a conference call. "I had to ask myself whether I wanted to do this for a living or go back onto the streets of Philadelphia. I told myself that (boxing) was what I wanted to do. I didn't want to wind up back in prison or in the graveyard. I remember that real, real clear."

He became a legend, making a record 20 successful defenses of his middleweight titles from 1995 to 2005 before losing to Jermain Taylor. Hopkins eventually moved up to light-heavyweight and surpassed former heavyweight George Foreman as the oldest fighter to win a championship when he beat Jean Pascal for the WBC crown 11 months ago.

If he ends his career tonight, however, it won't be because of diminishing skills. Rather, he has grown tired of the business of boxing, where rankings and titles are often given at the whim of sanctioning organizations. He is weary of the young boxers who seem to want the fame without making sacrifices.

"This is a microwave society," Hopkins said Thursday at Caesars. "People don't take the time to cook, to let things marinate, to chop. I'm the last of a dying (bleeping) breed."

Dawson, who lives in New Haven, Conn., is just hoping that Hopkins decides to leave with his pride intact.

More than 7,000 fans are expected to show up to see tonight's fight after shelling out between $25 and $300 for tickets. Dawson desperately wants to put on an exciting performance, but he can only do that if Hopkins cooperates.

"It all depends on what Bernard decides to do," Dawson said. "If he comes to fight, we'll give the fans their money's worth. But if he decides to lay down like he did last time, I feel sorry for the people who bought tickets.

Punchlines: Eddie Cotton will serve as referee for Hopkins-Dawson. Richard Flaherty, Luis Rivera and Steve Weisfeld will be the judges. ... HBO's telecast, which starts at 10:15 p.m., will also include a heavyweight fight between Paulsboro resident Chazz Witherspoon (30-2, 22 KOs) and Seth Mitchell (24-0-1, 18 KOs), of Brandywine, Md. ... Atlantic City light-heavyweight Lavarn Harvell (9-0, 4 KOs) will meet Tony Pietrantonio (7-8, 6 KOs), of Sharon, Pa., on the undercard.

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