Hopkins calls out 'laid-back' Dawson

NEW YORK -- When Bernard Hopkins picked Antonio Tarver apart for 12 rounds in June 2006 to become IBO light heavyweight champion, he vowed to call it quits.

Hopkins was certain he had accomplished everything a boxer could in the ring. There was nothing left for him to prove.

But Hopkins is a perfectionist. And after a few months of reflection, he concluded there was a blemish on his ledger:
For all the success he had achieved, primarily at middleweight, Hopkins had a reputation as a boring fighter.

Most boxing purists didn't hold that opinion, but an overwhelming majority of casual fans did. Hopkins has always been motivated to prove his detractors wrong, so he's back fighting and winning championships.

But at 46 years old, even the well-conditioned Hopkins knows his days as a prizefighter are numbered.

When Hopkins defeated Jean Pascal in May, he became the oldest man to ever claim a major world boxing title. That achievement enhanced Hopkins' legacy, but how he won also bolstered it.

Pascal-Hopkins II was filled with nonstop action. Hopkins took many risks that night, and boxing was the talk of the sports world again. The first bout between Pascal and Hopkins, which ended in a disputed draw, was also entertaining. But the rematch will be remembered for many years.

Those fights rejuvenated Hopkins (52-5-2, 1 no-contest), who is now determined to add the station of "exciting fighter" to his legacy. It's the reason he is eager to face former IBF titleholder Chad Dawson on Oct. 15. Hopkins doesn't want just to win; he wants to do so in exciting fashion.

But he needs Dawson to cooperate, and that is a major concern for the champ.

"I'm coming off two exciting fights [against Pascal]," Hopkins told ESPN.com on Tuesday. "I don't want to be in a fight that people will consider boring because one guy is outdoing the other guy to the point where it's not a contest."

Dawson is very much the fighter Hopkins used to be -- a tactician. Slugging it out isn't his style. He prefers to slip punches and counter.

It's a style that has brought Dawson (30-1-0, 1 no-contest) much success, but not very many fans.

Hopkins is pleading with Dawson to step out of character for this fight.

"I want to fight," Hopkins said. "I've saved my best for last. I'm ready and I will be mentally, physically, absolutely perfect come Oct. 15."

This is the new Hopkins. The days of looking to counterpunch are over. With only a few bouts left in his career, Hopkins wants to entertain the fans.

And he is willing to risk losing a title belt to do so.

But the 31-year-old Dawson is in a very different situation. He needs this win over Hopkins to become champion again. And though it would be great to put on a memorable performance against Hopkins, that isn't priority No. 1 for Dawson.

"He wants me to do what he wants," Dawson told ESPN.com. "But that's just him playing mind games. I'm going to fight my fight.

"I'm going into training camp and coming up with the perfect fight plan to beat this guy.

"Bernard wants me to be aggressive; that's the way he believes he can win this fight. But I have to be me."

Dawson wants to put Hopkins away early, but he won't enter the ring looking for the knockout. If it comes, great; if it doesn't, that's fine with Dawson, too.

Winning this fight is too important to Dawson for him to risk losing. Hopkins has his legacy; Dawson believes this fight will help him establish a legacy of his own.

"I have to be the 2008 Chad Dawson," he said. "I have to be the Chad Dawson who beat Antonio Tarver, the Chad Dawson who beat Glen Johnson. And that's the Chad Dawson I'm bringing to the table Oct. 15.

"A win in this fight will enhance my legacy in boxing. It will make my day to make him the oldest fighter to ever lose a championship."

Defeating Hopkins would be a great achievement for Dawson, but that won't help him become a financial attraction. He needs to fight Hopkins, beat him up, give fans a reason to be excited about boxing again.

Hopkins won't be around much longer. Will Dawson dare to be the next great, exciting champion? Hopkins hopes so.

"I don't want Chad Dawson to be laid-back," Hopkins said. "To be laid-back against an old man, he's doing me a favor.

"He knows that this is the last opportunity to be back on top as the light heavyweight champion of the world."

Franklin McNeil covers boxing and mixed martial arts for ESPN.com. He also appears regularly on "MMA Live," which airs on ESPN2. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Franklin_McNeil.