Bernard Hopkins was stopped for the first time in his career in bizarre fashion Saturday night when Chad Dawson lifted him and tossed him to the canvas late in the second round, leaving the 46-year-old champion unable to continue.
Dawson (31-1, 18 KOs) claimed the WBC light heavyweight title from Hopkins (52-6-3), but both fighters were left furious when referee Pat Russell ruled Dawson hadn't fouled Hopkins.
"They want me out of boxing, and this is one way to do it," Hopkins said. "Chad Dawson came in the ring tonight, and he just wanted to rough me up with dirty tactics. He wanted to get me out of there, and that was the only way he could."
When Hopkins leaned over the crouching Dawson after throwing an overhand right, Dawson lifted Hopkins off his feet before shrugging him onto the canvas. Hopkins landed roughly on his left shoulder, his head poking underneath the bottom rope, and off the ringside table.
Hopkins immediately clutched his shoulder and grimaced in pain, apparently unable to continue.
"He jumped on me and was pulling me down, so I pushed him off with the shoulder," Dawson said. "B-Hop disappointed a lot of fans. I was looking forward to a good fight. I trained eight weeks for this. … Yes, he was faking. This is a fight I wanted for three years, and Bernard obviously didn't want the fight."
Hopkins said he told Russell he would continue fighting "with one arm," but Russell waved off the fight and declared a TKO. Just like that, a long-awaited showdown between the ageless light heavyweight champion and his top young rival was over, enraging the lively Staples Center crowd.
"It was not a foul," Russell said. "It's a TKO. He could not continue because of an injury. No foul."
After waiting nearly a half-decade for a fight with Hopkins, Dawson was enraged when Hopkins stayed down on the ground, angrily taunting him and climbing on the ropes. When Russell waved off the fight, Dawson went over to Hopkins and motioned at him to get off his stool, repeatedly cursing at him
"I knew he didn't want the fight," Dawson said. "He keeps talking about Philly and being a gangster. He's no gangster. Gangsters don't quit. He's weak. He's a weak physically- and mentally-minded person. He has no power."
The result could be contested by Hopkins, and even California officials acknowledged the first TKO on Hopkins' record could soon be up for debate in a boardroom.
"He couldn't continue, so it's a TKO for now," said George Dodd, the California State Athletic Commission's executive officer. "At this time, that's the call."
The brief fight will be an absurd chapter in the remarkable mid-life renaissance of Hopkins, who became the oldest man to win a significant world title last May with a victory over Jean Pascal, the only man who has beaten Dawson.
"He knew he wasn't in there with a 46-year-old, because I was quicker and faster than him," Hopkins said. "That was a blatant foul, and it should be a no-contest, not a disqualification."
Hopkins has defied all conventional wisdom about athletes and aging ever since his career appeared finished after two decision losses to Jermain Taylor in 2005, when Hopkins was just 40.
He won a light heavyweight title with a stunning upset of Antonio Tarver in 2006 to start a 6-1-1 streak over his previous eight fights, beating Winky Wright — Dawson's friend and training partner — along with Kelly Pavlik and Roy Jones Jr.
Dawson has been angling for a shot at Hopkins since shortly after winning his first world title four years ago, realizing the fight could define his career — particularly if he could retire Hopkins with a stoppage victory.
Dawson got it, but not in a way anybody imagined.
"Let Bernard take his paycheck and refund it to everybody. We came to fight," said Gary Shaw, Dawson's promoter. "What I really feel is Bernard is old, and he gave it all he could for as long as he could. He beat Pascal, but there was no way he could have beaten Chad."
Dawson is among his generation's most gifted boxers — Floyd Mayweather Jr. called him the world's best -- but his career didn't have a signature moment. He also hasn't been a fan-friendly fighter, rarely taking the risks required for knockouts while openly admitting to boredom and lapses in training, particularly before his only loss to Pascal last year.
Hopkins showed little interest in fighting Dawson, deriding his meager ticket-selling abilities. Hopkins also likely was concerned about the problems posed by Dawson, a strong technical fighter behind his superb physical gifts.
Hopkins is a master of boxing's mental game, and he teased and prodded Dawson in the weeks leading up to the bout, attempting to get in his head.
Dawson claimed it wouldn't work, insisting he was in perfect mental position for the fight. He recently broke free of a former manager and reunited with trainer John Scully, who worked with Dawson on his way to the top before Dawson went through four big-name trainers in the past few years.