ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — Bad Chad is a champion again.
He has his belt back — and gave the ageless Bernard Hopkins a major decision to make about his fighting future.
Dawson defeated Hopkins by a 12-round majority decision Saturday night and won the WBC light heavyweight title, taking the rematch at Boardwalk Hall without the controversy and ugliness of their first bout six months ago.
The 29-year-old Dawson (31-1, 17 KOs) never let a deep cut near his left eye affect his methodical approach at taking out Hopkins.
At 47, Hopkins (52-6-2) may have fought his last fight, though it seems impossible to count him out for one more bout as he pushes 50.
Dawson, though, may have shut the faucet on Hopkins' Fountain of Youth.
"I believe there's a lot of people out there that won't fight me," Hopkins said. "It all depends on the motivation."
This rematch was no classic, but it was an improvement on their first bout in October in Los Angeles.
Dawson had his TKO victory over Hopkins overturned and the decision was ruled a no-contest and the belt returned to the Philadelphia fighter. Dawson lifted Hopkins and tossed him to the canvas in that one.
This time, Dawson was the victim of at least one accidental head-butt that busted open a cut near his left eye.
He kept his composure and cranked up the pressure in the later rounds. No fighter has ever knocked out Hopkins and Dawson never came close.
He didn't have to lay him out to win this one.
Dawson held the belt high over his head and slung it over his shoulder in celebration.
"My head is hurting from all the head-butts," Dawson said. "I've got to give him a lot of credit. He's a future Hall of Famer, he's a hell of a fighter. But he's a dirty fighter. But if you can get through 12 rounds with him, you can get through anything."
Hopkins will likely return to Philadelphia and consider his options. Hopkins held his own against the younger, more talented fighter, but was never a serious threat to retain.
Hopkins said he will decide his future on his own terms after talking with friends and promoters.
"I could be a mentor in the game if I choose to go out that way," he said.
Hopkins looked like he wanted to keep going after the 12th round. While Dawson's face was battered and bloodied, Hopkins' mug wasn't much more than swollen.
He stood on the ring apron after the bout and barked at the crowd, "Look at my face!"
Dawson could have told him to look at the scorecard.
Two judges scored it 117-111 and a third scored it 114-114.
Dawson vowed to finish Hopkins and earn the win and championship he felt he was wrongly denied after Los Angeles.
"I did what I came to do," Bad Chad said. "I got my belt back."
Hopkins had forged a reputation of running his mouth as much as winning title bouts, but fell silent for this fight until the week leading up to the bout. Even then, he bypassed the traditional trash talking and refused to explain much about his future fighting plans.
That didn't change in the ring after the fight. He was visibly angry when the decision was announced and quickly headed toward the locker room.
"What did he do to win that fight?" Hopkins said. "The only way I knew I would win is if I knocked him out. Let the public judge for themselves."
Knowing he needed a knockout to win, Hopkins gamely tried attacking Dawson early in the 11th. The two of them tussled and crashed to the canvas, making the crowd of more than 7,000 howl at the sight.
"I didn't see him get tired not once the whole fight," Dawson said. "He looked alive the whole fight."
The fight nearly turned in the fourth.
Hopkins nailed Dawson with an accidental head-butt on his way up and sliced open a cut near the challenger's left eye. Blood trickled down Dawson's face and ran into his eye the remainder of the round.
Later in the round, Dawson appeared to try and lift Hopkins again, the same tactic that marred the first fight.
Hopkins couldn't capitalize and do additional damage to Dawson's eye — at least not serious enough to ever consider stopping the fight.
Hopkins gestured toward the pro-B-Hop crowd and they cheered their champ to end the ninth. But down on the scorecard, Hopkins needed a sizzling final three rounds to retain the title.
He didn't get it.
Dawson held the WBC and IBF versions of the light heavyweight title before. He'd like to make the first defense of this new reign against Andre Ward.
But that's for another day.
"Let the man enjoy his championship," Hopkins said of Dawson. "Hopefully he can defend it for a long time the way I defended mine."
In the co-main event, Seth Mitchell (25-0-1, 18 KOs) beat Philadelphia's Chazz Witherspoon via third-round TKO to win the vacant NABO heavyweight title.
Mitchell was clobbered in the first round before rebounding in the next two. He knocked down Witherspoon in the third then slugged him against the ropes before the match was stopped 2:31 in the third.
Mitchell used a flurry of body shots to hurt Witherspoon (30-3) in a wildly entertaining heavyweight bout in the same arena where Mike Tyson made a home as heavyweight champ.
"I knew he was coming to fight," Mitchell said. "I'm going to be honest, I was a little nervous for the fight."
It showed in the opening round. But he must have had the nerves punched out of him because he made a nice recovery to put away Witherspoon. Mitchell outlanded Witherspoon 51-11 in power shots in the second and third rounds after the Philly fighter held a 24-7 edge in the first round.
"I got a little excited after I had him hurt," Witherspoon said. "I never got back to fighting smart."