Dawson got his TKO on Saturday night.
But his dream looked nothing like this debacle.
Hopkins was stopped for the first time in his career in bizarre fashion when Dawson lifted him and tossed him to the canvas late in the second round, leaving the 46-year-old champion with a dislocated joint in his shoulder.
Dawson (31-1, 18 KOs) claimed the WBC light heavyweight title from Hopkins (52-6-2), but both fighters were left furious and screaming when referee Pat Russell ruled Dawson hadn't fouled Hopkins, whose promoter immediately said he'll protest the result.
"They want me out of boxing, and this is one way to do it," said Hopkins, whose spokesman said he dislocated the joint connecting his collarbone and shoulder blade. "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."
After five unmemorable minutes, everything happened in an instant: Hopkins leaned over the crouching Dawson after throwing an overhand right, and Dawson lifted Hopkins off his feet by standing up, shrugging him onto the canvas.
Hopkins landed roughly on his back and left shoulder, his head poking underneath the bottom rope, and might have glanced 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 several years and training relentlessly for the fight, Dawson was apoplectic when Hopkins stayed down on the ground, taunting him and climbing on the ropes. When Russell called it off, 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."
Golden Boy President Richard Schaefer, Hopkins' promoter, said he'll protest to the California State Athletic Commission. Hopkins was released from the California Hospital Medical Center two hours after the fight after his dislocation was diagnosed.
"That was not a boxing-like move," Schaefer said. "If you're allowed to lift somebody up and slam them to the floor, you can't win your belts like that."
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, 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 was left just as unsatisfied as the fans who paid $54.99 for the pay-per-view event, although it featured an exciting undercard including the pro debut of 52-year-old Dewey Bozella, who won an unanimous decison after spending 26 years in prison wrongfully convicted of murder.
"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.