ATLANTIC CITY — The Retirement Cha-Cha is a favored dance step of aging fighters who can't quite decide whether they want to remain in the ring for as long as they can, or step aside because recent results and possibly common sense dictate that they do so.

Following his majority decision defeat at the much-younger hands of Chad Dawson, and with it the transfer of his WBC and The Ring light-heavyweight championship belts, 47-year-old boxing legend Bernard "The Executioner" Hopkins sounded very much like someone who isn't quite sure whether he wants to leave the party with head held high or hang around for another couple of twirls across the floor.

"If my swan song was sung tonight, I'll say it was great, it was fun," Hopkins said, suggesting it was at least within the realm of possibility that he'd thrown his last punch-for-pay.

But lest anyone begin writing B-Hop's professional obituary, the oldest man ever to win a widely recognized world championship reversed course, as he is wont to do, dropping hints that there might be another fight or two yet to be fought before he begins the countdown to his eventual induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

With 7,705 on-site spectators looking on in Boardwalk Hall on Saturday night, as well as an HBO audience, Hopkins was a decisive loser on the scorecards submitted by judges Steve Weisfeld and Richard Flaherty, each of whom saw Dawson (31-1, 17 KOs) as a 117-111 winner, although the third judge, Luis Rivera, had it even at 114-114.

Not that they're always the most accurate indicator of how a boxing match has gone, but punch statistics furnished by CompuBox would seem to support the scoring of Weisfeld and Flaherty. The 29-year-old Dawson, a long, lean southpaw from New Haven, Conn., landed 151 of 431 punches (35 percent) to 106 of 400 (27 percent) for Hopkins. Dawson's advantage in power punches — 126 of 263, a very solid 48 percent, was even wider; Hopkins landed just 82 of 276 (30 percent).

"I thought the fight could have been a draw, but I'm not going to discredit what Chad Dawson did," a gracious Hopkins said at the postfight press conference. But much of what else he said was open to interpretation.

So, is Hopkins going to retire? And if not, why not?

"If there's something that moves me to prove, I will do my best to prove it," said Hopkins (52-6-2, 32 KOs). "It all depends on the motivation. If the motivation is [IBF super middleweight champion Lucian] Bute, or something significant, I'll let the chips fall where they may."

Those chips may no longer be colored blue, and that, as much as anything, could determine the next step taken by the fight game's most remarkably age-resistant warrior. Market forces increasingly are coming into play for Hopkins, who, while still highly competitive for someone so long of tooth, may no longer be regarded as must-see TV or a guaranteed pay-per-view attraction.

Fact: Hopkins is still a remarkable athlete for someone closer to 50 than 40, and he is capable of performing at maybe a higher level than any fighter his age ever has.

"I don't see him retiring after this," Dawson said. "I give him all the credit in the world. The guy's 47, but he fights like a 30-year-old, a 35-year-old. I think he can beat a lot of young guys out there."

Also a fact: Hopkins hasn't scored a knockout since 2004; he no longer has those bejeweled belts to wave under would-be opponents' noses, and big names who might have considered mixing it up with him had he taken down Dawson are now apt to conclude that the risk/reward ratio for making the attempt has taken a pronounced downward turn.

"Should he keep going? Probably not, but that doesn't mean he can't or won't try to fight on," said Gary Shaw, Dawson's promoter. "Who knows, maybe he'll still be doing this at 55.

"But his style isn't particularly crowd-pleasing. Pernell Whitaker [another brilliant tactician] had tons of fans, but today I don't know if he could even get on TV."

Interestingly, Hopkins' promotional bosses at Golden Boy, CEO Richard Schaefer and president Oscar De La Hoya, were silent when the Philadelphia legend was ruminating about milking another nice payday or two out of what remains of his reputation. But De La Hoya raved on about another of the company's client-fighters, heavyweight Seth Mitchell (25-0-1, 19 KOs), the former Michigan State linebacker who weathered a first-round storm before taking out Chazz Witherspoon (30-3, 22 KOs) in the third round.

"Chazz hit me with a right hand," Mitchell said of his early dilemma. "It was an equilibrium shot. I did the stinky leg a little bit, but I was able to recover."

Mitchell doesn't know nearly as much as Hopkins about boxing's finer points, but he is a devastating puncher and he's relatively young (29) and exciting. That, and his earning potential as perhaps America's best hope of possibly challenging current heavyweight champions Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko, make him the sort of growth property that B-Hop used to be, but can't be considered anymore.

It's the law of the jungle, and also the law of supply and demand. n