Saturday night on HBO PPV live from Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, the champ Antonio Tarver defends his light heavyweight crown against Bernard “The Executioner” Hopkins in X’s final fight of his career. What these fighters lack in age, both are a little long in the tooth but made careers out of being defensive-minded, they more than make up for with ring smarts, ambition, and will to win. This is how The Sweet Science writers see Tarver vs. Hopkins.
I'll go with Tarver by decision over Hopkins. Two cautious, crafty fighters fighting in the same ring, in my mind, equals a slow, tactical fight. Once Bernard feels Tarver's power, he'll stay away, finishing his career on his feet and in good health.
Hopkins may be the older man at 41 years old, but, in ring years, he appears to be fresher than the 37-year-old Tarver. He competed evenly with the then-26-year-old Jermain Taylor in two fights, while Tarver showed signs of aging against Glen Johnson last summer and Roy Jones Jr. last October. Further, Tarver's weight situation can't be good. After reportedly gaining some 45 pounds to play a heavyweight in Sylvester Stallone's upcoming “Rocky Balboa” movie, there's no way we'll see the razor-sharp machine who took out Jones in the rematch two years ago. He'll have the bigger punch, but he'll also be sluggish and dull after struggling to get to 175 pounds again. That big punch probably won't land much against a defensively capable fighter like Hopkins. And when it does, Hopkins – much more physically equipped to absorb a light heavyweight punch than the naturally smaller Jones – won't budge. Look for B-Hop, with the help of training guru Mackie Shilstone, to outhustle Tarver on the inside with quick bursts, before moving out of danger, a la Michael Spinks against Larry Holmes in 1985. Consequently, he'll win the recognized light heavyweight championship via 12-round split decision.
Styles make fights, and the fight between these two tacticians doesn’t promise to provide much excitement. Feinting and pawing with the jab will fill too many minutes of too many rounds. But when the action does come, it will be the naturally bigger Tarver who will be driving that action, punching in flurries and landing the occasional straight left. Still, he will not press the action enough to stop the crafty middleweight. Tarver beats Hopkins by decision.
Hopkins w12 Tarver – This is the perfect fight for insomniacs, two aged counterpunchers. I lean toward Hopkins because I think tarver, at 37, is older than B-Hop at 41. At the odds, Hopkins is certainly the bet.
Here’s all you need to know about this fight: Historically, the most frequently cited example of a fighter overstaying his welcome is Joe Louis vs. Rocky Marciano in 1951. The Brown Bomber was precisely the same age in that one that Tarver is for this one – and Hopkins is four years older than that. It’s hard to imagine what the point of this exercise is supposed to be. The loser is obviously going to be damaged goods, but there isn’t much in it for the winner, either. Once again HBO is trading on names with little regard to the consequence. Prediction: Who cares?
I think Hopkins has slowed just enough that Tarver will have a slight edge in the only meaningful exchanges that do take place. I feel it will be a very tactical bout with Hopkins using his straight right and hook well, with Tarver having the edge with his jab and counter lefts. Expect lots of holding inside and neither to get tagged too hard over twelve rather uneventful but interesting – but not PPV worthy – rounds. It'll be close to call as beauty lies in the eye of the beholder and a draw or split decision may come out of it, but I'll say Tarver gets a close nod.
Bernard is another underdog that will raise the roof in AC. I expect him to be smart in the first half and avoid Tarver's big left, and be surprisingly physical in the championship rounds. Hopkins wins a hard-fought split decision.
Both guys talk such a good game but then do more posing than fighting in the ring. The combination of Tarver reportedly coming down from 218 pounds and Hopkins hiring Mackie Shilstone as his conditioner makes this bout more interesting than it would ordinarily be. The pick here is Tarver because he is naturally bigger, has more to prove, and will probably pose less than Hopkins. Tarver W 12.
I'm not expecting fireworks in the Tarver-Hopkins bout. In fact, I'm expecting a snore fest. Maybe I'll be fooled but I doubt it. In the last too many fights to count, Bernard Hopkins has fought for an average of ten seconds each round. Even against Antonio Tarver, he'll have to increase his punch output. The question is, can he? Tarver UD12 – so the answer's NO. I'm not a believer in Bernard any longer.
Hopkins has lost back-to-back decisions to Jermain Taylor, and that makes him very dangerous. However, what makes him even more dangerous is the fact that he, and about half the people who watched those two fights, believe that Hopkins won them both. The truth of the matter is both fights could have gone either way… Hopkins is pissed, and is by no means totally over the hill. In my opinion Antonio Tarver is very intent on gaining the respect he believe he deserves, which also makes him dangerous. However, it has been stated that during the filming of “Rocky Balboa” Tarver was tipping the scales at around 220 lbs. Roy Jones Jr. went up to heavyweight from light-heavyweight as well and came in at exactly 193 lbs. of shredded muscle, 27 lbs less than Tarver… and we all saw the impact it had on Jones. Hopkins is hungry to prove that he is still one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the sport. In addition, Hopkins claims that this is his last fight, which should motivate him even more. Tarver on the other hand, is just plain old hungry… you would be too if you just sucked 45 lbs in a few short months. The combination of the heart and skill of Hopkins, and the battle with the scales by Tarver only leads to one thing in my mind… Hopkins by an extremely boring decision.
At 41 years of age, Bernard Hopkins is still dangerous. But he is no longer able to put together the sustained, twelve-round attack that is necessary to beat Antonio Tarver. If the “Magic Man” sticks and moves throughout the fight, he will coast to an easy victory. Tarver by unanimous decision.
Tarver is the natural light heavyweight. His strength and superior work rate will be the deciding factors on Saturday night. And while I'm hoping y'all get your PPV money's worth, it's entirely possible that this will be a strategic chess match, fought at the pace one would expect from a 37-year-old and a 41-year old…