Can Hopkins Do Unto Kovalev What He Did To Pavlik?

There is nothing wrong with being a one-trick pony, if that trick is truly unique and so exceptional that other ponies being put on public display can’t hope to duplicate it. If that were the case, people would continue to flock to see the pony do its very special thing, even if they had seen it done before because, well, greatness in a limited sense is still greatness. No one ever complained because the magnificent racehorse, Secretariat, wasn’t required to rear up on his hind legs and dance to calliope music, like a circus animal. The Triple Crown champion’s only requirement was to run very fast and cross the finish line ahead of his pursuers, which he did with astounding regularity.

Oct. 18 marks the six-year anniversary of old warhorse Bernard Hopkins’ thorough thrashing of a frisky colt named Kelly Pavlik. A couple of weeks from now, on Nov. 8 – and at the same venue, Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall – Hopkins, even longer past the age when elite prizefighters, in a manner of speaking, should have been put out to pasture, goes to the post once more against another much-younger opponent, Sergey Kovalev, whose charge-forward, big-banging style has been likened to that of … Kelly Pavlik.

Pavlik, a 5-1 favorite who was exposed as much too limited a thoroughbred by the cagey Hopkins, stands as Exhibit A – OK, maybe more as Exhibit B, C or even D – of the kind of knockout-dependent slugger who made the mistake of believing that the geezer in the other corner was on his last legs, lacking the will or endurance to stay the course. Can the same result be in the offing when Hopkins, who turns 50 on Jan. 15, again steps into the starting gate against a younger, supposedly devastating puncher who, like Pavlik, figures to go off as roughly a 3-1 oddsmaker’s choice?

Spanish philosopher/poet George Santayana once observed that “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” which is true enough given certain circumstances. But there is another saying that also has been proven correct time and again, and that is that nothing lasts forever. Maybe not even Bernard Hopkins, whose history of disassembling fighters whose singular trick, even if they are spectacularly good at performing it, may be about to be put to the ultimate test.

As the countdown continues to Hopkins-Kovalev – the HBO-televised showdown is for the further unification of the light heavyweight championship, with B-Hop (55-6-2, 32 KOs) putting his IBF and WBA 175-pound titles on the line against the WBO belt held by the 31-year-old Kovalev (25-0-1, 32 KOs) – the questions that have yet to be answered are simple. Will past form be an indicator of what the immediate future holds, or will there be a variation of the familiar plot? For whatever it’s worth, Hopkins and Kovalev are spicing things up a bit by suggesting that there might even be a bit of role reversal when the opening bell rings, with Hopkins boldly trying for his first win inside the distance since he stopped Oscar De La Hoya in nine rounds on Sept. 18, 2004 – that’s a stretch of 16 bouts, if you include his no-contest pairing with Chad Dawson on Oct. 15, 2011 – while Kovalev, who has won his last nine fights by knockout, and last 13 if you don’t count his two-round technical draw with Grover Young on Aug. 27, 2011, tries to outbox the boxing master.

“That would be eye-opening to a lot of people,” Hopkins said, teasingly, when asked if he might somehow alter the script by putting “Krusher” Kovalev down and out. “I’m in a knockout drought. But I did break a knockdown drought in my last fight (a one-sided points nod over then-WBA champ Beibut Shumenov on April 19).

“If I see an opening, I’m gonna attack. When I go in that ring, I use all my alphabetical skills, from A to Z, and systematically give a boxing lesson. Remember, I get paid the same whether it goes one or 12 rounds. But if a guy looks like he can be had, I’m gonna get him.”

Kovalev, whose boxing skills might actually be underrated because he so seldom has had to call upon any skill other than his ability to batter opponents into unconsciousness or abject submission, isn’t going the Kelly Pavlik route by predicting he will become the first fighter to take out Hopkins before the fight goes to the scorecards.

“I think nothing,” Kovalev said when asked if he thought he’d make short work of Hopkins, as he has of so many recent rivals. “Just go to the ring and do my work, my job, as usual. Is boxing. How many rounds will we fight? When you go to the ring, anything can happen. Like I say, is boxing. Every punch is dangerous, for each of us.

“Really, I would like to show to people my boxing. Is not interesting, quick kills. Is interesting to me what I can do against big master boxer.”

But words are easier to fling around than scoring blows, and the likelihood is that this very intriguing matchup will hew closely to the established strategies that almost everyone expects the combatants to follow. You don’t enter plow horses in the Kentucky Derby, and you don’t ask Secretariat to pull a beer wagon as if he were a Clydesdale.

Prior Hopkins’ impressive unanimous decision over Winky Wright, another defensive genius best known for his penchant for hitting and not getting hit much in return, ESPN2 boxing analyst Teddy Atlas said it is crazy to think a leopard can change its spots on a whim because it suddenly decides it likes stripes better.

“They have styles that obviously work for them,” Atlas said of the mirror images Hopkins and Wright presumably projected. “Those styles call for them to cover up, to counter, to stay out of danger whenever possible, to take what the other guy gives them and not necessarily force the issue. Those are qualities that have made them highly productive. Do they care about changing to make the fight more fan-friendly? I don’t think they do. They’re at a point in their careers where their priorities are pretty much established. They are who they are. Their styles, I think, are an extension of their mentality. If you have a guy who thinks carefully, he’s going to box carefully. If you have a guy who thinks aggressively, he’s going to fight that way.”

Which brings us back to the parallels between what happened in Hopkins-Pavlik and what might happen in Hopkins-Kovalev, unless Hopkins has ceded too much ground to the inevitable ravages of Father Time, and/or Kovalev is a much improved version of Pavlik, whose favoritism the night he got schooled by B-Hop owed largely to the fact he had twice defeated Jermain Taylor, who had twice defeated Hopkins.

Another interesting sidelight to this figurative do-over is the presence of former WBA middleweight champion John David Jackson in Kovalev’s corner as chief second. Jackson, who was stopped in seven rounds by then-IBF middleweight titlist Hopkins on April 19, 1997, is a former assistant trainer of B-Hop who was part of the ageless wonder’s team the night he put so much distance between himself and Pavlik that the Philadelphian won by margins of 119-106, 118-108 and 117-109 on the official scorecards. You’d have to figure that if anyone knows the secret of solving the puzzle that is Hopkins, it would be Jackson. But then JD-Jax knows that some puzzles are forever puzzling.

“Bernard is a smart fighter,” Jackson said before Hopkins’ April 19, 2008, bout with Welsh southpaw Joe Calzaghe, who put enough of the jigsaw pieces together to win a close and somewhat controversial split decision. “He’s taken street smarts and made it work very well. He wears people down physically, and psychologically.”

The guess here is that Pavlik made the mistake of figuring that Hopkins, at 43, was too old and used-up to pose too much of a threat to a hot, young (then 26) and ascending star such as himself. His prefight confidence was such that he boasted he would “do boxing a favor” and “forever free” the world of the drudgery of watching B-Hop make good fighters look bad.

But Hopkins, who uses every tool at his disposal to motivate himself to give maximum effort every time out, was inspired by a pledge he had made to a partially blind, pain-wracked 18-year-old Hopkins fan named Shaun Negler, who died of brain cancer just five days after his hero had dominated Pavlik. Which begs another question: Just what is the emotional string within himself that Hopkins will try to pull against Kovalev, who has refrained from making the sort of derogatory remarks about his aged opponent that Pavlik and others have uttered and then been forced to retract. To this point, he has given Hopkins perhaps too much respect, at least in his public pronouncements.

“He is `Alien,’” a smiling Kovalev said of Hopkins, a reference to the recently adopted nickname Hopkins has assumed in place of the discarded “Executioner.” “He is not 49 like regular man.”

Forget about veiled suggestions that Kovalev will try to match Hopkins subtle trick for subtle trick, slick move for slick move. He is 18-plus years younger, he packs much the heavier artillery, he is the future (you can bet that the brass at HBO are hoping so) while Hopkin is a glorious relic of the past, his golden era relentlessly dipping toward its sunset. It will be up to Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Russian to go to a place that Kelly Pavlik was unable to reach, or even approach, a destination other relative one-trick ponies such as Felix Trinidad and Antonio Tarver thought they had a map to when they agreed to enter the labyrinth of pitfalls where B-Hop awaits.

Hopkins doesn’t expect Kovalev to “show people my boxing”; he no doubt is anticipating that the WBO champ will mostly try to make history becoming the first fighter to knock him out, or at least to beat him bloody, and he is relying on his own past performance charts to demonstrate that no one-trick pony can successfully hang with so varied and adaptable a trickster such as he.

“Kelly Pavlik is the perfect opponent for me because he comes forward, he comes to fight and he wants to knock me out,” Hopkins said prior to that particular date with destiny. “But he’s going to find it difficult, and it’s going to change the fight. I guarantee, it’s going to change the fight. Tito (Trinidad) tried to walk me down. Tito had one bullet in the chamber and that was a left hook. If Kelly Pavlik thinks he’s going to beat Bernard Hopkins because he has a big right hand, he’s a damn fool.

“You’ve got an offensive guy and you’ve got a defensive guy. That’s the perfect match. You’ve got a guy that comes forward and you’ve got a guy that specializes in guys coming forward so he can let them punch, so he can counterpunch. That’s my game. This will be a fight where the Mack truck is coming, and can Bernard Hopkins crash the Mack truck? I say I will flatten the tires, the Mack truck will slow up and then it will conk out.”

But if Hopkins’ expectation of the outcome against Pavlik was indeed fulfilled, remember what else he has said as the sands in his professional hourglass began to very slowly empty. He was “only” 43 when he was asked before the Pavlik fight if he expected to continue to fighting until, oh, 48.

“No,” he insisted. “Reflexes are very important. To be able to move from left to right at the drop of a dime is very important. The first thing that goes on a fighter is his knees, then his reflexes. At 48 years old, I’ll be a sitting duck and I’ll be embarrassing my long list of achievements and my legacy.”

No fighter can have it both ways, even against a fairly predictable one-trick pony. Even if Kovalev has but one trick, it is a mighty good one and besides, he’ll be double-teaming Hopkins with that unseen but very real ally, the thief of reflexes. Father Time eventually calls on all fighters who stay too long at the fair, but to date Hopkins hasn’t answered the insistent knocking at his door. Maybe he really is impervious to the natural laws of diminishing returns.

Regardless of how this fight ends, though, there is a strong possibility that the winner is apt to be named Fighter of the Year because, well, just because. Kovalev will be the sport’s hottest growth property if he wins emphatically against a living legend, and a victorious Hopkins would continue to be its forever-blooming evergreen, with a chance to add a companion FOY award to the one he captured for 2001 when he dominated the great Felix Trinidad. He knew what he was getting into when he agreed to swap shots with Kovalev, and he did so eagerly.

“I was supposed to be done 15 years ago,” he said. “Fifteen from 49 leaves you what, 37? Thirty-four? OK, I never passed math.

“When this fight’s over and I’ve given another loss to an undefeated fighter … man, I love fighting guys with undefeated records. I love it when that fighter no longer can be called a virgin. He’s been had. I have a history of taking guys 0’s away.”

The guess here is that among those with an especially strong interest in the outcome will be Kelly Pavlik, who was never quite the same after his date with Hopkins, and who might or might not be coming out of retirement at some point. When you have been there and haven’t done that, there is always the nagging question of what you might have done differently, as well as wonder who the guy might be that comes along and does what you weren’t able to when it counted most.

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COMMENTS

-stormcentre :

Yes, as long as father time allows him to, he can.


-SouthPawFlo :

This is an easy questions to Answer... YES HE CAN...


-Radam G :

I'm the shotgun dude for Stormcentre and SouthPawFlo. OH, YEA! Holla!


-thegreyman :

Hopkins can play his games and pull his tricks; stall and spoil with those who are powerless to stop him, such as Shumenov. However against a young strong and hungry fighter, who wants to fight and not box, who wants to control the fight, not allow himself to be controlled, and who is more than willing to push the pace and force Hopkins into a place where the old man is less than comfortable, I simply can't see him being successful. My heart says Hopkins, but my head says Kovalev. The Krusher isn't about to let himself be out-hustled by a 50 year old man.


-spit bucket :

If Hopkins wins it will be the ugliest, stinkiest, dirtiest fight ever. For that reason I'm hoping Kovalev wins it and I think he will. The Alien is no Executioner


-amayseng :

A definite toss up fight due to the age of the great phenom Hopkins. However, like that even matters. Hopkins still has enough speed and power and most importantly footwork, agility and stamina to go with his OUT of this WORLD boxing IQ to give him the edge in this fight. I am a big fan of KK, he is a true elite fighter who is not just a puncher, the guy has all the skills, only lacking in world championship caliber opposition and ring IQ due to the prior. I am going with Bhop in a very close and exciting fight, 7-5 as KK is no slouch and will win some very decisive rounds. BTW my tickets are bought and the hotel is booked. I am fired up to be at this historical event! I am hoping to run into "hiding in plain sight" RG and take some notes on nutrition, boxing, catholicism and life! Hopkins by UD!


-brownsugar :

It took me five years to appreciate Bhop after his loss to Taylor, and even longer after he underestimated Calzaghe and stunk up that fight and another few years to regain my trust after his dire fan-unfriendly fight against a used up Roy Jones. However Bernard has earned my respect over the last few years. With wins over Cloud, Pavlik Pascal and Shumenov. But who are those guys except for a quartet of underacheivers. I dont believe that any one of them are anywhere close to being on the same level as Kovalev. They know they are going to be in the ring against a 50 year old man. Kovalev will not let him rest,...hug, slow dance and work the ref to victory. Once Bhop is removed from his comfort zone and his in-ring clinch and grab techniques are nullified, his chancse for victory are exponentially reduced. Dawson won using those tactics and isnt even close to being as skilled as SK. Bhop has earned my utmost respect...but now its time to earn his rest from the battlefield.


-Kid Blast :

No. Pascal laid out a blueprint in the early rounds of their first fight. He mugged Hopkins but Hopkins survived it. If Kovalev is allowed to mug Hopkins, Bhop will not survive it because the Russian hits much harder than Pascal and is more forceful.


-spit bucket :

It took me five years to appreciate Bhop after his loss to Taylor, and even longer after he underestimated Calzaghe and stunk up that fight and another few years to regain my trust after his dire fan-unfriendly fight against a used up Roy Jones. However Bernard has earned my respect over the last few years. With wins over Cloud, Pavlik Pascal and Shumenov. But who are those guys except for a quartet of underacheivers. I dont believe that any one of them are anywhere close to being on the same level as Kovalev. They know they are going to be in the ring against a 50 year old man. Kovalev will not let him rest,...hug, slow dance and work the ref to victory. Once Bhop is removed from his comfort zone and his in-ring clinch and grab techniques are nullified, his chancse for victory are exponentially reduced. Dawson won using those tactics and isnt even close to being as skilled as SK. Bhop has earned my utmost respect...but now its time to earn his rest from the battlefield.
Great post


-Kid Blast :

Great post
Agreed


-Kid Blast :

Pascal laid out the blueprint in the first fight with a near successful mugging early, but Hopkins survived it. That won't happen with SK who is a far better mugger and leaves few prisoners.


-brownsugar :

I'd love to see BHOP win... Lately we Americans could use another P4P King. Some one who can restore confidence in the once respected institution of the American Amateur and Professional Ranks. I have nothing against the international standouts I'd just like to see the home team win a few every once in a while. We need some one who will wave the flag and kick butt like Ray Leonard. Mayweather will be gone soon (and many will feel he wasnt the best representative for various reasons).....we need more hometown winners, heroes, and world beaters. If Bhop can pull this off, I will personally petition President Obama to have a statue erected in his honor during his last term in office. Unfortunately I have no faith in that happening. But Im glad for the sport that he at least is taking the challenge. I will be wearing my Super Alien Cape if he wins... And waving a flag.


-Skibbz :

No chance i'm afraid. I love Bhop, love what he's achieved and how he's striving for even greater things. But I just don't see him doing it. This time it's just too far in my opinion. Fair play to the man though, he's a champion in the eyes of everyone and will be welcome where ever he goes.


-brownsugar :

No chance i'm afraid. I love Bhop, love what he's achieved and how he's striving for even greater things. But I just don't see him doing it. This time it's just too far in my opinion. Fair play to the man though, he's a champion in the eyes of everyone and will be welcome where ever he goes.
Agreed!!!!!!


-Carmine Cas :

Yes he can, as long as he doesn't get old overnight and KK transforms into the Italian Dragon.


-The Shadow :

It took me five years to appreciate Bhop after his loss to Taylor, and even longer after he underestimated Calzaghe and stunk up that fight and another few years to regain my trust after his dire fan-unfriendly fight against a used up Roy Jones. However Bernard has earned my respect over the last few years. With wins over Cloud, Pavlik Pascal and Shumenov. But who are those guys except for a quartet of underacheivers. I dont believe that any one of them are anywhere close to being on the same level as Kovalev. They know they are going to be in the ring against a 50 year old man. Kovalev will not let him rest,...hug, slow dance and work the ref to victory. Once Bhop is removed from his comfort zone and his in-ring clinch and grab techniques are nullified, his chancse for victory are exponentially reduced. Dawson won using those tactics and isnt even close to being as skilled as SK. Bhop has earned my utmost respect...but now its time to earn his rest from the battlefield.
Ninety percent of the time, I ride with you like a South Central Piru but I'm not too sure about this one... Do you really think 3K is as skilled as Chad Dawson? That's quite a statement, especially considering Floyd Mayweather Jr. himself anointed Dawson the most skillful fighter in the sport in his absence. Someone else mentioned that Kovalev punches harder than Pascal. I haven't felt their punches, obviously, but I don't necessarily agree with that assessment. To me, Kovalev is not a devastating "puncher". He's a devastating "finisher". He's a good puncher who buzzes you, like many fighters have the ability to do. But once you're hurt, he knows how to finish you off. That's his gift and the main thing that impresses me about him. Pascal, on the other hand, can crack -- Hopkins himself says he's the guy with the biggest punch -- but isn't as adept at finishing guys as Kovalev. As far as boxing skill goes, Hopkins is in a different stratosphere. Yes, styles make fights but there are levels to this ****. He ain't knocking out The Alien. Scratch that. Does he have the resolve, the poise, the capability to outpoint, outbox the old master? That's the only way he wins. I frankly don't think so. Not even by a long shot. 116-112, 115-113 x2, Hopkins.


-the Roast :

Bernard is getting knocked out this time. I think Kovalev does hit harder than Pascal. The guys Kovalev are KOing are going down fast and hard. I think it was Kid Blast who said Pascal laid out the plan to beat Hopkins. I believe this to be true. As long as Kovalev puts the pressure on and lets his hands go something hard is going to land. Probably high on the head or on the temple and Bernard goes down. I just hope the ref doesn't stop the fight too fast, I don't want any controversy.


-amayseng :

Anything can happen Pascal caught Bhop with a shot that floored him. Pascal is much faster than KK and im sure Bhop is banking on that. However, KK is a better boxer and finisher that Pascal and is more active as Pascal fights in spots. If anything KK's height and reach may pose a problem.


-The Shadow :

Anything can happen Pascal caught Bhop with a shot that floored him. Pascal is much faster than KK and im sure Bhop is banking on that. However, KK is a better boxer and finisher that Pascal and is more active as Pascal fights in spots. If anything KK's height and reach may pose a problem.
He's an extremely adept finisher. Once he's got you, there's no letting go. If Bernie gets buzzed, he's gonna need ALL his tricks up his sleeve to pull through because this Kovalev cat goes video game on dudes, I'm talking Scorpio in Mortal Kombat. "FINISH HIM!" And he usually does.


-stormcentre :

Not going to surprise me to see Hopkins win and/or expose Kovalev.