As of this writing, Floyd Mayweather is thought of as being the best pound-for-pound fighter in boxing (although I believe Guillermo Rigondeaux, Roman Gonzalez, and Andre Ward are better right now). Gennady Golovkin is boxing’s brightest emerging star, Manny Pacquiao is probably the best known worldwide and Bernard Hopkins has the highest boxing IQ and best resume.
However, there’s a fight coming up on November 8th in which one of the participants, if he were to win by stoppage, he would own the most impressive victory of any active fighter in boxing. And that includes any victory on the resume of Mayweather, Pacquiao and Golovkin…
That’s right, if Sergey Kovalev 25-0-1 (23) were somehow able to defeat former middleweight and reigning WBA/IBF light heavyweight title holder Bernard Hopkins 55-6-2 (32) by stoppage, no active fighter in boxing would own such a monumental and historic victory.
Think about that… How many active fighters are there today that are certified all-time greats (excluding somewhat inactive Roy Jones and James Toney)? There’s Mayweather, Pacquiao, Juan Manuel Marquez and Hopkins. Sure, there are a few others who are in the midst of making their case, but only the four mentioned are can’t miss and would be voted in tomorrow if a vote was taken. Yes, Mayweather, Pacquiao and Marquez have defeated some great fighters, but nothing on their record equals Kovalev stopping Hopkins if it happened, especially if the nature of the stoppage is a legit knockout where Hopkins doesn’t beat the 10-count. Not only has Hopkins never been stopped, he’s never absorbed a beating in 63 professional bouts.
I don’t care that Hopkins is almost 50. In a recent media poll, 12 out of 23 boxing observers picked him to win the fight – so you can’t argue that Kovalev beat an old man on his last legs. Old and not quite what he once was, yes, but certainly not on shaky legs. Nobody has ever been close to stopping Hopkins and he was only really shaken once in his career, against Segundo Mercado in the fifth round of their first fight.
Whenever a big puncher comes along, the likes of Sergey Kovalev or Gennady Golovkin, the first thing we want to know is: who has he stopped? Heavyweight Deontay Wilder has won every one of his 32 fights by knockout. Yet we really don’t know if he is a genuine knockout artist because there isn’t one opponent on his record who even resembles an upper-tier fighter. In other words, Wilder’s knockout percentage is suspect. We won’t know if Wilder is even remotely close to being the real deal until he fights and convincingly stops an upper-tier heavyweight.
The two Biggest Shockers Of My Lifetime:
When George Foreman fought Joe Frazier for the undisputed heavyweight title, he was 37-0 (34). Yet, there were many who questioned if he truly was a once- in-a-generation puncher. Then he demolished Frazier, knocking him down six times in 4:35 of actual combat. At the time Foreman stopped Frazier, Joe was 29 years old and sported a record of 29-0 (25). He was a year and a half removed from conclusively beating Muhammad Ali in the “Fight Of The Century.” Before the fight the thought of Frazier being stopped (he was a 3-1 favorite) wasn’t even a consideration. Oh, some now say they saw it coming but nobody other than Howard Cosell called it before the fight. Foreman’s destruction of “Smokin” Joe is one of the most impressive exhibitions of punching power in boxing history. Seeing Frazier beaten and punched around the ring is something that myself and a plethora of others never thought we’d see. That was the fight that sealed Foreman’s reputation as being a great puncher, and it was never questioned again. And because of it George was a 3-1 favorite over Muhammad Ali when they fought roughly a year and a half later.
If there ever was a knockout in boxing that certified a fighter’s punching power, it was Foreman’s annihilation of Frazier. However, there is one that happened 11 years later that was every bit as impressive over a fighter, who, like Frazier, nobody ever thought they’d see counted out. And that was Thomas Hearns’ two round knockout over Roberto Duran to retain his WBC junior middleweight title. Duran was seven months removed from going the distance with undisputed middleweight champ Marvin Hagler when he fought Hearns. Against Hagler, Roberto wasn’t hurt, shook or in trouble once during the 15-round bout. Yet Hearns knocked Roberto cold with one straight right hand to the chin in the second round. Yes, Hearns scored some impressive once-punch knockouts before he fought Duran, but knocking out a great fighter and warrior like Duran with one punch is about as impressive of a knockout as a fighter can score.
If there ever were two fighters who looked impervious to their opponent’s punches and enjoyed fighting and combat like Frazier and Duran, I can’t think of who they might be. Joe and Roberto were the poster-boys for what a durable and tough fighter is in the ring. Seeing them beaten up and manhandled on the way to suffering their first stoppage defeat was unfathomable before Mr. Foreman and Mr. Hearns showed up on 1/22/73 and 6/15/84. And to no one’s surprise, it never happened to either of them.
Back to Hopkins:
Bernard is viewed as being every bit as tough and durable as Frazier and Duran were, there’s just no way around that. He’s never really been beaten up or knocked around the ring for a single round of his 63 bout career, and he’s fought every tough guy and bad a** who’s come along since 1993. Nobody, I mean nobody, questions Hopkins’ toughness and durability, even at age 49. And that is why if Sergey Kovalev beats up Hopkins so much so that the referee has to save him from getting really hurt, or if Kovalev puts him down for the count, he’ll own the most significant win among all active fighters.
For those who may doubt that, go back and check the record of Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao, Juan Manuel Marquez or any other top fighter today, and see if they own a single victory that one could say is as impressive and monumental as what a Kovalev stoppage of Hopkins would be. The closest and most impressive victory that any active all-time great has scored today is Marquez’s one-punch knockout of Pacquiao. But Manny was stopped twice before, yes he was young, but it happened twice. And we’ve seen him rattled plenty before during his Hall-of-Fame career.
It’s not how many knockouts a fighter scores, it’s who he knocks out or stops that is the lie-detector as to whether he is a genuine puncher. If Sergey Kovalev can send the “alien” to planet unconscious, he will join Foreman and Hearns in scoring one of the most meaningful stoppages in boxing history.
I declare that if Bernard Hopkins can’t finish the fight against Kovalev on November 8th 2014, then Sergey must be viewed as boxing’s brightest new star. Because stopping Bernard Hopkins has to be the toughest assignment that could be asked of any fighter in 2014. And I think the sight of Hopkins staggering around or out cold would be about the most shocking thing I’ve ever seen live in the ring. Again, if it were to happen.
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com
Photo Credit: Denis Bancroft/Main Events