“Nobody will ever do it five times because you know as well as I do that people get old too fast. I used to run six miles a day but now I got to make an effort for three. I can still do everything I want but I got to make appointments. Can’t do things on the spur of the moment like when you’re 20.”
Those candid words weren’t uttered by today’s elder statesman of boxing and its most distinguished defier of age erosion, Bernard Hopkins, who will turn 50 in January.
Wearing a chocolate brown suit, relaxing on a couch, muscles probably still twitching after a two mile run earlier that morning, a fighter with deluded intentions swirling around inside his head like a tornado, had just spoken to New York Times sports columnist George Vecsey. At 39, lofty mountains had already been scaled on more than a few occasions, memorably. However, one more victory, a victory which would propel Muhammad Ali out boxing’s abyss and onwards and upwards toward a shot at the near impossible, winning the heavyweight title for a fourth time, was always going to be as probable as a resurfacing of the Titanic.
Deep down, Ali knew it.
12 days later, on December 11, 1981, inside the Queen Elizabeth Sports Centre in the Bahamas’ capital, Nassau, the scene of an infamous demise for boxing’s foremost entertainer – in and out of the ring – was just as painful for the contingent of seated observers to view as it was for the great man himself to physically endure. Compared to how he moved around the ring, which was eloquently graceful and highly distinctive during the iconic decade the 60s, this Ali was almost statue-like whilst being undressed by the youthful hands of 27-year-old Trevor Berbick over the course of a 10 round points decision loss. Had he been around ten years earlier, Berbick would’ve been fortunate enough to have found himself on Ali’s payroll as a sparring partner.
In addition, three years after his final farewell, Ali was sadly diagnosed with Parkinson’s Syndrome, a disease with a much more prolonged impact than any jolting wallops he received from Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Larry Holmes, or Trevor Berbick, amongst others. It has has taken its toll to the point where he is now, for the most part, secluded to the confinement of a wheelchair.
Those words, the ones Ali, now 72, briefed Vecsey with 23 years ago, are ringing truer than ever today. Simple tasks in life many of us take for granted such as washing our faces or reaching for the TV remote control are long gone for him. Making a mere effort, now a sacrifice. Quick spur of the moment physical reaches, void.
Hey, you. Yes, you, the youngest old man in the world.
Time to walk away into the horizon, brother. Win or lose, this Saturday against Sergey Kovalev, it’s time. Time to hang ’em darn gloves up.
If defeats to Taylor, Calzaghe and Dawson couldn’t push you into retirement, what will? Also, after those previous historic wins of recent years, you still couldn’t walk down those steps one last time. You’re stupidly getting caught up in a turbulent vicious circle – and you know it.
Time to vacate the premises.
Good luck, Saturday night.
Hopkins vs. Kovalev is a 12-round unification bout for the IBF, WBA and WBO Light Heavyweight World titles, presented by Golden Boy Promotions and Main Events in association with Caesars Atlantic City, Corona Extra, AT&T and Hortitsia Vodka. The HBO World Championship Boxing telecast begins at 10:45 p.m. ET/PT. Coverage starts at 2:00 am in the UK on Boxnation.
Prediction time – I’ve reached out and spoke to various experts and asked them for their take on the outcome. Enjoy, and please add your own, in the TSS forum.
Chris Cozzone (Fightnews.com): I’m predicting an ugly fight ending in a majority decision for Hopkins. B-Hop will put on an unpretty clinic, with plenty of tying up and complaints, while a frustrated Kovalev will try to land bombs, several of which will have judges seeing a close fight.
Matt Hamilton (ESNewsreporting.com): Most – including the bookmakers – will make Sergey Kovalev a strong favorite in this one. But for me it’s one thing to knock over less cultured, less refined and perhaps critically less proven campaigners at world level, it’s another to take out the ilk of Bernard Hopkins. Hopkins has been discounted before and whilst Kovalev presents an entirely qualitatively disparate dilemma to say Kelly Pavlik, I can’t help but assume B-Hop provides as close to a litmus test of authenticity as exists for the multitude lofty claims surrounding the Kovalev phenomenon. Kovalev is a favourite for a reason but I’m going to stick my neck on the block and predict a Hopkins win by wideish unanimous decision.
Ben Dirs (BBC Sport and author of the book ‘The Hate Game: Benn, Eubank and British Boxing’s Bitterest Rivalry’): Hopkins on a split decision.
Robbi Paterson (TheSweetScience.com): It’s going to be an interesting evening. I’m firmly in the corner of Kovalev trainer John David Jackson when he says it’s Hopkins’ fight if he dictates the tempo – a slow tempo. He’ll be looking for Kovalev to do more flowing than thinking, which just happens to be very difficult to accomplish and maintain against Hopkins, who’s style and superbly implemented counter punching approach makes many opponents ‘pause.’ See, that’s the thing about fighting Hopkins effectively; it’s about taking him out of his comfort zone. The first 3-4 rounds will be extremely crucial. During those moments, Hopkins needs to defuse Kovalev by making doubts creep into his mind. Apart from Kovalev winning by result of a one punch knockout, for me, Hopkins wins on points.
Diego Morilla (HBO.com, RingTV.com, XN Sports.com): Through the last few years, Hopkins has been able to demonstrate that boxing is not all about speed and power, and he has placed experience and ring IQ even above those two virtues, redesigning and reshuffling the pieces of the puzzle that he presents to his opponents in each one of his fights with the ability of a wizard. But against a rangy, powerful, skilled and motivated fighter like Kovalev, he’ll need much more than that. So far, few fighters have been able to land more than two meaningful punches in a row against Hopkins, or at least one with enough power to unsettle him. My bet, unfortunately, is that Kovalev will be able to execute either one of these feats (or both) to bring The Alien’s career to a halt, once and for all. Kovalev TKO 10 Hopkins.
Mikey Garcia (WBO world super featherweight champion): Hopkins by decision.
Jeff Mayweather (Boxing/MMA trainer): Interesting fight. Kovalev should win but no guarantee. He hasn’t fought anyone near Hopkins’ calibre or smarts. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Hopkins pull-off the upset. Kovalev by close decision.
Randy Gordon (TheSweetScience.com/SiriusXM radio host): I am finding this the toughest pick I have ever had to make, that’s how even I think this fight is, despite the fact they are totally different fighters. Kovalev has the power. B-Hop has the skill. Kovalev has the youth. B-Hop has the experience. Kovalev is like a bomb, set to blow up and do damage. B-Hop must be the bomb squad. He can’t simply jump on the bomb and try to rip it apart. If he does, it will most likely detonate. He must take his time, diffusing it wire by wire, piece by piece. Can he do it? I say he can. I look for a distance fight which will be close and competitive, especially in the first half of the fight. Then, the massive skill and experience of B-Hop will take over. Rough and dirty at times, this will be an interesting fight. B-Hop by unanimous decision.
Jason Pribila (Secondsout.com): I had the honour of sitting ringside for Hopkins’ masterpiece vs Pavlik. Bernard looked old in the opening frames vs Pascal in their first fight. Kovalev won’t let him off hook. And, John David Jackson will prepare Kovalev for a “Graterford Stare” at the weigh-in. Kovalev TKO 6.
Clay Moyle (Prizefightingbooks.com and author of the book ‘Sam Langford: Boxing’s Greatest Uncrowned Champion’): I’ll go with Hopkins by decision.
Abel Sanchez (trainer of world middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin): It could end up being a great fight. I believe it is a 50/50 fight. It’s there for Kovalev to win it if he boxes, maintains distance and doesn’t get caught up in the machismo of trying to knock Hopkins out. Hopkins will school you if you are to aggressive and over anxious. Hopkins by decision.
Ben Doughty (TipTV.co.uk): While I could never write the ‘Alien’ off, I am inclined to feel that this will be a step too far for Hopkins. He has had an amazing run and his place in history is secure but we should remember that he lost fair and square to the younger Chad Dawson a couple of years ago and Kovalev is fresh, capable and dangerous. Bernard’s body of work is vastly superior with Nathan Cleverly about the most notable scalp on Kovalev’s record. But I suspect Kovalev will make Hopkins fight at a pace that doesn’t suit him and can win on points.
Jeffrey Freeman (KO Digest): This is a scary boxing blockbuster in the making! Here’s a sneak preview of coming attractions: a 49-year-old Bernard “The Alien” Hopkins gets launched from the ring by the crushing power of a real-life killer with an a**-kicking strategy, Sergey “The Krusher” Kovalev. In Atlantic City, the Russian will execute the former executioner from Philadelphia with a prophetic injection of phantom punching precision. It’s a black and white remake of Rocky Marciano knocking out Joe Louis except this “Krusher” sheds no tears. To him, it’s a dark comedy, or worse, a dirty movie. Wherever his spaceship crash-lands inside old Boardwalk Hall, the “Alien” will be writhing around in agony, but this time it’s no act. Closing credits: If the fight somehow makes it to the scorecards, the rotten tomatoes review was written and executive produced by judges Layton, Ortiz, and Sammartino. Sergey Kovalev TKO4 Bernard Hopkins.
Rudy Hernandez (Los Angeles based trainer): If Kovalev is anywhere as smart as Nicholas Walters (who knocked out Nonito Donaire for the WBA featherweight title on Oct 18) he wins by knockout. But I believe that Hopkins will find the easy way out and claim injury.
Allan Scotto (Maxboxing.com): I think Hopkins takes the decision. Much more experience and very crafty.
Sean Crose (Boxinginsider.com): Man, this one is most certainly NOT easy to pick. I said I would never go against Hopkins again, but I’m going to have to eat my words in this case. Here’s the thing – Kovalev can do more than just punch. He’s an adept ring technician. Add that to the fact that the man can literally knock a person down with no more than a jab and you’ve got a deadly combination on your hands. I see this one being stopped in the later rounds after it becomes clear the Alien can’t outsmart the Krusher and the heavy punches start to really take their toll. Kovalev by TKO, 11th round.
Leighton Ginn (Desurtsun.com): I have Kovalev. I hate to go against Hopkins but Kovalev might be too much.
Barry Jones (Boxnation pundit and former WBO world super featherweight champion): It’s a hard one to call as Kovalev’s style is suited to Hopkins. But saying that I’m going for Kovalev to win, with Hopkins looking for a way out and possibly getting disqualified.
Springs Toledo (TheSweetScience.com and author of the book ‘The Gods of War’): I’m actively recommending this fight to non-boxing fans because if gray-bearded Hopkins happens to defeat the most dangerous light heavyweight in the world, it will be an historic accomplishment. There’s a caveat though: Hopkins will have to weather early storms which will be fun to watch, but then he’ll slow the pace, maul, and make the fight an eyesore. If he doesn’t neutralize Kovalev with spoiler tactics, he will provoke him into unthinking aggression and catch him with counters. A part of Hopkins’s training regimen may be learning Russian slurs to use during clinches. I’m going with age and guile for this one; Hopkins by controversial SD or DQ.