Tonight, WBA/IBF light heavyweight title holder Bernard Hopkins 55-6-2 (32) will meet WBO light heavyweight title holder Sergey Kovalev 25-0-1 (23). Hopkins, 49, just nine weeks shy of 50, is roughly a 3-1 underdog in the bout. And that’s mainly because of his age and the fact that many boxing observers see Kovalev as being the hardest puncher and most dangerous fighter Hopkins will fight since moving up to light heavyweight a little over eight years ago.
Hopkins was a solid underdog in his maiden light heavyweight bout when he challenged Antonio Tarver for the “Ring Magazine” lineal title during the summer of 2006. Back then Hopkins was coming off two suspect decision losses to Jermain Taylor, thus losing all four of his middleweight title belts. The thought at the time was, Tarver, who beat Roy Jones in their rubber match in his last bout, would be too big and strong for the 3-1 underdog Hopkins. Like many, I figured that if Hopkins couldn’t conclusively beat Taylor once in two fights, how he would handle the bigger and stronger Tarver, who was much more seasoned and tested than Taylor.
Now here we are again. In Kovalev, Hopkins is facing another physically big and strong light heavyweight, like Tarver, only Hopkins is 49, not 41. Kovalev’s reputation is even bigger than what Tarver’s was as far as being a “catch n’ kill” knockout artist. However, nobody mentions how Tarver clearly faced and defeated a significantly better grade of fighters than what Kovalev has faced in his 26 professional bouts. And needless for me to overstate it, Hopkins literally and figuratively took Tarver apart the night they fought. Hopkins had Tarver down in the fifth round and routed him by the scores of 118-109 on all three judges’ scorecards.
I said after that fight I would never pick against Hopkins again. Well I did, I picked him to lose to both Joe Calzaghe and Chad Dawson by decision, and he did. Although I did have him beating Calzaghe by a point. That said, my reasoning for picking Calzaghe and Dawson to beat Hopkins was based strictly on style. It’s been my belief, especially since the two Taylor fights and his move up to light heavyweight, that Hopkins is most vulnerable to quicker handed and footed fighters who look to get in and get out. Basically, they beat Hopkins at playing touch and tag and don’t even attempt to hurt or knock him out. As opposed to power driven fighters like Tarver, Kelly Pavlik and Jean Pascal, who looked to impose themselves physically on Hopkins.
Since the Tarver fight I’ve contended that it’ll take a fighter with more than sheer power and aggression to beat Hopkins. And when all is said and done, what is Sergey Kovalev’s identity? It’s power and steady pressure. Yes, he’s a tall and rangy light heavyweight. But unlike past Hopkins opponents, he does his best work from mid-range and can probably hurt Hopkins without having to get inside or crowd him, something that could very well be a key to a Kovalev victory. Then again if Hopkins isn’t bothered much by Kovalev’s Sunday punches, regardless where they’re launched from, it’s unlikely he’ll win.
I’ve been thinking about who I like in this fight since it was signed. It’s been a long time since I’ve gone back and forth so much in trying to decide who I think will win a fight. And that of course is why the bout is so intriguing and much anticipated. Will power and aggression overcome technical proficiency and experience -or- will wisdom and versatility trump physicality and youth?
I generally have an opinion about who’ll win an upcoming fight, but this is one where I just can’t get a firm feel for it. Aside from Hopkins by early kayo, I can picture almost any result here.
So here are my thoughts:
I know Hopkins has taken the bullets away from every big puncher he has ever faced, and reduced them to looking like they were trying to knock out a sheet hung over a clothes line. Kovalev is perceived as being the best two-handed puncher in the light heavyweight division. Hopkins’ last three opponents Beibut Shumenov, Karo Murat and Tavoris Cloud all went the distance with him and only Shumenov touched the canvas. Kovalev is bigger, stronger and much more capable and dangerous than the three of them combined.
Hopkins is closer to 50 years old than 49. He’s not the fighter he was five years ago. As much as I love Bernard as a fighter, he really hasn’t beaten anyone close to being special in awhile and, Kovalev has never faced a special fighter. I also don’t know if Sergey Kovalev is special, but if I had to bet, I think there’s a good chance he just may be. I also don’t believe Hopkins is going to be able to unravel Kovalev the way he has done so many other big punchers and opponents. I get the feeling Kovalev isn’t the type to come undone by some of the deceptions and mirages that Hopkins presents. Add to that I think Kovalev being able to get Hopkins’ respect from mid-range because he’s not a big hooker and does damage when he catches you at the end of his punches, could be a big factor.
Another thing I’m looking at, is Kovalev is going to be making the fight (regardless of what Hopkins has hinted regarding switching roles for this fight). With Kovalev pushing the action and most likely landing the bigger shots, that’ll make it easier for the judges to give him rounds. And lastly, it’s better business if Kovalev wins. Like Gennady Golovkin, Sergey can be promoted as a killer, only he’ll have superior credentials to Golovkin if he beats Hopkins. Make that 10-fold if he stops him.
Boxing’s new stars are knocking at the door. With a win against Hopkins, Kovalev will be the fighter standing behind it when it opens. Kovalev’s size, power, youth and corner, along with my belief that the boxing establishment (which will factor into the decision if it’s close) is looking to get rid of Hopkins and use his name to promote its latest emerging star, makes it very tempting to go with Kovalev.
But I can’t.
I remember when Evander Holyfield and Riddick Bowe met the first time for Holyfield’s undisputed heavyweight title. My belief at the time was, Bowe had the style and size to really give Holyfield trouble and beat him. However, I had questions about Bowe’s stamina and character. Had I not had those questions regarding Bowe, I may have picked him to beat Holyfield. But I couldn’t get past those voices in my head about Bowe. And the last fighter I’m picking to beat Holyfield in his first big fight is a fighter who I had questions about pertaining to his constitution and stamina. So I went with Holyfield and was wrong because Bowe fought the greatest fight of his life that night. And you know what, I’ve never questioned my decision for going with Holyfield for the reasons that I did.
In some ways, Hopkins-Kovalev, when it comes to picking the winner, reminds me of how I felt in the leadup to Holyfield-Bowe I. I know what Hopkins is, and that’s a great fighter/boxer/technician that is as tough and durable as any fighter ever. There are no questions or unknowns about Hopkins. The only question is, when Father Time will finally catch up with him. He’s two months shy of 50 years old, that day is drawing closer every time he enters the ring. Will it be against Kovalev, maybe? I think I know what kind of a commodity that Sergey Kovalev may be, but I do have some unanswered questions. Would I be surprised if Kovalev beat Hopkins, no. However, he doesn’t get the benefit of my doubt until his next fight after Hopkins, if he wins. I know what I’m getting in Hopkins; I don’t fully know that about Kovalev.
So I’m gonna roll with the known entity, Hopkins. And that’s simply because I’d rather be wrong Sunday morning going with the proven great fighter who became an old fighter on Saturday night, as opposed to being wrong Sunday morning because the old all-time great fighter schooled the up and coming, but untested, next guy.
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com
Photo Credit : David Spagnolo