Photo Credit : David Spagnolo
Most occasions, Father Time shows up and rudely introduces himself to a man, no warning, just a home invasion sort of surprise. He showed up during the main event on Saturday night at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, and introduced himself to Bernard Hopkins, and told him to join the club, almost gently, as though he knew this master pugilist deserved that deference.
We thought maybe the day would never come, but it did on Nov. 8, 2014.
Mark it down, the day the ageless one, the youngest old man in sports went from alien to homo sapien. To a point, though; Hopkins still fought at a world class level, just not close enough to a younger gunslinger to make a true fight of it in front of 8,545 rooters.
Sergey Kovalev acted as the ambassador for the ruthless one, and sent Hopkins to the mat in the first round. Message was clear and taken to heart; too young, too strong, too much. Hopkins threw 12-15 punches a round, the better to stay smart defensively, so he wouldn't get stopped. Kovalev stayed patient, didn't get over-excited, and fought at a pace one would think favored the elder. He got tagged a couple times by Hopkins but was never in anything resembling severe danger. Father Time saw to that…
The judges saw it for Kovalev, via scores of 120-107, 120-107, 120-106. The Alien was…I don't want to say exposed, because it had to happen SOMETIME…but unmasked, finally.
Kova went 166-585 to 65-195 for Bernard in the punch-stat department.
After, Sergey said the win was simple, then said he was kidding. No, Hopkins needs to stop his career, and give opps to young guys. Hopkins said after he wouldn't decide now whether to fight on, but said it's 50-50. Kovalev said he thinks Hopkins could still beat Adonis Stevenson, though. Hopkins gave Kovalev props for being smart, and technical, and fighting a focused fight. He said that Kovalev would land, then step back and that proved wise against the older man.
The winner's promoter, Kathy Duva, said after to TSS, “He out-boxed a great boxer. And John David Jackson did an outstanding job with the game plan. I am so very proud of both of them. This was a great night.”
The almost 50 years old Hopkins (IBF, WBA light heavy champ) weighed 173 1/2 on Friday, while the 31-year-old Kovalev (WBO champ; 25-0-1 with 23 Kos) was 174 1/2. Hopkins (55-6-2; from Philly; four time WC) was 182 to 188 for Sergey on fight night.
Hopkins came in to the X-Files theme, and then a rap song, his green alien mask on.
In the first, down went Hopkins off a right hand. He was up and clear eyed. “You can make this dude miss like all the others,” Naazim Richardson said after the round.
In the second, Kovalev got Hopkins in his second headlock, with his left arm. Sergey stalked, so cool, so cruel. Hopkins looked to keep him off with a little jab, and lateral movement, slow movement, as he preserved his energy. But his offense was negligible.
In the third, Kovalev slipped to the mat, or was tripped. Kovalev ate a left hook and the crowd liked it. Hopkins moved, stared, stayed cool, landed a counter right, but Kovalev landed a few nasties to end the round. Naaz after the round told BHop not to get caught on ropes or the corner.
In the fourth, Kovalev edged forward, cool and cruel, but should he not open up? Hopkins ate a right as he advanced, and it looked to surprise him. Hopkins moved his torso and head, twisted and turned to avoid getting hit flush and succeeded a good deal. John David Jackson loved Kovalev's work, told him to go low, drop the hands, then KO him.
In the fifth, Kovalev started jabbing to the body. The pace was still slow but it worked for Sergey, surprisingly. His eye was reddened by now; would it split?
In the sixth, Hopkins stayed in a corner, a danger zone, but mostly defended smartly. Hopkins was more in center ring the last two rounds, but he still wasn't winning the rounds. “All he's trying to do is survive now…cut the ring off,” Jackson told Sergey.
In the seventh, Hopkins landed a clean right. The crowd chanted BHop. But he was too defensive, not busy enough, which is what his trainer told him after.
In the eighth, a right buckled Hopkins, which landed from a nice distance. Kovalev didn’t press the issue. Naazim told Hopkins to tell him if he wasn’t capable of doing it.
In the ninth, Sergey came out nastier. He put four together now. But yet he was still patient, still respectful. Hopkins still made him miss masterfully.
In the tenth, Hopkins landed a right. He knew he needed to gamble. A left hook punctuated the end for the round for the Russian.
In the 11th, they clinched some. Hopkins would need a KO. Guess what, in the 12th, Hopkins landed a nasty one, and Kovalev goose stepped..or maybe he was off balance. But he collected himself, and then looked to finish the old man, via stoppage, but he couldn't…the Philly pride wouldn't allow it…Hopkins stumbled, almost went down in the 12th, but no…so we went to the cards.
It was not an “exciting” fight but yes, it was dramatic, because merely attempting this feat spoke volumes about B-Hop, and you had to view the event with constant measure of respect focused on the headed-for-the-Hall fighter who tonight recognizes a bit more what it's like to be like the rest of us.