Naazim Richardson told me before the Saturday night showdown between his kid, Bernard Hopkins, and Sergey Kovalev, that the primary variable in play was power.
How much of it does Kovalev have?
When we know that, meaning, when Hopkins and his trainer understand that, that’s when the direction of the fight will be that much clearer, was my takeaway in the days leading up to the light heavyweight scrap in Atlantic City.
Well, that variable became a known quality in round one, when Kovalev caught a squared-up Hopkins advancing, clipped him with a right hand, and sent him to the mat.
Was it game over right then and there? No; this is Hopkins, maybe the craftiest dude ever to lace up a pair. To assume that that exercise is complete because he got knocked down early would be foolhardy. And if we know one thing that we didn’t KNOW before about Kovalev, it’s that he isn’t foolhardy. With his corner and the arena encouraging him to get a bit bolder, go for that rubout, get that extra glory that’d come with being the man to stop the heretofore ageless wonder, Kovalev stayed on message.
He didn’t bow to the conventional track, romance his power, and gun for the stoppage, thus leaving himself open for a sneaky quick counter which could’ve buckled his legs more than the couple times his chin sent him the message that the old man still had some spark and pop in him.
“The kid (Kovalev) punches hard as s—t,” Richardson told me in a Monday debrief session. “You can’t measure that from the outside, you got to see a guy in there. And once I saw Bernard go defensive I knew the power must be a factor.”
“He’s a big guy,” Richardson said, noting that after the UD12 loss, he and Hopkins discussed the merits of what most of the young uns do now, drain down to a weight class or so then maybe their body is actually suited for, so they enjoy that strength edge once they rehydrate. “We always discuss it, but Bernard refused to believe it. Then they guy came to the ring, and he looked so much bigger. But I don’t take anything away from the victory. He stayed smart, he didn’t engage.” Later, he told me, “The other guy was better, stronger.”
Richardson told me he got a sense that Kovalev possessed a certain wisdom, a ‘just win now, keep craving Kos later’ mentality, when on the 24/7 he heard trainer John David Jackson speak on gunning to drop and stop Hopkins, and he heard Kovalev talk about being more patient and smart. Most young guns, Richardson said, would but of course be in love with their power, and seek to hammer down Hopkins. “I don’t know if it was being smart, or fear, but it worked for him. He didn’t go for that tough guy s–t.”
Richardson applauded that tactic, noting that America loves a winner, and Kovalev will continue to be loved as long as he wins. Which, by the way, he foresees a continuation of that trend, because he believes with his power and smarts, he can run a string of consecutive KOs. “I like to say that if Michael Vick won a Super Bowl they’d hand him the Lombardi trophy, and a puppy with a bow around his neck,” the trainer said, to illustrate.
Funny, how we can continue to learn about life and about people, even those we know intimately, after seeing a trillion sunrises and sunsets. Richardson said he learned truly how sick B-Hop’s chin in on Nov. 8. “I told Bernard to his face before, if he hits you with four or five shots, he will knock you out. I told him, you will be flat on your back, or the ER. Bernard told me no, I got a good chin. Well, he does, one of the best in history! I didn’t think he could land that many and Bernard would stay up…and he did. I found out something about both of them.”
That said, while Richardson bent over backwards to give the winner credit–he told me, yes, Kovalev did DOMINATE Hopkins–he somewhat surprised me when he said he wouldn’t pick Kovalev to beat Adonis Stevenson if and when the Russian and the Haitian-born Canadian get it on. “I don’t know when Adonis cracks him back, I don’t know if Kovalev can take it,” he said. Richardson noted that Kovalev did do the wiggle, did get a little bothered when Hopkins landed clean, a few times, and that wasn’t truly expected. He isn’t sure, though, whether it has to do with caliber of whiskers or more so the element of surprise, as Hopkins wasn’t able to land with regularity. (To be clear, he also told me he hesitated to ponder Kovalev-Adonis, as there could be the mis-perception of “sour grapes” so soon after Hopkins-Kovalev).
So, with Hopkins being taken to the woodshed by the younger gun, something, by the way, Richardson noted is but of course the way of the world, youth must always rise and surmount even the most superlative of oldsters, does the trainer think Hopkins should hang up the mitts? Would Richardson tell, or has he told Hopkins, he thinks it wise to wave adios?
“I didn’t tell him to start fighting, it’s not my job to tell him when to stop,” the trainer told me. “I did tell him to retire after he beat Antonio Tarver (in 2006). He did it all. I said, you did everything but get beat up bad or get stopped.’ On Saturday, he was beat badly, dominated.” But, then again, Richardson said, Hopkins’ face after the fight didn’t tell a sad tale. “I told him after Tarver, leave now, and you will leave at the top of the game, your name stands forever, people will say you ‘did a Hopkins.’ But then we wouldn’t have had the Pascal win, and others. He shouldn’t have listened to me! I sometimes say, though, don’t let your mouth write a check your ass can’t cash.”
I hope Naazim forgives me as I take license to somewhat read in between the lines. I feel like the trainer, part of him, a large part, feels like it would be great if the wealthy and legendary Hopkins steps away now. But, he also knows that even at this level of effectiveness, Hopkins can still beat some people, and that his pride is enormous and damn it, he’s a fighter, and fighters fight, until it is quite rudely presented to them, in the form of a most conclusive parade of punishing blows, that continuing would be inarguably detrimental to their lives. “No, we didn’t discuss retiring, not right after the fight,” Richardson said. “Not right after. If he won, maybe. (But Hopkins earned the right to have complete and total say about continuing), and again, I didn’t tell him when to start, and I won’t tell him when to stop. When I said what I said after the Tarver fight, I’m glad he didn’t listen, and I’m sure he’s glad.”
There is much, much more from Richardson, so please do check my Twitter feed. https://twitter.com/Woodsy1069