ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – Do they still say "'til death do us part" at wedding ceremonies? These days, with the divorce rate continuing to rise, the notion of two people or entities staying together forever because of a recited promise might seem quaint and outdated.
IBF/WBA light heavyweight champion Bernard "The Alien" Hopkins verbally filed divorce papers from his most recent premium-cable partner on Thursday, and just like that he altered the face of the 175-pound weight class and, perhaps by extension, the landscape for all of boxing.
Contracts were hurriedly drawn up and signed on Friday for a unification matchup of Hopkins (55-6-1, 32 KOs) and WBO light heavyweight titlist Sergey Kovalev (25-0-1, 23 KOs), to be held on a date yet to be determined in November, either at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., or Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall, and televised by HBO.
That an agreement for a Hopkins-Kovalev showdown could be reached so quickly, in a sport where negotiations often are as drawn-out and tedious as soap-opera story lines, had the immediate effect of transforming Kovalev's HBO-televised title defense here Saturday night against Australia's Blake Caparello into a preview of a much-better coming attraction. And Kovalev, the "Krusher from Russia," held up his end of the bargain, stopping Caparello (19-1-1, 6 KOs) 1 minute, 47 seconds into the second round of a scheduled 12-rounder. Although Caparello, a southpaw and a 15-to-1 underdog, registered a flash knockdown in Round 1 with an overhand left, it was but a momentary aberration. Kovalev floored the Aussie three times in the following stanza, prompting referee Sparkle Lee to step in and wave a halt to the increasingly one-sided proceedings.
The defining shot was a straight right to Caparello's midsection, sending the challenger, grimacing in pain, down on one knee for the second of his three trips to the canvas.
"When I (hit) his liver, I felt I could finish fight. Why not?," said Kovalev, who now has ended 12 of his last 13 bouts inside the distance, the only non-knockout a technical draw against Grover Young that was called in the second round on Aug. 27, 2011. Of the flash knockdown scored by Caparello, Kovalev said, "It was not really like knockdown. I didn't feel his punch. He got me off my balance."
Kovalev said procuring a fight with Hopkins "is very big fight, very interesting for me and for boxing world. It is my dream, really. One of my dreams."
Is a cornerstone of that dream the notion of becoming the first man to knock out Hopkins? Many have tried, but no one has come close to succeeding in putting the old master down and out. No one has even succeeded in putting that much punishment on a man Lou DiBella, who promotes Caparello, described as "a defensive genius."
"I am not going to try for it," Kovalev said of any thoughts he might harbor of taking B-Hop out in the same emphatic manner in which he starched Caparello. "We will see what happens in the ring. Who knows? Maybe he can teach me something. Bernard Hopkins is very smart fighter, very experienced. But I am not afraid of him."
Nor is Hopkins intimidated by the prospect of swapping punches with the most-feared power hitter in the light heavyweight division, and maybe in all of boxing.
"I always ran to the fire, not away from the fire," he said.
As might be expected, much of the buzz at the Revel Casino Hotel, where the fight was held, centered around what will take place a few months hence rather than what had just occurred. Hopkins, at 49, has confounded boxing experts with his amazing longevity for more than a decade, and his 180-degree shift from his previously stated position indicates still another reversal on the business end of an enterprise that is forever buffeted by strong winds.
In late April, Hopkins, whose previous two bouts and three of his last seven had been on Showtime, pledged his undying fealty. "I'm a Showtime fighter," he insisted. "I'm loyal to Showtime. I'm loyal to (then-Golden Boy Promotions CEO Richard Schaefer). I'm loyal to Al Haymon. Unless Kovalev comes here (to Showtime) or crosses the street, that fight ain't never gonna happen."
With WBC light heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson jumping from HBO to Showtime at the behest of Haymon, his powerful and influential adviser, it seemed inevitable that if a unification bout was be held, it would pit Hopkins against Stevenson on Showtime. With preliminary discussions for a Kovalev-Stevenson match on HBO having fallen through, Kovalev's promoter, Main Events CEO Kathy Duva, responded by filing a lawsuit against
Golden Boy, Schaefer and Haymon for interference.
But after Duva received a telephone call from Golden Boy matchmaker Eric Gomez on Thursday, moments before the final press conference hyping Kovalev-Caparello was to begin, the dominoes fell in rapid fashion. Gomez told Duva what Hopkins wanted to make a Kovalev fight, Duva relayed that information to Kovalev's manager, Egis Klimas, and an accord was soon reached. Duva had already removed Golden Boy Promotions as a defendant in her still-pending lawsuit, and Hopkins now appears to be spared the necessity of going through with a mandatory IBF defense against Nadjib Mohammedi (35-3, 21 KOs), a fight that few people wanted to see, although it would not shock anyone if the IBF decided to strip Hopkins of its title because, well, that's what turf-protecting alphabet sanctioning bodies do.
"It's not that hard to do (to make fights) when everybody wants to make a deal," said Duva, who knows it's often easier to get fighters' lawyers to slug it out in a courtroom than for those fighters to do it in the ring.
Hopkins, though, might have dropped hints that he was leaving the door open for a return to HBO (which has televised 21 of his fights), regardless of his I-love-Showtime comments. On June 1, he noted that "I'm not under contract to Golden Boy. No one has asked me to come here or to stay there. I got my own team, a separate team. When all is said and done, I'm going to evaluate everything and decide what's best for Bernard Hopkins. I'm going to try to be fair to everybody, but I got to look out for me first. It's crucial for me to make the right move, whether it's with Richard or with Oscar (De La Hoya). I worked too hard to get here to do anything else.
"No matter what, though, what's going on now between them won't affect me from getting in the ring and winning another title," he continued. "I want to continue to unify the light heavyweight division, and with two titles I'm in better position to do that now, regardless of the (GBP) shakeup. I could even promote my next fight myself. It won't be an emotional decision. I'm going to align myself with the best, with the smartest, and with whoever an do the most for me at this stage of my career."
Eighteen years older than Kovalev, Hopkins – who reportedly will be paid $2 million for that bout – again will be an underdog against a younger, harder-hitting opponent. But he's been there before, against Kelly Pavlik, Jean Pascal, Tavoris Cloud, Karo Murat and Beibut Shumenov, and confounded the so-called experts who keep trying to shovel dirt upon his pugilistic grave. Can the figurative funeral finally take place against Kovalev? Maybe, but Hopkins is an exquisite technician who seems to fare best against guys who come straight at him hoping to draw him into slugfests, which is pretty much describes Kovalev's effective but no-frills style. Kovalev is a level or two above the likes of some of the aforementioned
Hopkins victims, though, --.
Hopkins' shift in allegiance – his latest marriage of convenience, if you will – appeared to catch Stephen Espinoza, Showtime's executive vice president and general manager of Sports and Event Programming, off-guard.
"I'm puzzled that Bernard seems to have taken the less lucrative offer (than for a bout with Stevenson)," Espinoza said in a telephone interview with the Los Angeles Times' Lance Pugmire. "We've had a good relationship with Bernard and we wish him the best."
Russian junior middleweight Dmitry "The Mechanic" Mikhaylenko (17-0, 6 KOs) didn't exactly tune up veteran southpaw Sechow Powell (26-6, 15 KOs), of Brooklyn, N.Y., in the eight-round lead-in to Kovalev-Caparello, but he stayed busy enough to take a fairly wide unanimous decision.
Light heavyweight Isaac Chilemba (23-2-2, 10 KOs), the South African who is former world champion Buddy McGirt's latest pupil, took another step forward by scoring a seventh-round stoppage over Corry Cummings (17-7-1, 13 KOs), of Newark, N.J., in a scheduled 10-rounder.
In a scheduled six-round heavyweight bout, Poland-born, Brooklyn-based heavyweight Adam Kownacki (7-0, 7 KOs) extended his knockout streak with a fifth-round stoppage of Charles Ellis (9-2-1, 8 KOs), of Wichita, Kan. Kownacki has heavy hands, but, at 258 pounds, that isn't the only part of his doughy physique that can make the needle on a bathroom scale jump. Check back on him later if he can lay off the kielbasa and drop 20 or so pounds.