Light heavyweight Sergey Kovalev isn’t the type of fighter an almost 50-year-old former middleweight should be fighting, no matter how much an all-time great he is. Kovalev is not the man to mess around with. He’s naturally larger than Hopkins, a devastating puncher and possesses a wealth of solid amateur experience.
In short, Kovalev is Hopkins’ worst nightmare, at least when he’s 31 and Hopkins is 49. He’s an offensive juggernaught in his physical prime who fights lean and mean and has never tasted defeat.
Kovalev demolished Cedric Agnew and Blake Caparello in his last two fights just like most experts predicted. The first bout was supposed to be a showcase fight to help drive up interest in a then-expected showdown between Kovalev and Transnational, Ring and WBC light heavyweight champion Adonis Stevenson. But that fight went up in smoke when Stevenson headed over to Showtime while Kovalev remained at HBO.
Kovalev and Stevenson would have been an interesting matchup. Kovalev fights with a steady-handed aggression that borders on sheer rage at times. He turns over his punches quickly, accurately and with great force, and possesses a special kind of power in both hands that keeps his opponents on edge. Kovalev is skilled, but he uses his technical ability to stand in front of his opponents and dare them to trade with him. He doesn’t believe anyone can stand up to his offensive onslaught and so far he’s been right.
Stevenson, though, has one-punch knockout power and is a competent boxer-puncher. Whatever he detonates on explodes. That’s just how it works. But Stevenson, who’s 36 years old, has joined Al Haymon’s bevy of stars over at Showtime, so rather than face Kovalev, he’ll look elsewhere for now.
Let’s get one thing straight: Stevenson is the legit light heavyweight champion of the word, something that comes with being the TBRB champ. He earned the distinction last year when he knocked out Chad Dawson with one punch. But let’s get another thing straight, too. This is the age of Kovalev. He is the future of the light heavyweight division. He’s younger than Stevenson, an easier sell and will be fighting in front of a larger boxing audience on HBO over the next year or so while Stevenson fights on Showtime.
Kovalev’s promoter, Kathy Duva, and his manager, Egis Klimas, have already done the hard work of getting Kovalev into position at the right place at the right time. Hopkins will either be the most shrewd move they’ve made or the least. Hopkins has a fantastic history of ruining young fighters who appeared on their way to bigger and better things before getting taken apart by one of boxing’s best.
Hopkins vs. Kovalev is a 12-round unification bout for the IBF, WBA and WBO light heavyweight titles. The bout will take place on November 8 at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey. It will be televised by HBO. Hopkins is the IBF and WBA champion. Kovalev is the WBO titleholder.
In a video interview with RingTV.com, Hopkins said Kovalev was as good as advertised.
“He’s the real deal,” said Hopkins.
But Hopkins also said he expects to win the fight. In fact, Hopkins considers himself the most underrated defensive fighter in the game today as well as the most underrated champion overall.
“They’re still some hardheads out there,” said Hopkins of those who still doubt his ability.
Kovalev knows what he’s up against. Hopkins is as technically sound as anyone he’s ever faced, and he’s made a living overcoming long odds and doubters. Hopkins has basically had two careers. First was his long reign as middleweight champion. Next came his endeavors at light heavyweight. Both might be considered Hall of Fame worthy on their own merits. Together, he might just have the best resume of his era. He’s just that good.
Both fighters are happy with the venue.
"I’m happy to be back in Atlantic City," said Kovalev via press release. "This is my third time fighting there, but this is the most special because this time I am facing the legendary Bernard Hopkins."
Kovalev has made his last two WBO title defenses in Atlantic City. Both wins came by knockout. But Hopkins has history there, too.
"Atlantic City is a second home to me," said Hopkins. "Some of my most memorable victories and greatest accomplishments of my career have taken place there including my fights against Antonio Tarver and Kelly Pavlik. I expect Philly to represent and come out to Boardwalk Hall to see me make history once again."
Hopkins is wise to remember his wins over Tarver and Pavlik. In both fights, he was the prohibitive underdog. In both, he was facing younger fighters who seemed to be headed where Hopkins used to be. But in both fights, Hopkins dominated.
If Hopkins dominates Kovalev, it will be the biggest win of his illustrious career. Kovalev is legit. He’s a terrifyingly accurate stalker who knows how to run opponents into his punches. He’s at his best right now, and while Hopkins has maintained a level of excellence into his old age, he’s not nearly as formidable as he used to be.
Kovalev is just all kinds of wrong for Hopkins, but here’s where Hopkins has excelled in the past. Because Hopkins has made his name taking guys who were supposed to be his worst nightmare and running them through the ringer.
Will Hopkins be able to do that again? Or will Kovalev be the one risk Hopkins should not have been brave enough to take?
Yes, Kovalev is Hopkins’ worst nightmare. But so were other guys he’s taken care of along the way, so it will be interesting to see how the nightmare unfolds on fight night.